Vintage Sewing Machine and Treadle Stories

While writing Mally the Maker, my grandma and her treadle sewing machine have been on my mind almost every day. I never saw Grandma sewing on her treadle because she kept it in her bedroom, but I remember she would always wind her bobbins on that machine because she though it wound the best of all of her machines.

Recently I gave into my impulse to learn more about treadles and ended up buying both a Singer 12 fiddle base and a Singer 27. You can hear more about this adventure and learn loads about collecting vintage machines in the Hello My Quilting Friends Podcast Episode #55.

Recently we asked subscribers to our Quilting Friends Newsletter to share their stories about their treadle machines. We received many wonderful stories that I hope you'll enjoy reading:

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I restored a 98 year old Singer 66 that a previous owner had tried to restore. The cabinet and the wood finish was terrible. I removed all the dark varnish and found a beautiful oak cabinet underneath.

The inside of the machine was very dirty and I cleaned it. I polished the dull finish of the machine with auto wax and now she shines.

The machine works perfectly just like when it was made in 1920.

I am currently restoring a treadle machine from 1896. Don’t forget to touch up the gold paint on the Singer treadle irons. I used Testors gold model car paint and a very small brush.

- Renea M.

Here is a before photo:

Singer treadle base

And the after photo:

Singer treadle restored

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I learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine in 7th grade sewing class. We had two brand-new Slant-o-matic Singers in the sewing room, but the rest of the machines were all treadles. Our teacher, an elderly spinster, actually gave use the best sewing foundation. We basically received the complete Singer Company sewing course that was given at Singer centers when a new machine was purchased. We had a notebook full of samples of seams of all types, machine bound buttonholes and hand buttonholes. We made towels, skirts, aprons and blouses in our class. I only sewed on the electric machines a time or two since the class was large.

My grandmother also had a treadle machine, and she made quilts, clothes and mended on her machine. It is upstairs in my mother’s house (I think), and I hope to be able to get it for myself someday. It would be fun to see if I can remember how to coordinate my feet and sew. I remember many snarls as we started sewing without turning the wheel the proper direction, and the machine tried to go backwards as we pedaled! (I have difficulty trying to coordinate feet, hands and eyes now for free motion quilting, so it may be a disaster.)

- Miriam S.

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My grandma Ann taught me to sew on her treadle machine, about 50 years ago. We made Christmas Stockings for my 3 brothers. She lived to be 97, a very kind, quiet, loving woman. Grandma made her very first quilt for my high school graduation gift, using scrapes from my mom, me, aunt, and cousin's sewing projects. She called it Pioneer Patchwork. By that time she had an electric machine she set up on the dinning room table to sew. Grandma's church group hand quilted my quilt together, as they visited and shared each other's lives. And grandma is why I love to quilt and sew! I gave a family treadle machine, but not grandma Ann's to our son and wife. I don' have a clue if it works, but it makes a great laptop table.

- Francie F.

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This beautiful woodwork tabletop comes from Ann M. Her stepdad made this for her using the treadle as the table's base.

Treadle base

Woodwork tabletop on treadle

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I was just remembering my experience on a treadle sewing machine that belonged to my Aunt Lucy, which I inherited and did use for a long time before I could afford an electric sewing machine when I started working (over 50 years ago). I loved the treadle but wanted to do fancy stitches which this did not do. I do regret selling this but my parents would not let me have two machines and the treadle did take up a lot of room, so it went.

I now own 9 machines, each doing a different job, and I love them all but regret getting rid of the first one, happy memories.

- Ann B.

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When I graduated high school in 1978, I moved out in the woods in a cabin that had no electricity. I found a cheap treadle machine and used it for a very long time. As it aged the wood started to delaminate so had to let it go. Besides you can’t beat the machines today. Last year I found, online, a treadle base that was in excellent condition so I bought it then we bought a section of butcher block and that is now our kitchen table. I love it. A little bit of old and a little bit of new!

- Sherry W.

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Both of my grandmothers did some sewing and I have my fraternal grandmother's Domestic ​sewing machine. My brother-in-law refinished it and found new belts for it, so I can really use it!

The quilt above the machine was my maternal Grandmother's. She was a seamstress for many years.

- S.A. from Illinois

Treadle vintage machine

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Hi there - you asked for info on a treadle machine - my mother, who is 100 this year, had one which I used an awful lot when I was a teenager, many years ago as I am 74 now. I could get up quite a speed on the machine which didn't go down too well with my Dad when he was watching television. But I loved the old treadle machine and made many dresses, coats, curtains etc. I don't know what happened to our old treadle but my Mum got an electric portable machine which we both thought was wonderful as it did a zig zag stitch!

- Josie C.

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Check out this Singer from Linda S., manufactured in Elizabethport, NJ, commissioned on 12/9/1947, and they made 26,079 machines for that commission date. Linda has named the machine "Old Girl!"

Singer Vintage machine