Treadle Magic


I’ve been wanting to write about sewing on my mom’s antique treadle machine when I was a kid, and now on the one from Bryan’s family that I’ve been restoring, for what feels like forever.  Sewing on these machines is something like magic, and I kept dreaming about sharing that with more modern sewists.  As of today, it’s happened!  Any minute now, the August issue of Seamwork magazine should be up, and with it, this treadle article of mine, which I’m super excited about.

So excited, in fact, that I also made my first-ever YouTube video as a companion, to show you how the bobbin winder works in motion (it’s a thing of beauty):



Are you excited yet? Do you have a treadle sitting in your garage? Let’s get it out! I’d love to help answer any questions that might get some of these beauties back into service, so ask away and I’ll do my best.

Also, stay tuned, I have a couple more treadle extras in the works for the coming weeks.

Have a great weekend!



12 thoughts on “Treadle Magic

  1. That’s a nice article in Seamworks! I had a treadle back in the 70s and had to get rid of it. This year, I picked up an 1891 Singer. Then, the same week, I got a 1910 Singer! And there’s a White that had been stored in a barn. The head couldn’t be saved but it’s working fine with a new head in place.

    Sewing in more enjoyable on my treadles. I have a couple of nice electric machines, but they aren’t as much fun. Last month, I finished making a skirt and blouse for my wedding, all done on the treadles and using the tucker attachment.

    I love these beautiful old machines. I can’t save them all so I hope your article will encourage others to buy one.

  2. There are amazing things that can be done with a treadle. Check out “Classic Sewing Machine Embroidery Artists” page on Facebook, or some of the examples on YouTube.

  3. I learned how to sew on a treadle sewing machine, and I have never gotten over my love for them. I have an antique treadle sewing machine, but I also I have vintage zig-zag machines that I attached to treadle bases, and I almost never use an electric machine (other than my serger). Many vintage and industrial belt driven sewing machines that have a hand wheel that extends out over the base of the sewing machine can be put right onto a treadle base, so treadling doesn’t have to be just for straight stitching. For some machines you will have to make your own table top with a custom hole cut in it, though.

    Treadle sewing machines offer perfect speed control – I feel like I’m one with my sewing machine (OK, that sounds cheezy, but it’s true!) instead of like I’m fighting it for control. I also like the fact that vintage machines are simple enough that I can maintain them myself, and after any initial restoration, they rarely need more than just need cleaning and oiling.

    Whenever I see a treadle base that was converted to a decorative table or an antique sewing machine left in a barn to rust, it makes me so sad. Someone could have been SEWING with that! I hope your article persuades some more people to rescue treadle sewing machines and actually use them.

  4. Thanks for a great article! My treadle, a Singer red eye from 1919′ started me on my vintage sewing machine adventure. Nothing beats one of these iron ladies.

  5. Hi Tasha, I have a machine just like this, that I discoverd hidden in my neighbours laundry when I was babysitting their dog once. I offered to buy it as I had been looking for one, and he just gave it to me! I’ve tried to get it working and had the cabinet restored last year too, it is truly beautiful. I wonder if you can help me actually figure out what is wrong with it though. It seems to run along fine when it is not threaded, but as soon as I thread it and put fabric under the foot, it makes terrible bird nests under the feed dogs, requiring the throat plate to be unscrewed to untangle it. It is so disappointing. Something in the sitchmaking mechanism is not right, I suspect that it may be something with the bobbin case – there is a little dint in the hook part I suspect has been hit with a needle at some point that may cause thread to get caught? Would that cause tangling?
    Thank you for your help and your interesting article. Adele in New Zealand

    • Hi Adele, lucky you to get a treadle machine, and I hope you can get it working! Thread tangles like that are almost always caused by not enough tension on the thread, so that much more thread than normal gets pulled into the bobbin case, and tangles up. This happens to beginning sewists when they forget to put the presser foot down especially. Assuming that’s not your problem, I would check to make sure both the top and bobbin thread are going through the right tension mechanism. You can adjust how tight they both are, the top one with a thumb screw on the front of the machine (on my Singer 66), and the bobbin thread tension with a little screw on the side of where the bobbin sits. If you haven’t already done this yourself or had a repair person look over it, you might try taking the tension mechanism for the top thread apart (carefully) and checking that the spring is still um, springy and not broken, there’s nothing stuck between the tension discs themselves, etc. With the machine threaded and the presser foot down, if you pull on the top thread from the needle, you should definitely feel resistance. You should also feel some tension on the bobbin thread if you pull on that with the bobbin in place and threaded. From there, hopefully you can adjust either/or of the tension settings to get a balanced stitch and easily running machine. Good luck! And I hope you’re enjoying summer, I’m a little jealous of those of you in the Southern Hemisphere right now. 🙂

      • Thank you so much for your reply. I had fiddled around with the tension a lot and had no joy so posted my problem on Facebook, hoping that someone local might have one or know of one I could look at to compare. No one did, but a man at church said he had a similar problem with his and it turned out to be that the stitch length lever was stuck at a very short stitch so it just kept sewing on top of itself. I said mine doesn’t have a lever but would try lengthening the stitch anyway to see if that helps, which I did, and it finally made stitches but only if I was firmly tugging fabric from behind, it wasn’t feeding through at all. I couldn’t see how to make the feed dogs actually move the fabric through until some extensive google searching showed me how to adjust them. My husband helped, and now it is sewing along nicely, although the it is skipping a few stitches so clearly the tension needs a bit more tweaking.Is there any way to make the treadle quieter? Mine is quite clunky. I’m so excited to use it this afternoon, I found some nice canvass in a charity shop and am going to make a new beach bag with it! Thank you so much for your help.

        • Interesting! I’m really glad you’re making progress. I’ve read on that you can reduce the noise by adjusting the pitman (also called the conrod, the straight rod that connects the treadle to the large wheel), but I admit I haven’t yet tried that myself. Also, oiling all the joints if you haven’t already can help with noise. One more thought on the skipping stitches: it could be an issue with the needle, if it isn’t getting in the right place to catch the bobbin thread with every stitch. All the best!

  6. I have three treadles that I am working on restoring (My 1918 Singer 66 is now running, I just need to shiny up the machine, cabinet and legs.) I read your article on Seamwork, and this was the first time I have heard about using furniture paste wax on a machine head to protect the gold decals, and I am very intrigued by it! Do you need to re-wax the machine head every once in awhile, or does it stay nicely waxed? Also, does that help to solve some of the oily feeling that cleaning a machine head with sewing machine oil leaves behind?

    • Hi Heather! I’m pretty sure I first heard about using the paste wax on —have you looked around that site at all? It’s pretty old school as far as the internet goes, but it has a lot of interesting info. I think that the bed of the machine where the fabric rubs across will probably need re-waxing eventually, mine has been fine so far. I did rub the heck out of the wax at first since I didn’t want it to transfer to my fabric. I also rubbed off as much oil as could (being careful not to rub too hard on the decals) before I put the wax on, and it does seem to leave a nice surface. Good luck!

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