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Vintage Electric Sewing Machines Gone Wild - Why I Don't Have A Favorite Treadle Part 3

Hello everyone today we are going to finish our discussion about our favorite treadle machine.  The final part of this mini-series is going to be covering the newer sewing machines. Some of these will be machines that were never intended to sit upon a treadle base. Some of the others will be machines that were shipped to the United States without motors only to have motors installed upon them and then sold as motorized units. In their country of origin, they were still being produced with treadle bases. Although the machines are quite comfortable being treadled when placed upon a treadle base. Not many of these machines actually made it to the USA with the original treadle base. So being naturally inquisitive, the first question in my mind is, how much better are these machines when they are paired with the treadle base designed for them? I hope someday to satisfy that curiosity and cross paths with one of these treadles in its natural habitat. When I do I can guarantee there will be a follow-up conversation.

vintage electric machines become treadles

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My first big adventure into the modern treadle era began when I decided I would like to have a machine with a few more features than most of my natural born treadles can perform. After all, even when most of my sewing directly revolves around quilting I do enjoy stepping out of the quilt box and sewing other objects as well as making a few alterations or repairs. I found myself thinking if I could add a reverse stitch and some stretch stitches along with ZZ and some pattern stitches for decorations I would have a sewing solution that would fit me perfectly. My very first experiment was to set my 306w into an old Singer treadle base. It was the beginning of a whole new world of sewing for me. The 306w didn’t require any modifications if feels right at home in the treadle base. It is, was, and always will be one of the most awkward machines to change a bobbin on or to remove a thread nest in the bobbin area. It doesn't matter if it’s in a cabinet or in its portable case; the bobbin access is difficult at best. I matched it with a base that has only a top, no drawers on either side or a drawer in the center. With a little practice, I can now change the bobbin without having to remove the belt and tipping the machine back on its hinges. Since this was my first attempt at getting a treadle machine with all the features I really didn’t know what to expect. The first lesson the 306 w taught me was simply that the 396w does not like to spin backward. It only takes a quarter spin the wrong direction to create wonderful knots that will instantly ruin a sewing adventure. The only other downfall I found with this combination pertains to free motion quilting. I honestly don’t believe the machine is the problem. I believe it to be operator errors that I don’t seem to be able to get a good grasp on. The machine functions perfectly but I seem to shred the top thread a lot. There doesn’t appear to be any pattern to the shredding it is happening near the eye of the needle. I tried different sizes, brands, types and there was no difference. I tried different thread, sizes, brands etc. I was left with the same results. I polished the thread path and checked for burrs but found none. I did the same with the needle plate and the hopping foot I was using. Still, no change so I switched feet and needle plate. Nothing seems to eliminate the issue so I finally gave it up. I believe The needle is being flexed sideways and rubbing the needle plate starting a burr that then continues to wear the eye of the needles and shreds. So as I said earlier I think the problem is the operator. Maybe someday I will obtain the finesse needed for this particular machine but until then I have several others that will perform the same function with the same operator flawlessly so why worry about it. When it comes to using all the other features built into the machine, including using the pattern cams it performs flawlessly. Originally there were (6) flat disk pattern cams shipped with the machine. But there are other machines which utilize the same style cams but were built during the years after this machine. If memory serves me correctly there are 32 different patterns available for the flat cams. I have successfully used them all with the treadle 306w.  The final thing I would like to address is noise. I adjust my treadles very carefully to eliminate any noise possible. When the 306w is being treadled, it is super smooth and quieter than expected. So, quiet in fact I can hear the nylon stocking I use as a belt whir as it goes over the pulley. In my opinion, the end results exceeded my expectations.

My next machine to be under the gun so to speak is my Necchi Nora. She and her older sister a black BU are only separated by 4 years or so and they both came to live with us at the same time. Mel enjoys using different machines from time to time but her tried and true most trusted friend is her black electrified BU in a cabinet. She was constantly telling me how great it is and how much I needed to try it out and get serious with it. I just kept blowing her off by telling her I didn’t need a BU but I would like to try a Mira with the Wonder Wheel attachments for decorative stitching.  Being in the center of the states there doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of Necchi sewing machines in our region. When a VSM sewing buddy called us saying he had just picked up two of the wild ones we thought he was just doing it to agitate Mel. She was pleasantly surprised when he said he had no interest in them and only got them because they were in a bundled sale package he had gotten and of the bundle he was only interested in one machine and he was getting rid of the rest. Did she want them cheap? We were in the car the next day to meet him and pick them up. When we arrived, he showed us what at the time he thought to be a Mira, it was understandable as it had a book for a Mira with it. Instead, it turned out to be a Nora NA with the two-speed motor and all the works. Full pattern cam set and most of the feet. I was overjoyed for her and had no designs on the Nora at all. Then he brings out the BU. And a couple more boxes of accessories, some were Necchi and some were not. The BU was a head only just as he said and she could just have it for parts if she wanted. When it was all over and done the whole mess was loaded into the car at under $50 and we were headed home. I felt like a thief but when I tried to pay him more he insisted on dropping the price lower because he got them super cheap and he got his money’s worth out of the machine he wanted to begin with so he was just happy to see them go where they would live again.   After getting the machines home Mel informed me the Nora was my birthday present from her. She didn’t want to use it in its portable configuration and she didn’t want to take her BU out of its cabinet for the Nora to go into. I was overjoyed, it didn’t take me long to carefully do a motorectomy on the Nora and sit her right into a singer treadle base. She fit like a glove.and she acted like she was born to be treadled, in fact, she was built to be treadled. In the early 50’s most of the Italian made machines were not equipped with a motor. They were shipped as kits and the motors were installed at the distributorship. So it came as no surprise that the Nora was super smooth to treadle. A little heavier on the pedal than the 306w but it also has a heavier counterbalance than the 306w so it will sew heavy fabric at slower speeds and still maintain a steady stitch pattern. The Nora has a voice all of its own, It is neither quiet nor is it loud, It reminds me of a big block Chevy motor rumbling at an idle just waiting for someone to stomp the accelerator and let the power come out. She sews very smoothly, rarely balls up the bobbin if she rolls back a half turn and she will sew perfectly using the 11 or 12 pattern cams she shipped with. She doesn’t mind free motion quilting at all and she doesn’t appear to be finicky about using any class 15 bobbin. I seriously doubt she will ever be motorized again, but I do keep her parts boxed up and labeled so someday if someone wants they can marry her to her motor once again.

As for her sister the parts BU, well she now also sits in a singer treadle base. She also sews like a dream. But she doesn’t like my walking foot because the thread guide gets in the way. She does everything else she was designed for and has never failed a challenge. She earned her treadle base because I thought if I could get a machine Mel was super comfortable with in a treadle then she would be more open to the idea of treadling. So far it has worked and now Mel enjoys treadling sometimes. Although I don’t think it will ever be first and foremost to her. She will always be a machine quilter at heart.

The last machine we are going to talk about is a fairly common Singer model 66. The uncommon part of this machine is the story behind it and the fact that although Singer made millions of the 66’s during its 60 years of production there were very few changes ever made to improve this solid platform of a machine. The first 66’s were equipped with back clamping feet and they were treadle or hand-crank only. They switched to the common side mounted short shank feet early in the life of the machines. They went for decades with no changes except decals and a black polished chrome on all the shiny bits for some models. In the late 40’s they incorporated a backtack capability so the seams could be locked at the start and end of the seam. It was not a full reverse stitch. Because the stitch size in reverse was a different length than forward stitch mode. Full reverse came a few years later. Oddly enough the 66-18 has backtack and the 66-16 has the full reverse. Ours is the 66-18, Centennial model with black crinkle (Godzilla)finish and silver painted decorations, not decals. Mel found it in a junk iron pile at a local antique store. Something about the machine "spoke" to her and she paid $12 for a rust frozen model of a machine that in her own words were a dime a dozen because they were made for so long a period and thousands each production run. But she wanted it so she bought it, then she says do you think it can be operable again. It was in sad shape but the finish was spotless. So, I told her we could try. After two months of removing the rust from all the normal frozen spots and still unable to move hook assembly I resorted to disassembling everything remotely attached to the hook and driving the hook shaft out of the hook bushing with a hammer and a wood block once it was apart I could polish the two halves much to my surprise there was no pitting on either part. Once they were polished and oiled they slipped back together and now it is the smoothest 66 I have ever sewn on. We have 4 of them now. All different sub-models with 3 of them born around 1923-25. The fun part of this machine being a treadle now isn’t so much the fact it was built in 51 and never intended for a treadle at all but that it did not get put into a Singer base. Instead, I put it into a special built portable style base with an open bottom at the hand wheel end and that base fits into a basket type hole in a special top sitting on a set of New Home Treadle Irons. I built the table so it could be disassembled in about 3 minutes moved and reassembled just as quickly. It is intended to break down easily so we could use it for school kids at Mel’s real job. And the gear ratio is slow enough to make it easy for children to learn on. The 66 is a very forgiving machine and can handle inexperienced operators easier than some of our other machines and there are replacement parts available for it that are not available for other treadle models. The Godzilla finish is kid proof and the machine sews like a dream in the table. So it is a win for it. And it was a fully successful rescue for a great cause.

Here at the Quilting room with Mel, we are all about Vintage sewing machines, preferably vintage enough to be all steel geared machines. With that being said it is also important to me that as readers you all know I realize that with the evolution of machines, we must also embrace the changes that technology brings us. Like plastic, nylon and other synthetic materials used in place of steel or brass such as gears, bushings, and levers. Not to mention the bodies of the machines themselves. While these things do affect my personal preferences, my opinions are not intended to belittle anyone who chooses to enjoy the benefits of the more modern machines. Sewing is an art for some people while it is a hobby for some and a profession for others. Whatever the case may be I hope you enjoy your machines as much as I enjoy mine. As for the question: What’s your favorite treadle, well as you can see I really don’t have a favorite.I don’t know how to quantify the joy I get from using each machine. Every one of them is a personality of its own making it better suited to some jobs better than others. Some have a very special personal attachment so how do I qualify them. So I  claim to love them all differently much like a large family of children. I DON’T HAVE A FAVORITE.

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Until next time enjoy your machines your way and may your corners always line-up.

vintage electric sewing machines become treadle sewing machines

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Would you like to comment?

  1. Oh Paul, this is both entertaining and educational. While I do not yet have a treadle, I adore hearing all the details and history of the machines. Thank you!