Treadle sewing,More than grandma's straight stitch.

Hello everybody. Today I thought we might share some ideas about treadle sewing. I'm sure there are some folks who are strictly traditionalist or thoroughly fundamentalists when it comes to treadle sewing. They believe the only way to enjoy a vintage sewing machine is to use it just as it came from the factory. Then there are a few like myself who enjoy pushing the envelope to expand the capabilities of people powered sewing machines beyond straight stitches and forward or reverse.

not your grandma's treadle


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Now is the time when I unintentionally step on someone's toes, especially if they jump to conclusions quickly and read slowly. Please don't misinterpret what I am about to talk about. I have and use several different treadle machines. I have Singer machines from as early as 1895 to as late as 1960. My National machines range from 1898 to 1940ish including my 2 spool, and my New Home machines start in 1886 and end in approx 1928. I love my old machines, each one of them has scars,scrapes and worn out finishes. Chipped paint and cracked veneer adorn most of my cabinets. To me these imperfections are the character of the machines and they are the living history of the machine. Obviously I would never destroy a working machine and I rescue all of them I can. But sometimes they are too far gone or all I can get is the irons with no cabinet left to save. When this happens I will build new tops for the irons and put them back to a productive life. I have a set of New home irons with a table top designed to accommodate any head I want to swap in or out.

I have 3 sets of Singer irons which hold the true topic of this discussion. Sewing different stitches. Once I became proficient at the art or treadling I always said I would love to be able to do a ZZ or blind hem or some stretch stitches as well as some scallops or other decorative stitches. As I toyed with the idea I realized that any sewing machine head with an external motor and pulley drive system requiring a belt could be used with a set of treadle sewing machine irons. I entered a new level in the game of  "Treadle Me Not" and just like a video game it was a lot of trial and error but the more you play the more points (stitches) you get. Im sure that I am not the first to figure this out and that there are unlimited possibilities and combinations of people doing exactly as I did only much earlier, so it isn't groundbreaking news or technology but it is exciting to me.

Currently I have three machines set up in Singer treadles, The first one to claim permanent residency in a treadle form is my beloved Singer  306w. It's a very smooth finely built machine and even though it only shipped with 6 flat decorative stitch cams, I have not yet found any Singer flat cam it can not use. My wife's 1980's Merritt 2404 uses these exact cams and since the set for it is 30 plus different cams the older 1954 306 has plenty to choose from. The only downfalls from this machine is in the design of the bobbin area,they are a pain to change bobbins on no matter what combination of table you choose or if it's a portable in its original wooden box they are just a pain. and they use a special bobbin and a 206x13 needle.



My second permanent resident is my Necchi Nora, She is also excellent to treadle,very smooth very finely built machine,easier to change bobbins and uses a standard 15x1 needle. But in roughly 1956 she only shipped with 12 decorative cam options. Keep in mind the drive source (irons, not my legs) could very easily be 50 to 60 years older than the machine itself.


Last of the permanent treadle social outcasts would be my Necchi BU, Now the BU doesn't have the ability to do the decorative stitches, I believe a Wonder Wheel could be attached to this machine but will probably never happen. Made in 1953-54 it is a super smooth treadler with reverse and ZZ. I say it can't do the decorative stitches but it really can and if you refer to the original owners manual you can see why I chose not too,as it is anything but user friendly for decorative stitching.

I enjoy doing the decorative stitches and quilting with these machines. I am sure there are other machines that will do just as nice a job I just haven't given any of them a test run yet.I have played with some of the Singer 15s and 15 clones. I really enjoyed my 1950, 66-16 godzilla finish with its back tack setting in a treadle base. This machine was a true rescue and a story to get into at a later date. The only sewing machine I really was unhappy to treadle was my Anker RZ, It just felt heavy and cumbersome to me and it seemed to be really slow. I have to admit it was tested in the treadle before it was really cleaned well and I should try it again sometime as it seems to be a superb tailed machine weighing in at an Awesome 38 lbs.(head only with the motor detached). There are several other machines that I really want to treadle.Too many to name so I will only say Pfaff 130,Necchi Julia and  Kenmore 950, you are on the watch list. My final treadle ambition is to try an Overlock machine, I want to try to treadle a serger. Whats life without ambition,goals and fun?
Enjoy your machines each and everyone and let us in on the secret treadle machine ambitions that you have. Keeps me from thinking I'm the only one who has lost their mind.

not your grandmas treadle sewing machine

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About Paul Shields

Mel is a 30 something year old quilter, attempting to balance her old school roots with today's trends. When not sewing or shopping for a new sewing machine Mel enjoys reading, reality TV, and Nascar.

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