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

Dec 22, 2010

BREAKING -- Singer treadle switcheroo!

Friends, I know I lose a great many of you when I talk about vintage sewing machines.  Eyes glaze over, minds wander, thumbs twiddle.  We live in the time of Twitter and attention spans are short.

Hence I pepper my blog entries with video clips, movie memorabilia, and references to yesteryear's exciting stars of tomorrow Troy Donahue, Connie Stevens, and Keir Dullea -- something even knitters (and there are some) can enjoy.

And yet rarely has the topic of sewing machines been as dynamic and fertile here at MPB.  So much to tell!

First of all, I have a surprise for you -- close your eyes -- OK, now open them!

I picked up this little straight stitch walking foot at the informative website, Sew-Classic.  Jenny sells all kinds of useful parts and accessories for vintage sewing machines there, and she has written at great length about some of my favorite Singer models, including the 15-91.

So yesterday I am reading her 15-91 review, and she starts discussing wiring problems common to old 15-91 machines.  I'm like, OK, let's see if my 15-91 also has any of these potentially dangerous problems.  I know there's visible cracking on the wire leading to the light and I know that every once in a while the wire leading to the outlet needs to be moved two inches this way or that way before the machine turns on -- highly suggestive of a short -- but only once in a while!  I unscrew the three-prong terminal on the machine that the power cord plugs into to inspect the condition of the wires (connecting pedal, motor, and lamp) and almost immediately pieces of brittle wire insulation crack off.  This is not good.

Friends, I have decided that one of my first projects in the new year will be to rewire my 15-91.  I don't like shocks of any kind and I can't take risks with my life, not when I have a blog to write.  I may even learn to solder.

But let's get to the topic at hand: treadles.

Yesterday, despite debilitating back pain and with much assistance from Michael since I can't lift 35 lbs. right now, I replaced my Singer 66 treadle machine with the new vintage 15-90 that arrived on Monday.  It took about ten minutes.

Just one screw released the motor, another screw, the lamp.

I then removed the clutch release wheel and the clutch control washer (I'm learning so many new words.).

This is what you see.

Next I slid the hand wheel off and then the belt.

Now the machine looks like this.

Next we removed the machine from its wooden base by unscrewing the hinge screws on the inside base of the machine and sliding the machine off the hinges.  We did the same to the Singer 66 in the treadle table (first removing the hand wheel to free the leather treadle belt).

We placed the Singer 66 in the wooden base that the 15-90 had formerly occupied.  (I've ordered a shorter -- 13 3/4" -- belt through Sew-Classic so I can attach the motor to the 66; that's next.) 

We placed the 15-90 in the treadle table and attached the leather belt.  No belt adjustment necessary!

Beautiful stitches, no electricity needed, and I can regulate stitch length as well as reverse stitch the modern (circa 1949) way.

Friends, nothing is perfect in life but this comes close.  I am a happy man albeit one currently prone to lower back spasms.

For those still with us who have an interest in such things, much (much) better instructions for performing this treadle conversion can be found at the website, here.  It's an invaluable resource for treadlers and those who love them.

Now who can teach me to solder?

Indulgent readers, we're nearly out of time.  I am so happy I can share my obsessions with you.  Michael and I, Freddy and Willy, and the surviving cast members of Madame X all wish you the happiest of happy holiday seasons.  I'll be back on the morrow, not to worry.

And what of you?  Drowning in a sea of wrapping paper, homemade toddler pajamas, and tote bags?

Do tell!

(Pass the Kleenex as Lana and Keir reduce us to wet noodles.)


  1. Wow! Your mechanical skill and knowledge of and patience with vintage machines is awesome. Learning to solder should be a breeze for you. Remember that solder flows towards the heat, and to use a self fluxing solder (and not too much of it). You'll be fine.

    I am in the last throes of sewing a nursing nightgown, a bunting and a quilt for my daughter who is expecting her first child on 1/6/11. Oh then there is rolling edges on a dozen red napkins with my new serger. Then my wife and I cook....

  2. Hi, Peter! My sisters and I LOVED the tawdry, salacious Madame X when we were little! Of course we had crushes on Keir Dullea (I think he was in Flight of the Phoenix,too--the one with Jimmy Stewart). Thanks for the reminder. Great job on the sewing machine switcheroo! Hope you and yours have a lovely holiday and a great New Year!

  3. I love the sewing machine posts. (You might have guessed that). The new machine looks great! I have that same walking foot from Jenny. It works great, but I found I sometimes have to release some of the pressure on the presser bar --that's usually only when quilting over seams, so you might not need to do that. It's nice to use on velvet and velveteen.

    Please, don't start taking apart the motor on your 15-91 until you know about the two small wires that go behind the motor and are soldered to the ends of the brush tubes. When you pull the (I believe it's the field coil) out you must support it so the small wires don't break off or you will have the most massive headache and stress of anyone in NY. But you do need that thing rewired --you haven't been sewing very safely!

    has a lot of wonderful information that warrants printing out.

    Peter, be aware of your posture as you cut, work, sit & sew to preserve your back. Ask me how I know! Ergonomics is everything. (I can't sit at a vintage machine cabinet-the type where the machine swings downward when folded up - without pain as a souvenir.)

    Enjoy your new machine!

  5. Peter, you're certainly a fella who gets things done! Congratulations on the successful treadle upgrade, I'm thrilled for you and impressed. I just got some attachments in the mail myself- I'm excited to gather without basting..I'm working on a dress and a skirt. For Christmas. Ha!

  6. Okay, I'll admit it -- I've actually been fascinated by treadle sewing machines since I first encountered one was a wee little kid (I think it was at the Boston Musuem of Science).

    I'm now a great big kid (LOL), and still fascinated -- so it's really neat to see someone working with one in a modern context.

    I'm hoping to either find a working one or figure out how to restore one, eventually. I'll check out -- that sounds like a good resource!

    Of course, I should probably first learn to use the electric machine my boyfriend gave me :) Right now, I just hand-sew, and it takes me a million years to make anything larger than a pin cushion (though I do manage to mend a lot of things).

    You've got a great blog going, here!

  7. Thanks, Asher and LAP.

    Doris, thanks for that fabulous resource!

  8. Soooo cool! I bought that same singer 15-91 this summer. It is beautiful, no rust, no visible wear, millions of feet and attachments, all the original manuals, etc. I got it with a full table for... are you ready? $2.00. The shop owner loved me because I bought a crazy letterpress machine. Plus he had no idea what a decent sewing machine looked like. Someone had dropped the singer off that morning. Soooo excited. Anyway, it is just sitting in my sewing room now and I am plannning on refurbing whatever needs to be refurbed after the holidays end. So this is super helpful. You don't lose me at ALL when you write about vintage machines. I have an ancient Pfaff waiting for love as well. I might sell that one :( Who knows? Anyway, thanks! This is great information.

  9. Very informative photos. the clutch looks like the clutch in our 1968 VW Bus (dad had me help him replace it with him).

    rain, wind, fog, and GastroIntestinal distress are keeping me from the fabric shop - mom wants me to make her another scarf or two for the holidays. there's some gorgeous linen knit (like, tee shirt knit) in a gunmetal color that would look great with cornflower blue running stitches (in embroidery floss) around the edge - it would really suit her coloring! hope i get there soon!

    best wishes to your low back,

  10. Totally off topic, but I have to share this "sewing machine"! LOL

  11. My new obsession: the Homedics Shiatsu Lumbar Cushion. I lay on it (probably not supposed to do that) and it causes excruciating pain on all the knots in my lower back. I can't get enough of it. Highly recommend for low back muscle pain.

  12. Enjoy your new treadle! The 15s are my favorites. Someone on the Treadle On list spotted your mention of the site and shared the link to your blog. We have more than 1000 people who sew with treadles and handcranks on that list, so you have plenty of company.

  13. Who knew it would lead to this: clutches (the mechanical kind) and soldering irons?

    And yes, I have turned out a couple tote bags this week.

  14. (Watch out for that Dan -- a quilter.)

  15. Hey, Peter. Glad it went so smoothly for you. I'm also a lover of the classic machines and have shopped from Jenny before, too. Lane

  16. Sorry to hear about your back pain! Have you tried laying on tennis balls? (It's the low tech shiatsu massager). Just put 'em in a tube sock so the dogs won't think it's a new game. It hurts SO good!

    Love your new machine! Have you considered venturing into sewing machine repair as a sideline? Not that you NEED even MORE machines in your house. LOL

    I'm finishing up boxers for my fella and am embarking on a muslin for my NY Eve top. It's going to be made from this amazing two-coloured sequin fabric I picked up in September. GORGEOUS!

    And thanks for the heads up on the old movies! My Neflix queue is full of your suggestions. :)

  17. "We did the same to the Singer 66 in the treadle table (first removing the hand wheel to free the leather treadle belt)."

    I guess now is not the time to point out that your treadle (the iron parts below) should have a belt jumper lever (not the official name) that you can move to release the belt. ;-)

    Good luck with the rewiring. That will be a great skill to have given your shopping and trash habits.

    Happy Holidays, Peter, Michael, Freddy & Willy ... I'm off to NC in the morning.

  18. OMG--I never would have guessed I might know something about a vintage sewing machine that you don't, but I have already rewired my 15-91! First thing to do if you have not already done it is join the Vintage Singer Yahoo group where most if not all of the info available on the 15-91 (and the other oldies) has been rounded up.

    Since your 15-91 is running nicely those two wires Susan mentioned are currently connected. Just be careful when you separate the field coil (kinda resembles Princess Leia's hair, or maybe Queen Amidala's) from the base of the motor not to break the connections and you'll be ok. The most puzzling thing I found that I finally had to ask about on the VS group was that the wire coming off the field coil was silver (more like pewter) in color while the new wiring connecting the motor to the power source is all copper. Jenny of Sew-Classic told me the old wires are tin plated. This slows up soldering the new wires on because the tin does not heat as quickly as the copper, but I just dribbled solder all over everything and that worked.

    Oh dear, I'm running on. I'll shut up now and ponder MuseKakoethes's extraordinary good fortune.

  19. Oh good grief, I really have to solder?

  20. Either that, or get lit up like a Christmas tree!

    Cadienne in Louisiana

  21. Save your light! From a TreadleOn reader:
    He laments that he is giving up the light on the 15. He doesn't have to
    if he cuts the cord to the light close to the motor and installs one of
    those clip on type plug replacements, and then uses an extension cord. I
    did that with the 99 I converted to an HC.

  22. If you lived closer, I could teach you--both for electronics and for jewelery. But alas, I'm not planning on a New York trip any time in the near future. (I learned electronics in HS, and art majors can do weird things!)

    I finished up the last present, aside from one pair of grown up jammies today. That pair I'm getting cut out and interfacing fused on tonight. I also finished up my nephew's new stuffed turtle last night. The shell is made from tractor fabric, which since the gift combines his two favorite things, I'm about to become his favorite auntie! :) We're making candy today, and tomorrow by this time, I'll be drowning in wrapping paper. The next few days will hopefully allow my poor perforated fingertips to heal before I embark on my next project.

  23. Laura, I am in awe of your devotion -- and patience!

    Rosie, that's a great idea about the light: thanks so much for passing that info along to me.

  24. I love your sewing machine posts. That's how I started reading you in the first place. I just finished making a Christmas tree skirt and put it around the tree. Better late than never! But my skills at sewing on binding by machine have much room for improvement.


  25. "Oh good grief, I really have to solder?"
    No, you can twist the wires together firmly and cover the splice in a heat shrink sleeve. I cut the old wires too close to the field coil to get a good joint that way. Jenny et al. won't actually give us much advice on that because they don't want to be responsible for what happens to us amateur electricians, but you can find stuff all over the internet about splicing wire. The easiest way to splice is to use a wire nut, but there's no room inside the motor.

    Try it, it's fun!

  26. Oh, and you can see a shot of the inside of the motor here on my blog. Most of my pix show nothing but that one shows the two wires Susan mentioned.

  27. I've been checking out your blog for a short while now... I hope you don't mind me lurking around in the background and occasionally commenting.

    I don't have a great interest in vintage sewing machines but your enthusiasm for it makes it interesting. I never would have considered owning a machine as old as yours and actually using it to sew with... although I can imagine it will probably sew through a 2x4 if you need it to.

    I suspect the issue you mentioned regarding your sewing machine motor wiring is not a short which would cause a fuse to blow or a breaker to pop. It sounds like a continuity problem where the wire becomes broken inside the insulation. Nevertheless, based upon your description, it sounds like it's time for an upgrade.

    Also, the 'tinning process' that results in the silver coloring on your wiring is probably just solder which helps facilitate the soldering process. Tin is one of the major components of solder and melts at a lower temperature than copper. It is actually the copper absorbing the heat that results in it taking so long to solder.

    Have fun with your new machine!

  28. Peter, I for one hang on your every word about vintage machines. I'm so glad you have achieved treadling nirvana!
    I am mid-way through a pair of pyjama pants for my brother, then a makeup bag for a niece and I'm done on christmas sewing and can return to purely selfish sewing. Phew.
    I actually had a dream last night about vintage sewing machines. I 're-discovered' two horrible old machines I had 'bought' and left at my, um, 'holiday house' and even 'remembered' techniques I had to use on one of them to make it work properly. None of these things actually happened and I do not have a holiday house. And in my dream I thought oh well, I can perhaps get a few dollars for the machines on eBay, although they'll have to be local pickup only. Stupid dream taking up valuable brain space....

  29. I enjoy following along as you find your perfect sewing machine. The photo of the stitching is just TDF. I went through a lot of different sewing machines until I bonded with my current machine. Some day I will want a treadle, so I am glad you are doing all the hard work and leading the way. And my Netflix queue thanks you.

  30. Damn! You are gifted- soldering will be a breeze for you.(and a youtube video away) Sorry 'bout the back because I reacon you would be jumping for joy at the moment.

  31. I so enjoy your sewing machine posts. To fix up and pass on machines to other sewers is a calling, very much like Johnny Appleseed. I sewed on a treadle machine when I was in grade school. Before I had formal lessons. It was easy and made a good start to sewing. I still remember, when I read your posts, what a lovely quiet machine it was and long to have one of my own, but it is improbable.

  32. I must have my treadle belt hooked up wrong, it gets loose enough to slip over the handwheel when I fold it into the cabinet.

  33. As a collector of vintage sewing machines, I find your adventures fascinating. Good work on the treadle conversion. Did you check out Jenny's site for wiring a new electronic foot controller for your 15-91?
    Also, perhaps you should ask Santa for a pair of treadle belt pliers.

  34. Wait until you get your hands on a Davis VF treadle - The presser foot is a walking foot - has a cleated foot nested inside the regular presser foot and needle/said foot move simultaneously to pull fabric while the external foot is slightly raised.... Brilliant treadle machine. Originally made in Watertown, NY then moved in 1883 to Dayton OH. Welcome to treadelon!! susan m

  35. i looooooove taking my vintage machines apart and banging away on them. no attention lost here!

  36. There's a Davis VF treadle on ebay right now, with ruffler and tucker, only 350.00 plus shipping from UK.

  37. Thanks so much for the tut. Im planning a motorectomy asap. Did you not change the hand wheel to a spoke one? I have a solid wheel and thought I had to change to a spoked one in order to have a groove for the belt? It would save me some bucks if I didn't have to buy one!

  38. You don't have to change to a spoked wheel but I'll be honest: I missed the spoked wheel on my 66 and I ended up putting it back in the treadle table in the end.

    The spoked wheel is larger and easier to grasp; it's not essential though.

  39. Have you any experience with a zigzag attachment? I'm looking into using it to stop raveling on edges but I need some help figuring out the best way to do it. Any leads?

  40. There's a vintage Griest attachment you can find that comes with different templates for different zigzag stitches. But frankly, it would be easier (and not much more expensive) to pick up an inexpensive used zigzagger at a thrift store -- and it will do a better job, imo.

  41. Just thought you'd like to see a video I just made for demo-ing my zigzag attachment as using for over-edging, something I use extensively in my sewing but had a hard time mastering on the attachment because the fabric only went half way under the foot. Your readers might enjoy it too. I've not seen any other videos (other than a 10 second clip) that show how the adjustable works.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails