I mentioned this in my newsletter a few weeks ago, but finally took a photo so wanted to share it here, too. Last month, my cousin Marsha and her wife embarked on a two-month cross-continent road trip, in part to distribute some family heirlooms.

image of vintage Singer sewing machine

My great-grandma Marian was a tailor, and I was very touched when Marsha told me she wanted me to have her treadle Singer. Marian had bought the machine new, in the early 1920s, and it was her livelihood for much of the ’30s and beyond. (The box on top in the photo is her button box, and it is an incredible treasure. I’ll take photos of its contents soon. And, naturally, there’s a Matchbox car on there, too, for there’s nary a corner of our home uninhabited by toy cars these days.)

The machine has been unused for many a decade, but it should be pretty easy to get it into working order. Singer makes old manuals available online, so I have a copy of it to use for reference. (Singer also will let you know when and where old sewing machines were manufactured. I emailed them the machine’s serial number and they wrote back to tell me it was made November 3, 1920 in Elizabeth, New Jersey.)

Greg is intent on restoring the oak table the machine sits in. In the late ’70s, my great-uncle Abe used some wood paneling he had leftover from a home remodel to cover up the very worn original oak. Greg finds it horrifying but I think it’s a part of the machine’s history, and is therefore quite loveable. But I’m also not at all opposed to repairing the table in a manner more consistent with its original state.

It’s unlikely we’ll do anything with it this summer, but hopefully come winter we’ll start getting the restoration going. I’m really looking forward to learning how to use it!

Got any tips for sewing with a treadle machine?

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Yes! Here’s my tip: They don’t sew backwards!! If it goes backwards, the thread breaks. But moving the treadle will move the belt either forward *or* backwards so you need to start the machine rolling in the right direction by pulling the wheel on the right toward you with your hand as you start treadling. I watched a ton of YouTube videos. Good luck restoring & learning on your sweet machine!

natalie fergie

If you can spin on a wheel you are half way there, It’s a similar rocking action, working out where the spot is which will nudge it over to the next rotation.


Wonderful — and the button box, too! I love old sewing machines. I sort of keep keep finding them for cheap at auctions and thrift stores and bringing them home to fix up, though most of what I have are 40s-60s era. I’ve never sewn on a treadle machine, though there is one right next to my desk that my husband has had it for twenty-some years. I found it too intimidating when I was learning to sew. It hasn’t been used for probably ten years now, but I’m planning on getting it working sometime. (I have kind of a backlog of machines that need to be cleaned up/restored to happiness first.)

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