Satisfaction — Restoring a Treadle Cabinet

 
At last, my treadle sewing machine restoration project is done, and at even longer last (depending on how you look at it) I’m sharing it here!  This is necessarily a big post.  Backstory is at the beginning, practical details are in the middle, words from the heart and pictures of the finished object at the end.  I hope you enjoy it!
 

treadle cabinet restoration 1It’s actually much easier to rock the machine up on its hinges and lift it out by loosening screws underneath (as shown in the Seamwork article) before taking out the hardware.   But, I really like this photo.

 

One of my hopes for the article about treadle sewing I wrote for Seamwork this summer was that it would give me the motivational push I needed to get this machine out of the garage.  Which it did, but in a longer process than I could have anticipated …

This machine came to me through my husband’s family.  It’s remarkably similar to the one my mom inherited, which I learned to sew on.  Bryan’s brother took it to the Midwest from Florida for us in his truck, and one summer while we stayed with him during the art fair season, I spent a fair amount of time and elbow grease working over the machine itself, until it was running pretty well and looking pretty good.  We brought it back to Flagstaff with us in our truck, and while I really, really wanted to use it, it languished in our garage, becoming the ultimate unfinished object.  Because, the cabinet looked like it does below, and I just couldn’t bring myself to bring it in the house until it was refinished—a monumental-feeling task I never seemed to make time for.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 2

I’m really glad I took these pics, at this point it’s kind of hard to believe how bad it looked!

 

So, with the article ahead, to feature photos of my beautiful restored treadle, it was time to bite the bullet and get after that yellow paint.  I did some good old-fashioned library research.  The most useful thing I got there was the idea of using a heat gun to take off the paint. (Which I borrowed from a friend. It takes a village to tackle a big project. And, it absolutely would be worth buying a heat gun if you have this much paint removal in your future.)

 

treadle cabinet restoration 3

Disassembly.

 

Since I didn’t find much information besides that idea (which I really liked because it meant I could avoid using chemical strippers), and figured out some things as I went, I’m going to include some tips for removing paint with a heat gun.  Feel free to skip ahead if you’re not restoring anything yourself.

  •  Leather gloves and long sleeves are a must, no matter the outside temperature, at least if you’re clumsy like me.  My arms and hands would have been covered in little burns from swiping against the heat gun otherwise.
  • I used a temperature of 850° F.  You might need a little hotter or cooler depending on your paint and what’s underneath.
  • Give yourself an out-of-the-way part of your project to practice on, you’ll definitely get better results as you get the hang of it.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 4

I started with the inside sides of the drawers.  First, second, and third attempts from left to right.

 

  • For flat areas, melt a small section thoroughly with the heat gun, then scrape it off using one motion with a flat scraper. Scrape it up and off, not across, the surface, and watch for redeposit of paint.  Knock the curls of paint off the scraper frequently, or rub them off on something like a sawhorse as you work.
  • I found these small wire brushes (purchased at Home Depot) invaluable for getting off leftover flecks of paint, and working around curves and tight spaces.  Again, melt the paint with the heat gun, and then use the brush, kind of like you’re brushing your teeth, to flick the paint off.  I ran through a few of these, but the softer bristles are better at taking off the paint without scratching the wood below than a tougher brush.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 6

 

  • Areas with thin paint and/or worn or damaged finish underneath were much harder to remove than a full coating of paint over the original finish in better shape.  I don’t have many tips other than: yes, you can still get the finish off if you’re patient.  Take breaks.

Overall, I loved seeing progress, and at some points the removing paint was it’s own reward as I saw what the wood was like underneath.  I could also see that my former self was avoiding this project for a reason.  There’s no way around it, it was a slog.  It was so, so very worth it in the end though.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 5

 

For the record, I would like to say that although I spent much time cursing this yellow paint and all it stands for, I understand why the painter did what she did.  The finish underneath wasn’t in great shape, some parts were water-damaged, and I’m sure restoring it seemed daunting to her too.

Also for the record, I would like to say that I do not, under any circumstances, support the painting of antique furniture.  People, just say no!  As an alternative, shellac provides a clean finished surface, while showing off the original character of the piece.  If you need help, ask a handy neighbor, or a professional.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 7

Only one piece of the veneer was too water-damaged to save—the very top, where doubtless a potted plant once sat (I’m not going to rant about that, but, you know, plants on wood=bad idea).  So now we know what they put underneath veneer in 1913: pieces of rougher, second-cut wood.

 

About this time in the project, with the heat-gun-paint-removing not done, Bryan, sensing that the whole thing probably wouldn’t be done in time, stepped in and offered to sand the parts that did have paint removed.  This made me feel very loved and supported.  But it soon became clear that no matter how much he helped, it just wasn’t possible to finish the restoration in time to take the photos for the article.

So, my mom stepped in and let me borrow her treadle cabinet (carefully restored by my grandparents decades ago).  It’s certainly not the first time my mama has saved my behind, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last!  As luck would have it, the two machines are the same model, made only a year apart.  The photos in the article are of the machine I had worked on, sitting in my mom’s cabinet.  (Now you know!)

 

treadle cabinet restoration 8

Bryan sanding the top.  Under his hand you can see a discovery I loved—a burn mark from an old-school iron—which most certainly did not sand out.

 

Seeing what a careful job my grandparents did on my mom’s treadle was definitely a motivation to make mine as nice as I could.  Once the article was done, I took what bits of time our schedule and the weather allowed to continue working on the cabinet as summer moved into fall.  I definitely did a better job with more time to finish this project than I would if I had rushed it, but I still wanted to have a firm goal to keep me going: finishing it and bringing it inside before winter.

There was a lot of sanding.  The original finish under the paint was shellac, which can also soften/be disturbed under the heat gun, and in order to blend the intact finish with the damaged sections, we ended up sanding most of it out.  It’s not a very photogenic part of the process, although after working over a section with successively finer grades of sandpaper and blowing off the dust, I could start to see the beauty of the wood revealed.

At every stage, the drawer holders/slides took by far took the longest, being full of tiny parts and impossible angles.  I took them off where they attach to the top, but if I had to to do over again, I would separate the vertical supports from the slides as well, and scrape/sand/finish the pieces separately, even though it would mean pulling out old nails and labeling parts to get them back in the right order.

There were many days where I was apparently feeling more like working than documenting, including a lot of gluing and clamping sections of loose veneer, and more sanding.

One tip I picked up online (here) which is way to good not to share: baking soda and hot water will remove paint from metal hardware as if a miracle has occurred.  If you can soak the metal in the hot water and soda, the paint will actually bubble up and can be pushed off with a rag or your finger.  Even pressing a rag wet with the hot solution onto metal parts you can’t take off will usually make it so that you can scrape the paint off with a fingernail.  It works unbelievably well.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 10

I dropped the hardware in, went inside to get the camera, and by the time I got back I could see the paint detaching and bubbling up.

 

I became a big fan of shellac when we were doing a lot of work on our house a few years ago.  It gives off less toxic fumes while it’s curing than polymer-based finish, comes from a renewable source (bugs), and sticks to pretty much everything.  Although it can be damaged by water and heat, it’s easy to repair and refinish.

Pretty much any wood working book can tell you more than I know about sanding and shellac.  I’ll just say that I sanded until everything possible felt satiny smooth, and then applied 3 thin coats of shellac with a cloth pad.

After the shellac had a few days to cure, I rubbed out the finish with fine steel wool.  This step was pure magic, rubbing out imperfections and taking the finish from a hard glare to a soft glow.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 9It’s a little hard to see here, but the top has been rubbed out and the bottom hasn’t yet.

 

After replacing a few missing screws, the only thing left was cleaning the metal base.  I tried wiping it down all over with a wet rag, but it still looked somewhat sad.  I couldn’t stand for it to look neglected when the rest now looked so nice.  I tried a rag damped with sewing machine oil (my solution for nearly everything treadle-wise) and that did the trick, giving it a very soft sheen and a used-hard-but-cared-for look that goes with the rest of the project.

Ready for the big reveal?  Here goes:

 

treadle cabinet restoration 11

 

treadle cabinet restoration 13

 

It’s more like a Victorian with exposed brick and modern fixtures than a meticulously re-created period home.  It wears it’s beauty and the trials of it’s long history equally openly, and equally well.  It’s actually hard for me to describe how happy this thing makes me, almost like it was a living thing.  Such a process of transformation I’ve been through with it!

 

treadle cabinet restoration 12I decided to keep the exposed-inside top and sand it carefully smooth, rather than apply new veneer.

 

I sort of hate to tell you this, but you can’t fully appreciate this thing unless you touch it.  I couldn’t stop touching it when it was first done.  The velvety smoothness seems miraculous after all the time I spent with it when it was in such bad shape.

 

treadle cabinet restoration 14

 

I don’t know if it’s because I don’t often do projects like, because it waited for so long and then in the end came out so well, or because of a shift in my attitude (probably some of all of those), but this project was so incredibly satisfying.  In the final stages, I was really able to appreciate exactly what I was doing while I was doing it, and reveling in both the results and all the work that got me there in felt fantastic.

When I go into my work space in the mornings now, this is one of the first things I see.  I still often reach out and touch it at some point while I’m stretching and getting ready for the day, or if I’m sewing with it later I’ll give it an extra caress.  It probably sounds like I’m obsessed, but while this is now one of my very favorite physical objects in the world, it’s the experience of having brought it from what it was to what it is that’s my favorite part.  The best reward for tackling something big is the satisfaction.  Cheers to that!

 

treadle cabinet restoration 15

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DIY Crib Rail Covers for Teethers — A Tutorial

 

So apparently, small teething children will chomp down on wooden crib rails like beavers.  I really had no idea until, visiting our dear friends at the end of the summer, I saw the evidence first hand, little teeth marks right through the wood finish.  My friend the mama was thinking about ordering some covers for the crib rails, but I knew we, ok I, could easily make some, and I would get to sew!  In August, after months away from my sewing machine, this seemed like a gift from the universe, plus it would be so useful and cute for friend mama and her little one!  I’m going to share my notes and method, which should work for any crib, below.  This is a fairly quick project, so if you are still looking for a gift for a young family, it could be a good one.

 

crib rail protectors onTo make up for only having quick snapshots of this project (did I mention there was a baby involved?) I’m making it my illustrated post for this month.

 

First things first, I measured the crib.  I wanted the covers to go around the whole rail easily, so I added a little extra ease to my measurements.  The back rail is against the wall, apparently too awkward an angle for little one’s head to chew, so I didn’t worry about that one.

crib rail protector mathI know that the quilt batting (which I want here for padding) will shrink a little bit, probably not enough to affect the width, but for the length I’ll include a bit extra.  I usually use 1/2″ seam allowances, which I did for the width.  I decided to use 1″ seam allowance on each end for the length, since that is where I am likely to want more wiggle room.  To figure out how much fabric I need, I made another diagram, since I’m really a visual thinker.

crib rail protector fabricSo here are the supplies I got, including a little extra fabric for shrinkage, since it’s 100% cotton:

Two yards fabric (Modern Bliss design #13662 by Robert Kaufman)

One yard super wide cotton quilt batting, for two layers of batting in each cover

Eight yards of totally beautiful soft cotton ribbon for ties

All of this came from Stitchin’ Post in Sisters, OR.

 

When getting ready to sew, don’t forget to preshrink your fabric!  Wash the fabric and dry it the same way you (or the recipient) plan on treating the finished project.  I also put the ribbon through wash and dry, in a lingerie bag, just in case it was going to bleed any dye, etc., since a baby might be chewing on it.  I didn’t pre-shrink the batting.  The package it came with says it will shrink 3%, which will give the covers a bit of that puffy quilted look once they are washed.  After washing, I ironed the fabric and ribbon to get rid of wrinkles and make it easier to measure and work with.

Cut or rip the fabric and batting into strips 10″ wide (or the width you picked for your crib), and then divide them for the length of the covers, as in the diagram above.  Take one fabric section with its corresponding batting to the crib, make sure the size seems close, and decide where you want to put the ties and how long they should be.  We decided on 7″ for each tie, which divided fairly neatly into 8 yards, 20 ties with two sides each.  I just cut the ends of the ties at a diagonal to keep them from fraying, and left the other end, which will be sewn inside the cover, squared off.

I pinned the ties to one side where I wanted them to go, and then with the fabric off the crib, folded it in half to match and pin the matching tie. It’s helpful to leave just a bit of each tie sticking out beyond the fabric, so you’ll be able to see where they are when you’re sewing.

Make a fabric stack for each cover, with two layers of batting on the bottom, then one layer of fabric (right side/public side up) with the ties pinned in place (I pinned them in the middle too, so that they wouldn’t shift around and get caught while sewing).  Then top with the other side of the fabric, right side down towards the ties.

crib rail protector sandwichHold the whole sandwich together with a few pins, and sew down each long side with a straight stitch, 1/2″ from the edge—our planned seam allowance.

Each time you come to one of the ribbon ties (which you’ll know because the ends are sticking out) sew over it, then back up and sew forward again, so that there are three lines of stitching holding each tie in place.  Blend back to your seam allowance line, and keep sewing to the next tie.

crib rail protector sewing ribbonOnce you have sewn down both sides, turn the whole thing inside out and tada!  The batting is on the inside and the ties are on the outside.  I had thought I would trim the batting from the seam allowances, but when I got to this stage it didn’t seem necessary.  I just pressed everything in its new orientation, smoothing things out and using the iron with steam.

Check the size of the cover on the crib, the fold the ends to the inside to get the length you like.  I decided to stitch them closed by hand, using a ladder stitch which picks up a little fabric from each side.  It just looks better, and I can also add a line of stitching near the ends when quilting so that the hand stitches won’t take much strain.  The white UFO near my fingers in the photo is the head of a pin . . .

 

crib rail protector sewing ends

 

All that’s left is the quilting!  I don’t usually quilt; I’m too obsessed with the properties of different fabrics, their drape as a 2-D material wraps a 3-D body, and the possibility of walking around all day protected and flattered by garments I made.  I do see how quilting is perfect for something like this though, and I don’t mind the quilted look, but it does bug me when the stitching totally contrasts with the fabric, especially when I like the fabric as it is.  I decided to use the diagonals in the print as guides for my quilting stitching, and not to worry about them being exactly all the same.  It gave the covers more of a modern look, which the mama and I loved.  I did check the batting instructions, which said to quilt no more than 8″ apart, and make sure the maximum distance between my lines was not more than that.  I quilted to one end, checked the measurements and then did a second round.  I didn’t have access to a walking foot, so I spread the fabric and batting sandwich outward from the foot with my hands as I went, and it worked just fine.

 

 

crib rail protector finished

 

I just loved making these, mostly because at the time I was thrilled for the chance to take a project from idea in my head to finished object in my hand!  I’m sure I could have looked up someone else’s directions, but I didn’t want or need to, and I love how my version came out.  I played with the balance between making something as good as I can, because it’s for my best friend’s baby, and going with the flow, letting it be a bit inexact and show its handmade-ness, because it’s the real world, and because I always think handmade things are the most beautiful.

If you try this project, I hope you’ll agree, and have as good a time as I did!  Happy week everybody!