Male Pattern Boldness is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!

Aug 30, 2010

Treadle Sewing Machines: Yea or Nay?

Dear Hearts and Gentle Lurkers, I have a new obsession: treadle sewing machines.  I just checked this machine out this morning.  It is ONE BLOCK FROM MY APARTMENT.   I found it on Craigslist.  According to the serial number, it was manufactured on April 28, 1920.  Ninety years old!

The seller was asking $250 but will take $200.  Yes?  No?  The hand wheel turns smoothly as does the treadle.  It will need a belt.  It takes regular drop-in Singer bobbins.

I hate to dump this topic on you so early in the week but I need to know.

I'm not sure how this treadle meme got planted in my brain.  I saw two for sale when I went to the Chelsea flea market with my sewing machine-enabler friend, Johanna, a few weeks ago.

And then I read Through the Eye of a Needle, as I mentioned yesterday, in which treadles are a major theme.

I know I don't want one as old as the one above; in fact I'd prefer one with a Singer 15, which do exist apparently, albeit in less lovely treadle tables.

Oh, the stress of it all!

You know, sometimes I do wonder if maybe I am a bit of a drama-- no, I won't say it.  Some of you know what I'm suggesting and the rest of you, well, no matter.  But do you ever wonder if you don't actually invite drama into your lives; like when things are going just fine and dandy life feels a little....boring?

And speaking of drama -- LOOK what was sitting in my mailbox upon my return from rain-soaked Provincetown on Saturday:

Readers, I know it doesn't seem possible that someone with as dewy-fresh a complexion as mine could be facing his THIRTIETH (not thirteenth, my dears, thirtieth) high school reunion, but I recently looked at my passport and the dates do indeed line up.

And here I am in 1979 at seventeen and my oomphiest.

I don't know where to start:  What should I wear?  Should I sew it myself?  Should I invite Cathy? 

And WHO holds their high school reunion at the Waldorf Astoria?  Shouldn't this take place at the Econolodge on Rte. 17 or the high school gym or something?  This is not just fancy, it's fancy-shmancy, and I know most of you recognize the difference.  I guess since I'm not on the reunion committee I really have no right to complain though.

Long-time readers will remember that I have already attended a thirtieth high school reunion, only not my own, as the guest of an old (well, my age) elementary school friend, Amy.  So I should feel well prepared, right? But I don't. 

What do you think?  Obviously I have to go -- if only to experience cocktails and dinner at the Waldorf, not exactly my usual hang-out.  If I thought I might run into Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon having a "week-end" there I might be more excited. 

In closing, three questions:

1. Is a treadle sewing machine worth getting now or should I wait until after the Peak Oil apocalypse?  Do you own a treadle?  If you do, is it hard work to pump it?  Is it fun/reliable?  Should I buy the one pictured up top?

2.  What should I wear to my thirtieth high school reunion?  (It''s October 2nd, right around the corner)

3.  Finally, do you think I'm a drama _________?  (rhymes with clean).  And if yes, doesn't that actually make for better blogging, when you think about it?  Do any of you identify as such?

Be kind!


  1. Dear Peter,
    Absolutely yes to the treadle machine. I learned to sew on one (okay, I'm outing my age)and there is truly something comforting about rocking the treadle. Just take care not to get a toe under the treadle while you are sewing because that hurts like...well, you can fill in your favorite expletive. My first was a White with a bullet bobbin (gift from my grandmother on my Father's side) Not to be outdone, my grandmother on my Mother's side gave me her old Singer which she had fitted with an electric motor, so I had the option of power or treadle. Nice for those days when the power gets knocked out and you have to finish that dress. Sewing by candlelight can be kind of romantic! (not really) I passed the White on to my younger cousin, but I still have the Singer. About 10 years ago my husband had the cabinet table refinished, so now she shines like she did in her glory days.

    Wear something fabulous to your reunion...are you still working on the jacket? Loved your high school days picture!

    Drama ______???? You????

  2. I also vote yes on the treadle! Well, if you have the space for it. For about a year I only had access to a treadle, I made a couple things on it and really enjoyed it. It sewed beautifully and I agree, it was weirdly comforting.

  3. OK, I am SO getting a treadle. I think I can shoehorn it into the apartment. "Where there's a will....!"

  4. Ok, so I don't actually have any useful advice about treadle sewing machines, as I've never sewn on one, but this is the internets, so I'm going to have an opinion anyway, see, back in the day when I had aspirations toward the fine arts, I must say I really loved the kick wheels. Oh I was trepidatious at first, to be sure, but once I tried it out I wanted nothing to do with their noisy, small, inferior spawn. The simplicity of the tool, the weight and gravitas of that huge stone spinning beneath your feet, up to your elbows in mud... ok. So the connection between pottery kickwheel and treadle sewing machine is tenuous. I give up.

  5. 1. I almost bought a treadle machine last weekend, I have a 1929 singer which lived in a treadle table a long time ago, and now runs only off a handcrank as it and the treadle table parted company many years before I got it. They're beautiful pieces of mechanical engineering and we as enthusiastic sewists almost have a duty to buy and protect these beautiful machines from the scrapheap!

    2. I vote bold print suit for the reunion, blow those m*****F*ckers AWAY!

    3. <3 drama daaaaaahling :-)

  6. Also no advice about treadle machines (although I think my MIL has a couple... I wonder if they function)... but I think you should definitely take Cathy---what better excuse to make her a full-out evening gown? :)

  7. That treadle looks like some old fashioned fun! Go for it!

    And you're no drama spleen! Who said that? I'll beat 'em up, I swear. I'm a bruiser that way.

    Go to the Waldorf, take Cathy and tell us all about it. Those reunioneers have some surprises ahead!

  8. I think you're more of a drama doll. You play with it and enjoy it, but you don't create it out of NEED or anything.

    I vote for bold print, or possibly a new club collar shirt, since you look so fantastically fab in a club collar..

  9. Yes, get the treadle! How are the stickers? Are they in perfect condition? Scratches? I'd love to see a close-up.

    Pierre, you are adorable, you haven't changed one iota, you look exactly the same today as you did in the 70's!

    Glad you're back. :D

  10. I am leaning toward getting it. It's so close to here and the price seems fair. If you click on the pic you can supersize it; the stickers look good enough.

    It's not solely for show but to use.

  11. If I could squeeze a treadle machine into my house I would have one. When I'm at my dad's house I always play with the treadle machine that's there (and actually mine). $200 seems like a lot. Around here they sell for less, but that may not be so in NY. I agree that the round drop-in bobbin ones are the best to have - not shuttle ones. There was a 201 treadle model that is supposed to be fabulous but not so easy to find.

    I don't know about the reunion outfit. Maybe make a suit for yourself? Use Michael's as a test run!

    I don't think you're a drama _____. And I wouldn't care if you were. We like you just the same!

  12. I love treadle machines. I have one and it is a joy to use. Once you figure out how to move your feet, it's very soothing. However, until you learn how, it can be a tad frustrating. Always start by turning the handwheel towards you so it doesn't go backwards and snap the thread.

    Treadle machines were designed to be maintained by the sewer and are engineered to work, work, work. If you love sewing machines and have the space, it's a no-brainer.

    However, the question of what to wear/who to take to your reunion, that's harder. Would you rather the attention, chatter and *envy* Cathy will cause - especially dressed in an exquisite gown - or will being back amongst the old crowd be excitement enough? Either way, your reunion has a fabulous venue! So much better than some smelly old gym!

  13. Peter - this has to be really quick because I have a ton of stuff to do (see my blog), but as to the price for that treadle, here's my 2 cents. I have the same exact one, with a cabinet in better condition. I paid $50 from Craigslist in Tampa last year. (You can find it on my blog somewhere. I can link you to it exactly later.) It depends on your patience, the cleaning you want to put into it, and the convenience factor of 1 block away as to whether $200 is the right price for you. It seems a bit high to me - lots of Singer 66 treadles are around.

  14. Not that I'm telling you something that everyone else hasn't already, but yes, for heaven's sake, get the treadle!

    When I divorced my husband, the only thing I was sad to lose was the treadle sewing machine. It was a gift to me from his mother, but it was a family heirloom, so I certainly wasn't going to fight over it. Imagine my glee when MY mom told me she'd buy me one of my own for my birthday this year. When I went to look at it, the people selling it were incredulous to learn that I planned to actually use the machine. They assumed that I wanted it for the same reason they had...a lovely end table. The horrors!

  15. 1) I just bought a house WITH the contents in it and there is a treadle. Mine is a shuttle bobbin though...I broke the belt and have purchased a new one ($5.00 on ebay), but have yet to drill the hole in the leather and put it on.

    I'll help you learn, if you help me!

    2) I had my 30th 3 years ago. Had a blast!! Go!! The Waldorf? WOW. Ours was at the local golf club. And we had the same bad DJ that was at our 20th...but had fun anyhooooooo!

    3) If you are anything like me, you just like to be creative and re-invent yourself every 5 minutes or so (sew). Nothing wrong with that. You learn new things and it makes life fun.

  16. Not that I've been looking or anything =D But $200 seems a bit high. Does it come with any attachments or other goodies?

  17. Glad to hear that you had a nice vacation. Just loved seeing the pictures - you two seem to always enjoys yourselves - the big smiles give away your happiness. Unable to provide an opinion about the drama ___ other than that you enjoy life and live it to its fullest. If that is the characteristic of a drama ____ then perhaps we all need a little more drama ____ in our lives. As to the treadle machine, I guess (after glancing through the comments) I am the only one to say I would pass on it. They are fun to *play* with but they do take some skill to work (just a wee bit of a learning curve to get a good stitch). I gave mine away years ago and I have not regretted it.

  18. Thing is, if I had to rent a car that would be at least $60 right there, not to mention the headache of having to pick it up.

    And delivery would easily cost $100.

  19. The rhythm of a treadle while sewing is very calming, I learned to sew on one and I think its still int he house somewhere. If you really want it get it.

    On the reunion maybe a pair of harem pants!?

    And drama..maybe a little

  20. 1) Buy the treadle! Two years ago, when Hurrican Ike hit here (Houston), we were without power for 3 WEEKS! If I had a treadle, I could have SEWN!
    2) No opinion on the reunion. Never been to any of mine.
    3) You are certainly not! But Cathy, that's a different story!

  21. A friend of mine owns one. She says that it's invaluable because it will take on *anything*. Want to sew leather? No problem. The treadle will do it. Five layers or more of denim, canvas, or something equally as thick? The treadle will do it... all while getting your legs in shape!

    And when we were without power last year due to the Georgia flood, I wished I had one. No power for a whole week! (Six Flags was a lake. There were whole towns under water. And it's never flooded in this area before.)

  22. I have my mother's treadle and I love it! I still use it to put in the best buttonholes ever - the attachment that comes with the machine has about 20 cams for different sizes and types. As for your 30th, I'm looking forward to my 50th! And we celebrate ours at the Beef House in Danville, IL - not quite the Waldorf. Go and enjoy!

  23. 1. My grandmother had a treadle, and my father says 'she made it sing' - I think they're rather romantic (would you get an ab workout too, do you think?).

    2. Go - whatever you wear you'll look 10 years younger and happier than anyone else there.

    3. Life without drama would be unspeakably dull.

  24. Wow, we're the same vintage! You were a good looking lad at 17 I must say. Not sure what you should wear but the venue sounds very classy.

    Can't help with the treadle I'm afraid as I've never used one, but it sounds a bit expensive.

    Thirdly - you and drama? Well don't we all need a little drama :-)


  25. I'm with Debbie, I think that it's a bit pricey.
    Well, when you go to a fancy smancy prep school the reunions get held at fancy schmancy places. Go and have fun. Don't know if I'd bring Cathy, depends on how much drama you want to invite into your life. But, you know some people do attract drama which is not a bad thing at all. It's not boring at least.

  26. What a handsome preppy boy you were! Are you going to buy the new versions of "Take Ivy" or "The Preppy Handbook"?

    Doesn't Horace Mann have space to host a reunion? I guess I'd wear a nice suit; you could ask the reunion chairpeople. I've been to one or two fancy dinners at the Waldorf -- rubber chicken city.

    The treadle machine seems like a somewhat overpriced museum piece, but I can also see how it would be fun. If you have the room, go for it.

  27. 1. Treadle machine: I've always wanted one, but totally for the nostalgia (my BFF from age 4's mom had one, and NO ONE IN THAT HOUSE SEWED ON IT! Grrrr.). I just ordered a new-new machine today, so I am the wrong person to ask, but I will say that if you wait for Peak Oil, it will be more than $200.

    2. Reunion: I would KILL to have a reunion at the W-A. My 30th reunion is going to be in Oct or Nov 2011, assuming someone organizes the f-ing thing. None of the local people (I went to school in Arizona) want it to cost more than $50; one of the ideas being tossed out is just meeting up at a bar somewhere for happy hour (this was a class of 400-500 students) so we don't have to rent a hall or pay for food. Sheesh.

    I'm planning to go w/ my husband and daughter (easily a thousand bucks on airfare from Maine), so I damn well expect a Friday night to Sunday afternoon reunionpalooza. I may have to step up and volunteer to organize it myself.

    Oh, yeah, back to YOU. (BTW, what a hunk you were in '79 - and still are.) Whatever you do, it should not be able to be described as "understated" - OK? But don't deliberate too much - October is fast approaching.

    3. You, a drama --een? Nah...I just think you have a cool life, great attitude and write interesting and funny things. Keep it up.

  28. Treadles are GREAT! I used one as my primary machine for several years. They do take practice, no doubt about that. But there is something magical about using one...they're so quiet and smooth. I can't really explain it but you will quickly see what I mean.

    As for the price...well, that seems pretty steep to me. If it's in beautiful condition with all of its decals intact, and ready to roll, you might go for it. But you can certainly find them cheaper.

    Good luck!!!

  29. I almost forgot - there is a Treadle On web page: "Treadle On is dedicated to promoting the use of antique and vintage human powered sewing machines". I haven't looked at it in some time, but it was a great resource when I first started using mine (I actually have two treadles and one hand-crank machine).

  30. A few months ago, I read a blog entry about the establishment of a sewing school in a poor region of Africa, I can't recall which country. Because electricity is expensive and not always available, the place was equipped with new, foot-powered industrial machines -- they were functional but not pretty. I think the students were going to learn to make uniforms.

    I thought, Wow, what drudgery! So non-electric machines aren't magical to me.

    You seem to have a lot of space for a New Yorker. Could I store something in your apt? :-)

  31. You might be a drama princeling, but certainly not a drama queen. I give the latter a very wide berth.

  32. Treadle sewing machines are lovely, although I've never sewn with one. If you have the room, I say why not buy it. It's a great item to have because it looks so good. I'm facing a 30th high school reunion, too and it fills me with fear and delight at the same time. Don't take Cathy (or anyone) for that matter as I think you need to be free to flip back into your 16 year old self without fear of anyone who knows you in the present being horrified by how you might have been back then. No, I don't think you're a drama anything. If you are, then so am I! I agree with the others; you were pretty damned hunky - and still are, I hasten to add!

  33. you're my favorite drama bean!

  34. From the responses on the treadle it seems as though the price depends on where you are. $200 is not out of line here in Missouri...for a Singer. You can get other brands cheaper. I would love to have one. If you don't get it will you be heartbroken? If so, absolutely get it. Okay, I would get it period!! For me it is like saving a puppy from the dog pound. I just can't walk away.

    What to wear to the reunion? I say go all the way, white tails with one hell of a bow tie and vest! And make Cathy a dress to match, something with a very twirly skirt.

    Drama?! Absolutely! And thank God! Check out that smile and glint in your eye from 30 years ago and today. It is infectious and urges us to be so much more.....

  35. No advice on the treadle, although the tables are lovely, I haven't ever pictured myself being able to operate one, so I have dismissed it from my cluttered mind.

    $0.02 on reunion: I'd leave Cathy at home (won't she be on the other coast by then anyway?), where whatever you want and take Michael! I wouldn't miss the WA for the world!

    Oh, and some of my best friends are drama teams!

  36. We aren't going to see you on an upcoming episode of Hoarders, are we? You must have a giant apartment. Good thing the dogs are tiny :-)

    Oh, and of course, I meant *wear* whatever you want. Where = is the Waldorf-Astoria. Duh!

  37. Having fun with the "new" treadle yet? I agree that the proximity to your home was worth some $$ in the sale.

  38. Still need to get a belt but it sews. More tomorrow!

  39. Hi Peter, so glad you're back!! No advice about a treadle machine, have never used one, but the price sounded reasonable to me. You ARE making me wish, however, with your 10 (or is it more now) machines, I had not given away my machine each time I bought a new one. I gave a Singer Genie to my niece when I bought a Bernina and then gave that to my mom when I bought a newer Bernina--which I still have and love and will never part with. It's about 25 years old now, I think. Wow, the Waldorf, huh? No suggestions, really, but my son looked kind of cute going off to proms (he graduated high school in 2002) in a powder blue polyester leisure suit that he bought at Savers. Pink shirt, white tie, white sneakers with pink laces. Truckers' hat that said "Kim's Prom Date." You might want to look into something like that. I would leave the hat out, though! Drama -----?? Don't know, but we love you either way!!!

  40. 1. I think the treadle (the right treadle) can have THE most beautiful stitch. It's also soothing to pump the treadle. My grandma had one, its in my mom's upstairs bedroom now. Will you sleep well at night if you don't get it? Or is it all-consuming your thoughts? If you want a vintage machine, I've been researching and the Singer 201 is supposedly THE vintage singer to get (an electric though).

    2. Of course you have to make something. Duh.

    3. Ok, really, you don't need anyone to answer this. :P (ps. I always tell my students when they're whining/bargaining...this is not a democracy, it's a monarchy and I am the Queen.)

  41. 1. While I have never used a treadle, my mother and I went bananas at an estate sale and came home with 3. Luckily, the ones with nice wood covers make SUPERB saddle stands.
    As a city dweller, I have bought ridiculously bulky objects on craigslist and hauled them many blocks along the sidewalk. It's weird to do but I think you could do it. Or find the local man with a shopping cart to push it a few blocks.

    2. Funny, I am approaching my 10 year reunion. It occurred to me to lose weight but never to make an outfit. Thanks for the suggestion! As for the Waldorf, maybe you should consult Cathy? She seems like a high class dame. My plan for my reunion is to wear whatever makes me look the most fabulous on that day.

    3. No. I hope not. I use your blog to justify my own sewing machine and pattern hoarding. Makes me feel normal.

  42. I learned on a Singer treadle, mostly because my mother was not about to let me mess up her new machine. The treadle met all my needs until I was 21 and I got a machine I could take to college with me. Pumping the treadle will not only give you a mild & enjoyable exercise, but you will also get a straight and powerful stitch. No, these are not double entendres. The treadle will even easily sew through sequins, or "sequence" as they are known on ebay. I think this is a feature Cathy could easily learn to love. At age 16, I found all the adjustments and repairs were simple. Just be sure to get the accompanying manual. On a ridiculous note, when I asked my father if I could have the machine, I was denied. The Singer then sat in the closet of an unoccupied house for 30 years. I am now cleaning out the house, affectionately known as the "four bedroom tool shed." Hoard much? Of course I'm keeping the treadle.

    You must make something unique for your reunion - your classmates no doubt will remember you fondly. The Waldorf should be fun. When we lived in Spain, my daughter had her prom at the Ritz in Madrid. She was photographed by paparazzi. Maybe Cathy could be so lucky!

    Drama? I love it. Of course the drama up here in NH is the bear in my woods, which has given me quite a few entertaining stories, and the cute logger I like to pester when I am not cleaning out the four bedroom tool shed.

  43. You graduated same year as DH. You are of the Mt. St Helens class, Although if you weren't nearby the volcano you probably didn't have all your Sr. Finals called off and go straight to graduation. What a year that was! I am a mere child being class of '81.

  44. I have always wanted a treadle sewing machine, ever since I was paid $2 a night to sleep on Nelly's sofa the summer of 1973 when I was 12 about to be 13. She lived across the street from my family, she was 80+ years old and had never spent a night alone in her house, EVER! She sewed the most marvelous dogs and humpty dumpty type dolls. All on her treadle machine. I loved watching her sew. I was already a "seasoned" seamtress of 5 years at that point you see, and I was fascinated.

    Alas, alak. I only got to watch. But a stuffed dog and a humpty dumpty type doll from Nellie still reside in my home. They are as precious to me as the wish to sew on Nellie's machine.

    As to your questions...I don't know. You just sparked a great memory for me so I had to share. Whatever you choose will be fabulous!

  45. And if I would pay attention, Nellie's name would be correctly typed in both places. Geez!

    (I earned a lot of money that summer just sleeping. When I went off to camp, my substitute's little brother accused me of stealing his sister's "job" when I got back home.hehe.)

  46. Hi Peter,
    I say yes to a treadle. But shop around, I have owned five treadles. Treadle sewing is good for the environment as well as varicose veins and circulation in your legs. It is also tons of fun. The most I paid for a treadle was $80 CAD, that is my German Bernard Stoewer manufactured in 1910. I reviewed it at Zigzaggers and also blogged about it. The least I paid for one was $20 CAD for a Singer 15-90. After replacing the treadle belt, bobbin winder tire, a good cleaning and oiling I gifted it away. There is a fantastic website called "treadle on" that provides oodles of information about restoring, maintaining and even how to treadle. I suggest you put the word out you want a treadle...perhaps someone will gift you with one. There are millions of them out there so they show up in estate sales frequently.

  47. Are you out of your ever-lovin mind??? OF COURSE YOU SHOULD BUY THE TREADLE!!!!!!! $200 is a great price and if I lived on your street you'd have to fight me for it!!

    As for the HS reunion... I'm not convinced I'll go to mine. I spent a profound amount of my years in school hating and being hated by my peers (perhaps that was just my perception.... hmmmmm) and I'm not sure I want to give any of them the chance to look down their nose at me. However, I think I've decided that if I do go, I will dress more sophisticated than the rest of them, perhaps a beautifully tailored suit, etc just to show them up. I love your white shirt that you blogged about a little while ago... very classic and sophisticated... or better yet, send Cathy! How fun!

  48. so...did you PURCHASE the treadle?? I just read a thread on about how to clean and restore an old sewing machine. Good info! you can find it under Tutorials. Great site with lots of pictures.

  49. i own a similar machine and a 100 y.o one which i salvaged from a junk yard. after a few days of cleaning and oiling, works good now. in your case if you don't want to pump the treadle, you can purchase an electric motor which could fit perfectly well and you can even install it yourself easily.

  50. You got the get the handcranked too!

  51. Absolutely get a treadle... older the better... i have a new home d and a singer 201k centennial and a wertheim transverse bobbin...
    They are amazing...
    The older rarer and stranger the better... Im about to buy a Waldorf vibrating shuttle.


Related Posts with Thumbnails