Why I Don't Have A Favorite Treadle Sewing Machine

Hello, everyone, we have talked about treadle machines some in the past and today I am going to outline some of the reasons that I do not have a favorite treadle machine. I am going to point out features that I personally like and dislike about the ones I have experience with.  There are a few that I will leave out of the conversation because I don’t have any personal hands on experience to draw from. I am going to start with the original equipment heads and bases. From that discussion, I will move into the quote Franken treadles.  Mismatched heads with bases. And newer (still vintage) machines in treadle bases 50 years older than they are.

why i don't have a favorite treadle


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Please keep two things in mind as we pursue this adventure. #1 these are only my opinions based on the experiences that I have encountered.  And #2 it is as OK to have differences of opinions as it is to have differences in personalities.

I have been infatuated by treadle sewing machines for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t really get involved with them until a few years ago when I bought Mel a National sewing machine branded as an Arlington and sold through The Cash Buyers Union sometime around 1898 to 1904.The papers that came with it lean closer to 1898.  It was typical of a machine that had been loved very much a very long time ago before we acquired it. It was really dirty and gummy and shows its age but it wasn’t rusty or frozen. We spent some time working off the layers slowly and carefully scared to death we would break it. And for a while every time I thought we had finished cleaning it I would find a new place I was supposed to clean and oil. It really wasn’t long before we had it running silky smooth and purring like a well-fed kitten. This little machine was my first hands-on experience with a treadle and it paved the way for a dozen or so of its friends to find the way to our home. It was also my first experience with a Vibrating Shuttle or VS machine, but it was the wife’s machine so I only did what needed to be done to get it to sewing form for her and I didn’t play with it often. But it had already infected me with treadle fever and I was hot off to get one of my own.

Fast-forward a few years and today I am quite comfortable with a treadle machine. Mel likes to treadle when she wants to but she is like a bass fisherman fishing the river for channel cat. She has the skill and knowledge but not what she wants to do every time she goes fishing.  Now I, on the other hand, would rather treadle unless working with tiny pieces then I have two hand-crank machines for that. Currently, I keep (9) treadles in the rotation, Nationals, New Homes, and Singers.  Currently, I don’t have any White, Wheeler –Wilson, or Wilcox –Gibbs treadle bases so I can’t go into too much detail about those machines. I just recently added a” Honeymoon” badged Davis VS machine to the herd but It is in rough shape and I haven’t had the time to get it into sewing form yet so it won’t be included in the comparisons   I have had opportunity to play with a White Rotoscillo treadle and I must agree I don’t think my Treadle bases are as free running as that White is. I am anxious for the chance to add one to the herd in the rotation.


I consider myself an average treadle operator, I feel there is always more to learn or more room for improvement no matter what skill set we achieve. I treadled the Arlington when we first got it but, only enough to be able to finish setting it up and making sure it was ready for Mel to use. I didn’t really start treadling wholeheartedly until after I bought my own treadle. It is also a National branded sewing machine. It is a mid-1930s Montgomery Wards, Damascus Grand Rotary. There is definitely a big difference between the two machines. Thirty + years and if not for the name you would never guess they were the same manufacturer. We went from a VS machine to a Rotary machine, there is also a big difference in the way the pedal sits in relationship to the floor but the biggest difference between the two machines is the quiet smoothness and the needle speed while sewing. The needle speed of the Damascus Grand is a direct result of the treadle drive pulley diameter measuring roughly 11.25 inches at the bottom of the groove and the pulley of the machine(driven pulley) being only 2.25 inches in diameter. This would mean that for every revolution of the Drive pulley the driven pulley would make 5 revolutions. Since each revolution of the driven pulley equals a stitch the end result is five stitches per full rotation of the pedal. Every time the pedal comes to the top of its travel the drive pulley turns 1 revolution and the driven pulley revolves 5 times making 5 stitches. When combined with a pedal that sits lower in angle in respect to the floor and the concentric pivot point on the drive pulley mounting closer to the axis (center) of the drive pulley, the stroke (distance traveled up and down by the pedal) is reduced. This means less work by the legs for each revolution of the drive pulley. In direct comparison with the Arlington’s drive pulley at roughly 10.50 inches and the driven pulley being at 2.75 the end result equals about 3.75 stitches per stroke versus the 5 full stitches acquired when using the Grand Rotary. The Arlington’s foot peddle is at a steeper angle to the floor and the concentric pivot is farther from the axis which means the peddle must travel further up and down per revolution resulting in more leg exercise. The evolution of the mechanics involved with raising and lowering the needle bar resulted in a much smoother operation of the machine while it is being operated. The Arlington uses a V-shaped channel riding on a roller bearing mounted on the end of the main shaft to lift the needle bar. The Grand Rotary used an offset concentric pivot to raise and lower a linkage connected to the needle bar bearing very similar to almost all of our typical machine designs of today. This reduced the vibrations created in the head of the machine so the Grand Rotary is not only smoother in operation it is also quieter.

When it actually comes to stitch quality I am a little bias. I don’t think I have ever seen stitches from any rotary or oscillating hook machine no matter who made it or how carefully it was tuned that would turn out as nice and straight a row of stitches as any VS machine. Because of the way a shuttle picks up the bottom thread it doesn’t twist or wrap the thread during the formation of the lock stitch. Therefore the stitches are truly straight and perfectly in line with the previous stitch. Rotary and oscillating hook sewing machines wrap the upper thread over the lower thread and it causes a twist that inherently offsets the stitch as it moves forward and the next stitch is started. If you look closely at the row of stitches you can see the slight angular offset even though the needle holes will be inline the stitches will slant slightly. Stitch integrity doesn’t seem to vary between the two machines; both machines make equally strong stitches.

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Before I can give a conclusion to the end of the discussion I feel like we need to cover the rest of the existing herd of treadle machines. In order to do this I am going to break this up into a couple more segments and once we have covered all the facts we can then scrutinize the machines as a whole and we can then decide which machine should be my favorite. Until the next time enjoy your machines your way and may you always have a straight needle.  

favorite sewing machine


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About Melissa 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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