Treadle Sewing Machine Advice

You love to sew.
Or perhaps you are looking for a sensible off grid sewing machine and think you’d like to buy a treadle sewing machine but don’t know where to start or what to look for?

Sewing Corner

Sewing Corner

Maybe you are worried that all treadle sewing machines are expensive antiques and you can’t afford one?
Or you’re concerned that you’ll have to do without a zigzag stitch or machine made button holes if you use one?
Or maybe you don’t know how to sew but would like to learn?

Well grab a spool of thread and get ready to sew – because I’m about to give you some practical and very basic advice on one of my favorite off-grid topics – treadle sewing machines!

A treadle sewing machine is simply a sewing machine that is powered by what you ate for breakfast instead of electricity.

Working By Natural Light & With No Electricity

Working By Natural Light & With No Electricity

All Sewing Machines Have 2 Main Elements In Common
Sewing machines – electric or treadle – consist of a “head” and some type of mechanism that drives the head.
The machine head is the part of the sewing machine that actually does the sewing. A sewing machine head consists of precisely machined and tooled fitted rods, screws, wheels, springs, disks, gears and other parts. Some of those parts are hidden and encased within the head and some parts are visible on the outside of the sewing head.
Keep this information about sewing machine heads in mind because you’ll need it later.

The mechanism which drives a sewing machine head can either be electric or non-electric as in a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
An electric sewing machine usually has a machine head with an attached light and the sewing machine may or may not be computerized, and is driven by an electric motor.
Treadle sewing machines also have two main elements to them; the sewing machine head and the treadle base. The treadle base is the table or cabinet that the sewing machine sits in.

Singer Model 66 Out Of Cabinet

Singer Model 66 Out Of Cabinet

Treadle sewing machines are powered by a drive belt that is most often made of leather and connected to a treadle assembly.

Treadle Assembly

Treadle Assembly

The belt sits in a groove on the hand/balance wheel of the sewing machine head and is fitted down through the top of the table or cabinet base of the sewing machine in a continuous loop.

Drive Band Goes From The Balance Wheel To The Treadle Assembly

Drive Band Goes From The Balance Wheel To The Treadle Assembly

The leather drive band loop usually encircles a large metal grooved wheel under the base of the sewing machine that is attached by way of a pitman rod to a foot treadle.

Pitman Rod On Minnesota Model “A”

Pitman Rod On Minnesota Model “A”

When the foot treadle is worked, the attached pitman rod turns the large grooved assembly wheel which begins to move the leather drive belt caught in the sewing machine’s hand wheel and the parts of the sewing machine head begin to move.
The result is that if the sewing machine head has a needle and the head is properly threaded, when fabric is placed under the foot of the machine – sewing commences.
A hand cranked sewing machine is also a “people powered” sewing machine. Instead of being belt driven it has a handle attached to the balance wheel. As you turn the handle on the balance/hand wheel the machine sews. Hand cranked sewing machines are a good choice for people who don’t sew often. They can be quite a bit slower to sew on as opposed to a regular treadle sewing machine. Hand cranked sewing machines are usually about ¾ the size of a standard sewing machine.

In spite of the modern electric and digital age, there are millions of treadle sewing machines still in use around the world.
Thousands of brand new and not so new treadle sewing machines are used every day in private homes and in 3rd world garment and textile factories.
The odds are pretty good that if you are over the age of 35 at some time in your life you have worn a factory ready-made garment that was sewn in part on a treadle sewing machine.

A treadle sewing machine in good working order is a joy to use.
The physical act of treadling can be soothing and relaxing. Many people who love to sew or quilt prefer to use only a treadle sewing machine.

Online Sewing Class

Many who sew professionally will keep a treadle sewing machine as a backup to their electric sewing machine in the event of a power outage or a looming fitting deadline.
(the drama of a 2 day power blackout during a final wedding dress fitting and a nervous bride and her mother will take 10 years off your life)
The needle speed on a treadle sewing machine is usually slower than that of an electric machine.
The slower machine speed can be a real advantage for the novice sewer because it is easier to watch their fingers and maintain control of the fabric and seam width.
I think a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine is the very best way to teach a child or a beginner to sew.

10 Year Old Learning To Sew

10 Year Old Learning To Sew

Treadle sewing machines are built to last almost forever and are actually very simple devices and lend themselves to easy home repair, service and  maintenance.

New Treadle Sewing Machines
Modern treadle sewing machines are available new but they can be very expensive. Janome makes a fair to good modern treadle sewing machine that is supposedly popular with the Amish and other people who live without electricity. The Janome 712T treadle sewing machine uses a top-loading bobbin and has 10 utility stitches and a built-in buttonhole stitch.

The last I knew the Janome 712T is made in Taiwan and has a limited 25 year warranty. The advantage of a modern treadle sewing machine is that service repair, bobbins, needles and parts are readily available. The disadvantages of purchasing a modern treadle sewing machine are lack of quality and price when compared to an older machine. ***See below for extensive sewing machine rant***

Necessity (and frugality) is most often the Mother of Invention.
If you want a modern sewing machine complete with decorative stitches, many vintage sewing machines (and some modern) can be easily converted into a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
If you are handy with a screw driver, drill, hammer, wire cutters and a jig saw; and have a dose of creative vision and aren’t a stranger at the local hardware store, then converting the right electric sewing machine may be a low-cost way for you to get a treadle sewing machine or hand cranked sewing machine.
Thousands of older treadle sewing machines were converted from treadle to electric. To reverse the process is not complicated.

Electric Motor Attached To A Minnesota Model A

Electric Motor Attached To A Minnesota Model A

Many good sewing machines made during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and early 1960’s have heavy grooved balance wheels that are exterior belt driven. All that is necessary to do the conversion is to simply remove the electric motor and set the sewing machine into a treadle table or base.
A sturdy treadle table can be fashioned from an old treadle base and with a new top.
Craig’s List, eBay, yard sales, auctions, thrift stores, Free Cycle and plain old-fashioned asking around, are all good ways to find low-cost or no cost sewing machines and treadle bases.

Singer Model 66 At Auction

Singer Model 66 At Auction

Very often a simple classified ad in the local newspaper (old people still read newspapers) will turn up a gem of a sewing machine. Many people have old treadle sewing machines sitting in their garages and basements and would like to have them gone.
Often the sewing machine belonged to a beloved family member that has passed away and the family would be happy for the machine to go to someone who would appreciate it.
Depending upon the condition, such sewing machines can usually be had for $0 – $90.
A word of warning: A treadle sewing machine with a base or a cabinet is heavier than a dead preacher so be sure you bring help to load it if you plan on taking it home.

If you don’t have enough room for a full size treadle sewing machine a hand cranked sewing machine may be a really good low-cost non-electric solution for your sewing needs.
The Pfaff sewing machine below is a good example of a high quality sewing machine from the 1950’s that can be easily converted into a hand cranked or possibly a treadle driven sewing machine.

Pfaff Sewing Machine For $3.99

Pfaff Sewing Machine For $3.99

The sewing machine is precision Swiss made, has a solid steel head and is built like a tank. That sewing machine was made when I still had my baby teeth and will outlast me.
I paid $3.99 for it last year at my local Salvation Army Thrift store. For about $6-$12 I can convert it to hand cranked or treadle operation if I find a balance wheel to fit it.
*** See extensive sewing machine rant below***

If your heart is set on an older or antique treadle sewing machine but you don’t know where to find one or you’re afraid that you can’t possibly afford one – relax – be happy and don’t fret.
If you really want an older or antique treadle sewing machine you can probably find or assemble one to call your own. It is much easier and more affordable than you may imagine.
If you know how to read and follow directions; and can work in an orderly, methodical fashion; and if you aren’t in too a big hurry and don’t mind some really grubby, dirty work – a beautiful old Iron Lady can be yours.

It is impossible to do antique treadle sewing machines the justice they deserve in a blog post – even a long post like this one.

Among collectors and aficionados of antique treadle sewing machines there are lots of  different opinions. So don’t take what I’m about to tell you next as the only gospel. I would encourage you to follow the hyper links located in this post and visit The Treadle Lady and the Amazon links below for more information.

In general, there are 3 considerations when buying an older or antique treadle sewing machine. You must keep all of them in mind.

The 3 considerations are:

The Sewing Machine Head which includes:

  • Bobbin Type
  • Needle Type
  • Feet

Base or Cabinet & Treadle

Availability of Parts

The Sewing Machine Head

When looking at or considering the purchase an older or antique treadle sewing machine, the head of the sewing machine is the most important part and requires the most consideration.
You will need to determine the condition of the machine head and check to see if all parts of the head are present with a visual inventory.
If all parts aren’t present – what parts are missing?
When examining a sewing machine head carefully and slowly examine the head moving from the right to left and from top to bottom.
Does the balance/hand wheel turn or is it frozen?Does the needle move?
What is the condition of the bobbin winder?

Bobbin Winder On A Household Sewing Machine

Bobbin Winder On A Household Brand Sewing Machine

Who is the manufacturer? Is there a model or serial number?
What is the shape of the base? Are the feed plate/or plates present?
What type of bobbin is used? What type of feet? What type of needle is used?
Are the thread pins intact and tension disks, springs or plates present?
What is the condition of the steel, chrome, the decals and how much dirt, grime or rust is present?

Household Barnd Sewing Machine Head Circa 1914

Household Barnd Sewing Machine Head Circa 1914

Sadly nothing can really take the place of  life experience when it comes to buying antique treadle sewing machines.
But luckily, eBay is a great way to see lots of treadle sewing machine heads, cabinets and treadle assembly bases.
The “zoom” feature on eBay auction listings can give a treadle sewing machine newbie the opportunity to look up close at many different types of antique treadle sewing machine heads.
Just be forewarned about eBay – often the description from the seller is wacky and inaccurate. Complete and intact treadle sewing machine prices tend to be wonky and are often outrageously high.
That said, the eBay prices for sewing machine parts are good and antique sewing machine manuals are plentiful.
Very often there are real deals to be had on sewing machine heads – especially Singer, White, New Home and Domestic.  eBay is my favorite place to buy antique sewing machine parts.

Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine - Born October 31,1922

Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine – Born October 31,1922

A word of advice – antique sewing machines are just like coins, guns and rare books – condition is everything.
And just because something is old doesn’t make it particularly valuable. People who don’t understand or know anything about treadle sewing machines will tend to over price them.
This is where knowing how to haggle like a horse trader will come in handy.
At present here in western Pennsylvania, the going auction price for a complete antique treadle sewing machine in good condition is about $45 – $120 depending upon cabinet condition and who’s at the auction.

Lastly, keep  bobbin type and parts availability in mind when looking for an older sewing machine. In general, bobbins are divided into 2 types – a shuttle with a bobbin and a modern round bobbin. Shuttles and the bobbins that fit into them come in different sizes and are not interchangeable.

Shuttle & Bobbin With Thread

Shuttle & Bobbin With Thread

This is an important consideration when purchasing an old sewing machine. Round bobbins are a more modern system and they are much easier to find and not as expensive.

Round Bobbin

Round Bobbin


When buying an old treadle sewing machine it is wisest to look for a sewing machine that was mid-priced and popular for its time.
Singer sewing machines were made by the millions and are still relatively easy to find and affordable.
The Singer model 15-88 and Singer model 66 are both good choices when looking for treadle sewing machines.

The Singer 15-88 was the last sewing machine that Singer made for treadle use. Most were made in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. The model 15-88 uses a modern needle, low shank feet and has a reverse.

Singer 15-88 Head With Attachments

Singer 15-88 Head With Attachments

The feed dogs can be lowered and it’s a good machine for darning or free form stipple quilting. There is a buttonhole attachment, a zig zag attachment and a walking foot attachment for the Singer model 15-88, along with the standard hemming foot, ruffler and other specially feet. As of today, I would expect to pay between $75 -$170 for a head in very good condition.

The Singer model 66 was made from 1902 to about 1960. It is uses a round bobbin and a standard needle. Singer model 66’s made before the early 1920’s have feet and attachments that are non-standard. They have a back clamp instead of a side clamp and don’t have a reverse. The Singer model 66 often has attractive and distinctive decals and is nicknamed a “Red Eye.
As of today, I would expect to pay $40 -$90 for a Red Eye head in very good condition. In fact Craig’s List and eBay are positively polluted with them.

Singer Red Eye Machine Head

Singer “Red Eye” Machine Head

Often times it is easier and more affordable to assemble an antique sewing machine from parts.
Old sewing machine heads tend to outlast their cabinets and bases and it’s very common to find a sewing machine head in good working order with a cabinet that is beyond repair.
If you plan to assemble an antique treadle sewing machine from parts it’s a good idea to find the base or cabinet that you want first, then buy the sewing machine head.

Singer is my first choice for this kind of “parts & pieces” assembly. Singer heads will almost always fit in Singer treadle cabinets (never seen one yet that didn’t -but measure first to be safe); but don’t assume that other sewing machine brands are sewing head to cabinet interchangeable.
That said, sometimes cabinets and machine heads will fool you – but it is still safest to stay with the same sewing machine brand. That means a Minnesota model “A” should be moved to a Minnesota treadle or cabinet- don’t take a chance with a White or Domestic cabinet. When you go shopping for a cabinet take the machine head with you so you can fit it on the spot.
A good quality cabinet is scarcer than a good sewing machine head.

And just so you know it is possible to construct a new top for an old treadle assembly. Read more about it here.
When you buy your treadle sewing machine don’t forget to hunt down an owner’s manual for the one you are buying. Many old manuals are free online and many are available for purchase as reprints or on CD’s for under $10.

Tools You’ll Need to Clean the Sewing Head
A camera
Lots of clean rags
Sewing machine or household oil
Flathead screw drivers – large & small
Needle nose pliers
Air in a can
Liquid Wrench
Extra fine steel wool
Tooth brush
Small paint brush
Tin can
Small plastic bags
Paper towels
Car wax

NEVER EVER use any type of household cleaning product on a sewing machine head. It is risky and you may destroy the decals. Household oil is the only product ever used to clean the exterior of an antique sewing machine head. Household oil will remove rust, layers of grime and dirt.

Typical Grime On A Sewing Head In Good To Fair Condition

Typical Grime On A Sewing Machine Head In Good To Fair Condition

When I bring home a “new” treadle sewing machine the first thing I do is to set up a neat and orderly work space.
Before I start to disassemble the sewing machine and while it is still in the cabinet I begin by taking pictures from all angles. I photograph everything about the machine – the hand/balance wheel, the bobbin winder, the needle position, the shuttle, the tension disks; every screw, loop or spring.
I next take pictures of the cabinet from every angle too – the under carriage, the skirt guard, the treadle, the pitman rod, all hinges, springs, the drawers and top.
By keeping an extensive picture diary I have a record of what the machine looked like before I started cleaning it, but more importantly a I have a reference for how the machine is supposed to look like when I’ve finished. More than a couple of times I’ve been left with an extra washer, spring or screw from a sewing machine restoration that I couldn’t figure out or remember where it was supposed to go.
A photographic record will save you lots of reassemble headaches.

Cleaning A Singer Model 66 Sewing Machine Head

Cleaning A Singer Model 66 Sewing Machine Head

To clean a treadle sewing machine head it must be removed from the cabinet or base.
As I remove the head I set the screws or bolts on a paper or cloth towel and sometimes letter or number the towel to keep track of  the disassemble order. I take a picture of the towel for reference.
After the head is removed from the base I will usually remove the front plate, bobbin cover (covers) and any other chrome or steel pieces or fittings from the head that have screws in them. Those pieces are put on to a different towel which is also numbered along with the screws and I photographed them too.

Parts Removed From Household Machine Head

Parts Removed From Household Machine Head

Next the tension disks are removed and placed on another numbered towel in the order which they came off – and you know what comes next-…I take another picture.
I continue in this manner around the entire head.

Household Machine Oil Is Your Best Friend – You Can’t Use Too Much
When the head is complexly stripped of all removable parts I begin cleaning the head in earnest. I rub machine oil over the entire surface in a circular motion with my fingers and wait awhile for the oil to break through the dirt and grime. After about 10 minutes the surface is wiped with a clean rag. I continue “massaging” oil into the surface and wiping until there is no grime – just oil on the cloth.

Applying Household Oil To Sewing Machine Surface

Applying Household Oil To Sewing Machine Surface

It is important to proceed gently as too much surface abrasion will remove the decals.

I clean all the fittings the same way – with household oil and rags, Q-Tips or a toothbrush. Sometimes if I’m feeling brave I will clean the brass or metal fittings with Formula 409 and a toothbrush.
When the exterior of the sewing head is as clean as I can get it I then proceed to clean and oil the entire interior.

Anything that moves ( or is supposed to move) will get a coat of kerosene with a small brush.
I let the kerosene soak into the grime and then wipe with a clean rag. Sometimes I will blow out the dirt or dust with a judicious blast of canned air – but not too much.
For a really filthy sewing machine head I will put it into a covered plastic tote tub outdoors and pour 5 gallons of kerosene over it and let it soak for a few days.

Old Household Brand Sewing Machine Head Ready For Cleaning

Old Household Head Ready For Cleaning

The grime will sometimes just dissolve in the tub.
Often a couple of squirts of Liquid Wrench or any other brand of penetrating oil product will be needed if the sewing machine head action or balance wheel is stiff or frozen.
I clean the forked bars under the machine head with a brush and kerosene first, followed by oil, clean soft rags and fine steel wool.

Cleaning Grime From Under The  Head

Cleaning Grime From Under The Head

After the last bit of grime or dirt is removed from the sewing machine head I will dry the head with a clean rag and apply 2 or 3 coats of a high quality car wax and buff it.

Using Car Wax On A Singer Red Eye

Using Car Wax On A Singer “Red Eye”

The sewing machine head is ready to reassemble after it has been completely cleaned, oiled and waxed. This is where the pictures and separate numbered towels come in handy. The parts are carefully reassembled in the order in which they came off.

If the treadle base is in very good condition often all that will be needed is a thorough cleaning with mineral spirits and a coat of paste wax.
But more often than not, the wood finish will be bleached, dark, dry, cracked, stained or peeling or a part of the cabinet will be in need of repair.

Beginning A Treadle Cabinet Top Restoration

Beginning A Treadle Cabinet Top Restoration

If the finish on the cabinet just looks dirty and not in need of complete removal, I will usually try to clean it with Murphy’s Oil Soap and water and lots of soft rags. I apply the soapy water with a soft cloth and then dry the wood with a clean rag. I repeat the process until the wood is clean.
When the wood is clean and dry I like to apply 2 coats of Milsek Oil or Old English Scratch Remover over the entire cabinet and allow the product to soak in. I remove the excess with a dry, lint free cloth.

The metal treadle assembly can be cleaned with a bucket of hot water and diluted white vinegar. Be sure to dry the metal parts after they are cleaned.

If the cabinet finish is completely hopeless and beyond the powers of ordinary soap and rags, I usually will remove it.

Old Finish Will Be Removed From Cabinet

Old Finish Will Be Removed From Cabinet

I have had good luck with fine steel wool and an acetone based furniture refinishing product like Formby’s.
I refinish bases and cabinets by removing all hardware and working in small 6” X 6”sections using a pad of fine steel wool that has been soaked in Formby’s.
After the old finish has been removed, I will go over the wood surface with rags and a small amount of mineral spirits before I apply 3 coats of Johnson’s paste wax, buffing between coats.
When the base is clean and presentable the sewing machine head is finally ready to be reinstalled.
Hopefully by the time you are done cleaning the machine head and treadle base you took my advice and found an owner’s manual. The manual will give the proper threading sequence, bobbin winding procedure, needle placement and other important information.
All you’ll need to do next is to prepare yourself for a lifetime of sewing joy.
Good Luck!

Strong opinion below-read at your own risk

What the hell is wrong with people living in a country who will pay more for a Big Mac and fries than the used Swiss made sewing machine in the above post?

Not a month goes by that I don’t come upon a vintage used Swiss or German manufactured sewing machine for sale for under $30. That’s less than a six pack of beer, an order of cheese sticks & a large 5 topping pizza.

Swiss, German and some American Singer sewing machines made prior to 1960 or so, were for their time and still are, some of the finest household sewing machines ever manufactured in the world.

Less than 60 years ago it was not uncommon for a regular blue collar American family to spend 3 – 5 months of the family’s entire income on a household sewing machine. And that money was very well spent.
That’s because at one time in this country Americans actually produced some of their own clothing and household needs instead of sitting on their fat asses and watching television or screwing with their iPhones.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of Americans are happy to wear cheap underwear and ill-fitting clothing made by essentially slave labor in 3rd world sweat shops instead of sewing it themselves.

What really gets me cranked, is that so called “public education” (funded by a coercive shake down of property owners), believe they are doing children and society a favor by “teaching” correct & hygienic condom use or SAT test preparation to teenagers instead of basic sewing or cooking.
Yeah that’s right…like I’m so sure every young person in this country can’t wait to get laid or plans on wasting $35,000 for a useless college education.

The fact of the matter is that with sound and basic sewing skills, the $3.99 Pfaff pictured above, along with a pair of scissors, chalk, thread, a yardstick, tape measure, an iron & ironing board and some old-fashioned common sense, is the start of a lucrative home based business.
Think I’m kidding?

How many of you reading this have wanted new custom fitting slipcovers for your ratty looking furniture but couldn’t afford them or couldn’t find someone to make them?
Well guess what?
Slipcovers are easier to construct than a dress or a pair of pants and you’ll find a leprechaun faster than you’ll find someone to make a custom slipcover or lined drapes.
How many of you are a specialty size or have a clothing need that ready-to-wear cannot address? Lots of other people have the same needs too and would love to find someone to help them with their apparel requirements and concerns. That’s a business opportunity just waiting for you or your child.
Enola Gay’s Naturally Cozy is a perfect example of a successful home based sewing business meeting a need.
So the next time you order a Big Mac and fries or kick back with a pizza and a 6 pack, consider that you could have started your own business with a Swiss sewing machine or saved your son or daughter from the heartache of being “college educated” and unemployed.

Don’t Buy A New Sewing Machine

I have never bought a new sewing machine – electric or treadle and don’t recommend that you buy one either.
I know that new treadle sewing machines are being manufactured at present but don’t waste your money if you can help it.
Buy a good Singer model 15-88 or Singer model 66 if you want a treadle sewing machine.

If you are determined to buy a new treadle machine because you don’t want to deal with a restoration project please buy it from the Amazon link below and help me pay for this website.

Here’s a blanket statement that you can put in your pipe and smoke: Modern household sewing machines electric or non-electric are not as well made as older sewing machines made before 1965 or so.
This is especially true of current Singer and Janome sewing machines on the market.
Don’t ever pay more than $200 for a household sewing machine. Always buy a good used sewing machine.
The Singer model 201-K or a Singer 401-A are both excellent electric sewing machines and I recommend them.

Singer Model 401-A

Singer Model 401-A

Pfaff, Elna and Bernina have always made good sewing machines.
The older vintage Pfaffs, Elnas and Bernina machines from the 1950’s & 1960’s are superior in every way to the newer computerize bells and whistles sewing machines that cost an arm and a leg. Sure the old machines may not look as snazzy as the brand new computerized sewing machines. But believe me, a brand new sewing machine will not make you any more skilled and you’ll never be sorry that you didn’t spend an extra $2000.
End of story.

  58 comments for “Treadle Sewing Machine Advice

  1. February 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I really enjoyed your blog post!!!

  2. February 26, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    I have a Singer 401 and a Singer 301, and they are both GREAT machines. One I got for free (!), the other I paid less than $100. I did get the 401 a professional tune-up, which was less than $100. My daughter sews on a Kenmore 1030, which is a great little machine from the early 70s. I do have a Singer 66 treadle that belonged to my great-grandmother, but it is waiting for me to have time to refurbish it. I love these older machines. Plastic does not feel as good as metal:)

  3. A Bobbin Winding Mama
    February 26, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I just checked Craigs List for a Singer 15-88 and there isn’t one within 400 miles of me :-(

    • KMG
      February 26, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      Be patient.
      15-88’s show up pretty regularly on eBay. Two just sold within the last day and there are still 2 left – but the asking prices are insane.
      Keep watching. Keep in mind that lots of people don’t know anything about sewing machines and will just list “sewing machine” on eBay, Craig’s List and elsewhere without the particulars.
      You might also try AuctionZip. Lots of auctions will be starting up again as soon as the weather turns warm.
      “He that can have patience can have what he will”

      • mildred colburn
        May 31, 2015 at 11:47 pm

        i just got my davis treadle sewing machine but i have also about two modern one electric…..this has been on my bucket list since i set my foot on the state back in 7 when my grandmother sold hers……1860 or 1861 until i restore it i already took pic of it…..its my baby

  4. February 27, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Hi there! Just found your blog and really enjoyed this post. I found a hand-crank Singer last year that I love. I would like to convert it to a treadle. Here’s a link if you’d like to see it.
    Have a wonderful day!

    • KMG
      February 27, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Wow! That’s a really nice machine! A real beauty. You shouldn’t have a bit of trouble with the conversion.

  5. carynverell
    February 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    i totally agree with everything in your article…you really spoke my mind on many things. i am the proud owner and user of a “free” treadle sewing machine that i paid $65.00 for. other than cleaning her up and giving her some oil and a new belt she works great. although i have two other machines that are computerized and all, i often go to the “free” for working on anything vintage or needing a slower and more careful bit of work…and frankly, the stitch is just better.

  6. Enjay
    February 28, 2013 at 7:06 am

    I have a singer 66 from 1914 that is in pristine running condition. I am the third owner. The lady who originally purchased it was a seamstress who died just after she paid it off, her husband kept it and have it to their son’s bride, and her grandson sold it to me when she moved from assisted living to the nursing home. I paid $150 for it but thats not bad for here. I live in a tourist/retirement area so there aren’t a lot of things like used canners, wood cook stoves, or treadle machines available. I guess the ladies were ready to let those chores go when they retired and the tourists have antiqued the rest away.
    The grandson had someone else that had looked at it the day before and offered him more money but he turned it down because the man intended to toss out the head, cut the base up and turn it into a side table to sell. Just the thought makes me want to check the shotgun!

    • KMG
      February 28, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Enjay –
      That’s one of the reasons so many sewing machine heads turn up at auction and on eBay, and treadle bases are hard to find. People would rather have a “looker” than a “sewer”.

    • AE
      July 5, 2015 at 8:53 am

      I saw an adorable 1909 White Family Rotary treadle machine at a garage sale and didn’t even ask the price since I figured they’d want a mint…until I heard two ladies discussing their plan to toss the cabinet, mount the drawers on the wall and turn the base into a table. I nipped over right then to the seller to find that she only wanted $25. I wasted no time handing her the cash and enjoyed the death glares aimed at me by the two other shoppers as I loaded it up. I was further rewarded for my virtue when I discovered a tin in the locked drawer containing nearly every presser foot made for that machine and under the ugly finish the cabinet was gorgeous golden oak. *smug*

      • Katherine Grossman
        July 5, 2015 at 10:37 am

        Great story! Proves that there really are treadle sewing machine bargains out there :-)

  7. Helen
    February 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Love the article and your entire site is a real gem. I have a nice old singer (c. 40’s) in a cabinet. I live in NJ and would love to have someone convert it to a treadle as a back up. Can you recommend someone in PA or area that does this kind of work?

    I was out of power for 2 weeks after Superstorm Sandy and it puts things in excellent perspective. My snazzy electric machine instantly became an expensive doorstop.

    • KMG
      February 28, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Helen –
      Sorry I don’t have a recommendation. I live in extreme northwestern rural Pennsylvania and haven’t a clue about what’s happening on the other side of the Allegheny mountains.
      If you follow some of the links in the post they will lead you to lots of online information. You may find a contact through a forum or you may just get inspired enough to try the conversion yourself. You could always ask your sewing machine service man/woman to do it for you. Good luck!

    • Maria Goetz
      April 14, 2015 at 8:14 pm

      Helen, I am no longer in New Jersey, but if you write to me and tell me the model of your machine, I may be able to help you.


  8. February 28, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Granny what a great post! I am the proud owner of a 1941 Singer 201-2 Electric machine that is wonderful. Best machine ever for sewing both denim and leather and even quilting. The great thing about my 201 is that they made thousands so the parts are relatively cheap and easy to find. I also own a complete New Home treadle machine that I have used for years. It has a complete book and all attachments and is my go to machine for quilt piecing. It absolutely has the best stitch in the house. I also have several other machines that I have picked up over the years at sales but do not use. My hope is to eventually restore them for my two daughters. You just can not beat these old machines.

  9. nwsenior
    February 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the treadle sewing machine info. I printed it off and think it will be helpful. (My treadle has been in storage and needs some TLC.) My machine came with a manual, but it is in Swedish. The website you linked to didn’t include the one I needed, so I went to the Singer website and there was a manual in English and a free download. Thanks again for the info – and motivation…

  10. Yas
    February 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    I inherited an old White treadle machine and all the fancy gadgets that came with it. Just have to get a new belt and clean it up :) My great-grandmother sewed the majority of her family’s clothing on that machine.

    I have a 1950s/1960s era electric Singer that was my grandmother’s and it just needs the electric cord replaced and some tuning. It too has the fancy button holer and ruffler etc attachments. I did a little sewing on it, and I absolutely agree the old machines are so much better quality than the new ones.

    I’m not fond at all of my singer I bought about ten years ago. The buttonholer has never worked right, and there aren’t even spots to put oil in it! That’s what I get for buying a new, lower-price-point machine. It was what I could afford at the time and was better than nothing, but I would recommend people find the nice old machines and spend a little to have them tuned and whatnot.

  11. Michael Kikendall
    March 1, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Ive got an old singer treadle (1920’s) that I need a belt for. Where do you get your replacement parts at?

  12. Margarita
    March 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Hi, I am looking for a Borletti 1102 motor belt. I have checked with so many places and so far no luck. The sewing machine has no present belt but the manual shows it being flat on one side and triangular on the other. I believe is called a V belt. Hope someone can help!! Thank You.

  13. March 2, 2013 at 12:29 am

    I learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine. When I was 17 and went off the college in 1964, I bought a Singer in a cabinet for $100. It had all metal parts. My mother bought me a Singer 306K in about 1975 when I was making my two girls’ dresses. All the son’s clothes had been made on the straight stitch from 1964. I supported myself for ahwile with those machines AND later finished my college education, two BAs and an MA.

    I would never knock a degree or a treadle machine. All my other machines, including two commerical machines have been used. I bought a used machine for my daughter when she was 13. The other daughter would cry if I bought her a machine. I will give her daughter a machine just like my Singer from 1964 that I bought to cannibalize for my first machine.

    Shortly before my mother bought me the old 306K Singer, she bought me a treadle since I grieved the loss of the original one I used as a child. I have never fixed it up. It sews but needs to be cleaned and adjusted.

  14. Cdngardengirl
    March 2, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I’m hunting for a treadle machine myself to hedge against power outages.

    Got the biggest surprise when I visited an old order Mennonite home and saw a deluxe new Bernina sewing machine converted to treadle!

  15. glenda oliver
    March 2, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    i really enjoyed reading all about these treadle machines i have a singer treadle machine but the head was missing so many parts i decided i wanted to find one locally that already in working condition but found out right away there is known to be found close by here in alabama and the problem is no one has the knowledge to work on them either so having stated all this i am going to get a 712t janome treadle head (new)so do you know if it will fit in my singer cabinet thanks for your help

    • KMG
      March 3, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Sorry Glenda I don’t know if a 712 Janome will fit in your Singer cabinet. I’d measure the cabinet first. And don’t forget you can always put a new top on your base if there’s a conflict.
      Good luck :-)

    • March 4, 2013 at 2:39 am

      Glenda Oliver,
      I live in Alabama and know where treadle machines can be found and who can work on one. Go to my blog and email me. Just click on my name above.

  16. delcie ward
    March 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    I have a Minnesota sewing machine modle D1349743 don’t no how to tread it can you help please.

    • KMG
      March 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      Delcie –
      Here’s a video of your machine. You’ll have to put up with the music. She’s starts threading it at about 5:00 minutes into it. Good luck :-)

    • KMG
      March 4, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Uh oh…
      I thought you meant “thread” not “tread”.
      Here’s a quick primer

      Do a few dry runs and practice first before you try to sew.
      Figure out which way the machine sews. You can tell this by the direction the balance wheel turns – with yours it’s towards you.

      Sit at the machine with no needle, no upper thread and no bobbin thread

      Put a piece of fabric under the presser foot to cushion the feed dogs.

      Place you entire right foot on the treadle and only the toes of your left foot on the treadle. Just rest them there for a moment.

      Put your hand on the hand/balance wheel and turn it or push it until you feel the machine head start to move. It’s like jumping rope when you were a little girl. You have to feel the right moment to jump in :-) and move your feet. Go with the movement of the machine by alternating foot pressure- it’s toe to toe.

      Your right foot gives the power to the treadle and your left foot (the toe only foot) controls the speed and stopping.

      To stop, keep your right foot steady and slowly bring your left heel to the floor.
      Practice treadling until you feel like you’ve got the hang of it.

      Then practice with a fully threaded machine. It will take experience for you to always go in the right direction and not go backwards.
      Good luck!

  17. Lori
    March 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    *Love* your blog and this article in particular! I especially appreciate your rant. This gal received a Minnesota treadle complete with cabinet and accessories as an anniversay present. It has been cleaned, lubed, and is wonderful working order. I’m so excited…but having trouble learning more about it. The elderly couple who helped get it running for me said it was a Davis machine with a long shuttle. Any tips or suggestions on where to find out it’s age? I also would like to find an Owner’s Manual to figure out how all the accessories work.

    • KMG
      March 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      I got a CD reproduction manual for a Minnesota model”A” from eBay for under $9. I’d start there first. Try this page to learn more about your machine. Good luck!

  18. Janelle
    August 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    I have an old singer sewing machine. I was told it was Model 66. On your website, you have a picture of it and the cabinet table. It was torn apart years ago to refinish it. Fast forward 17 years and it’s still torn apart. My mission is to get it back in working order. Right now I’m stuck on how to assemble the cabinet table (7 drawers, plain. I saw it referred to Cabinet Table 5 somewhere). I cannot figure out how to attach the front drawer and the curved piece that cradles the sewing machine. I also have 2 wooden pieces that are Approx 2″ x 2″ (not perfect squares – have an agle to them and are finished). They have holes in them. I cannot figure out where they go!! Any help would appreciated. If you have photos from below, top, front, inside out, etc -that would be great!


  19. Gwen
    April 12, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I am desperately seeking a stop motion assembly for a Singer 12K treadle machine, if you have any ideas please let me know!

  20. kimber
    April 12, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    I found a VF antique cast iron. Know anything? Was gonna trash it.

    • Maria Goetz
      April 30, 2015 at 3:00 pm


      So I understand, are you saying you found the irons for a Davis Vertical Feed?
      If so, what exactly do you want to know about them?

      If you give us a hint as to where you are located, maybe we can help to see if anyone wants them.


  21. April 25, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Amen to the machine rant! And I’m a high school teacher with a college administrator husband, agreeing with your rant. Bought a fantastic 1950’s vintage Janome, solid as a rock, sewing machine with cabinet at auction for $2, it sews like a charm, now my students can sew. One small step for mankind. Keep telling people what they need to hear, you are exactly on target.

    • Katherine Grossman
      April 25, 2015 at 4:43 pm


  22. April 30, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    I am now up to treadle 3 in less than 2 weeks! If you are ready for them, they will show up. 2 are in great shape and I have been sewing on them. The one I picked up last night has been in a barn and needs work. I am still hopeful that I can get it going again.

    I’d like to see a rant from you on the lack of beauty in our lives today. Maybe it’s because life used to be so grim and short that people put some effort into beautifying what tiny pieces they could in their lives. I look at these machines, beautifully designed and decorated with colorful decals, made to last for a century or more with little maintenance and compare them to today’s plastic computerized wonders. Must everything be beige and white plastic?

    • Katherine Grossman
      April 30, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      No time for rants :-) But be assured that the decorative arts and good art in general, is
      always an accurate refection of any given society or culture. Basically we get the collective aesthetic we deserve. Just like government 😉

  23. Maria Goetz
    April 30, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    Congratulations on your finds. I keep busy working on treadles, handcranks and electric. What models did you acquire?

    Smoky Mountains of Tennessee

  24. Jody
    May 11, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Was looking for an old treadle that would work and one landed in my lap for $150 from a seamstress’s granddaughter who couldnt sew a stitch. Perfect working order…still had all supplies in drawers! Loved your blog, very informative since I have to clean it up some. Loved your rant more!!!

  25. May 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I’ve been able to find a lot of information on cleaning and oiling the head, but what about the treadle assembly? I just got a 15k88, my first treadle, and the large lower wheel is scraping against the frame it turns in, just in one spot. Would you know if oiling solve that or is there a bigger issue?

    • Katherine Grossman
      May 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      Oiling it can’t hurt. Sounds like the frame may be warped or bent.

  26. teri perkins
    May 23, 2015 at 12:00 am

    I just bought a White treadle 1154682 refurbished machine at an estate sale today- it is beautiful! It did not come with attachments, but does have 4 bobbins that fit in the shuttle and 2 extra cords.

  27. Bob
    May 25, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    I would be very grateful for your thoughts on non electric machines for light to medium commercial use in South Sudan & Liberia, Africa. I’ve been involved with illiteracy training, drinking water & hand-washing hygiene for several years. In all those communities, there are groups of women within their churches, who are looking for starting and being successful with a small business they can do together. What machines do you think would be a good choice? Growing up after WWII in Germany, I remember my mom’s hand cranked Singer. I would be very grateful if you could give me some feedback from your perspective.
    Thanks a bunch,

    • Katherine Grossman
      May 25, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Bob I think treadle sewing machines would work very well for that purpose. If possible stick with a White or Singer made before 1960 or so. Janome also makes a modern machine that is treadle driven.
      There are many other good older & vintage treadle sewing machines. But if you decide to go that route stick with something that was popular for its time. Parts can become an issue with older machines that aren’t as common.Parts will not be an issue with a new Janome – but quality is an issue.
      The Singer 201 and 201-K are excellent machines and worth every penny if you can find one. :-) The Singer 15-88 is also a good machine and the Singer model 66 is easily found. White Family Rotary is also a good machine. Good luck!

  28. J Mason
    June 3, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for the rant! I’m living Germany for a while and just bought a treadle powered Pfaff 90. The selling family’s frenetic activity to show me how well it still worked stopped suddenly when they figured out I was buying it for myself, a man, to use. “Für mich,” I reiterated. They’ll be telling the story of how grandma’s old Nähmaschine left in the arms of a handsome American!

    • Katherine Grossman
      June 3, 2015 at 5:05 pm


  29. Joyce
    June 14, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Hi,I hope your doing well.I recently bought an old treadle,1920 #99.I read somewhere about an oil that can be used on the cast iron base instead or painting it.Would you kow what this would be? Thankyou.

    • Katherine Grossman
      June 14, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      Regular household oil will clean up a treadle base too but will not give a freshly painted look :-)

  30. mary
    June 16, 2015 at 8:17 am

    i have a WheelerWilson treadle, no book came with it and i don’t know how to thread it

  31. norsee
    June 16, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Sadly, we are a country where little is taught in the way of life skills. We do however, aspire to give children copious amounts of self esteem for what I am still unsure of?

    I taught classical dance for many decades and must tell you that I was more than disillusioned when the majority of my students could not straight stitch a ribbon onto a pointe shoe or tie a simple knot. We would actually dedicate 1 class to proper grooming which included how to sew ribbons onto shoes. The parents were of no use either. They preferred to drive them miles to the nearest alteration storefront and pay $15 to straight stitch four ribbons onto two shoes. Self esteem intact, they somehow managed to dance without parental intervention.

    IMHO, we have not come very far. I love my treadle machine. I use it weekly. I have other machines, but the treadle is by far my favorite.

  32. Judy Proffer
    July 3, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I have just begun to look for a treadle machine. I didn’t even know they made new ones. Your blog gave me information about son that can be converted. I just might have to start hitting garage sales in my area. I want a work horse. I give as my reason, I need to get some exercise. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  33. July 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I have just purchased a Singer treadle 1919 Red Eye 66-1. Beautiful machine. I have always wanted a treadle machine. I have cleaned and put machine back together. Stitches good. I am however concerned that the hand wheel (without the belt) does not turn as freely as I think I should. When I turn wheel freely it turns and then stops at about every complete rotation, then you can turn again. It seems to have a slight resistance. What is your suggestion? Thanks in advance for your help. Cherie (have always loved sewing)

    • Katherine Grossman
      July 23, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Cherie I’m not sure without looking at it. My best advice without being there is to take the wheel off again & make sure that everything is correctly threaded, tightened and clean :-)

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