First, you need to keep in mind about the Best Treadle Sewing Machines. Several companies sold under different names, to different companies such as Sears. A machine made by National could have Damascus, or Eldrege on the sewing machine instead of National. As far as I am aware, the exception to this rule was Singer. And the reason is because, when people think about a Treadle Sewing Machine, generally they think about a Singer.
Singer was the most marketed brand. They didn’t need to badge machines. They were very very good at advertising, and made their machine a household brand and name. Here are the Best Treadle Sewing Machines companies:
This particular model of machine, the hand-wheel turns away from you not towards you. However, the rotary model is the only machine in which the hand-wheel turns in that direction. The White Company was founded in 1858 and they first started out with a chain-stitch model.
Singer is the household name. They were extremely good at advertising and are one of the oldest sewing machine companies. In the early 1900s, they purchased the Wheeler & Wilson company and for a short time sold Wheeler & Wilson machines as their own-merely changing the name on the machine. This is the only exception for the wheel turning towards you in a Singer brand. They are called Singer 9W’s.
Wheeler & Wilson
Most machines you find will not have this nice of decal. These decals were very fragile, a lot more so then most other companies. However, this is personally my favorite brand of machine, simply for the reason of how smooth they are. The down side is smaller bobbins and needles that are harder to find. I’ve owned several of their different models and have always been very pleased by the quality of the stitch and the quietness of the machine.
The National sewing machine company had a lot of badged models. They also had a machine called a “two spool.” The premise of this machine is simple. Instead of having to fill up a bobbin, you merely put a spool of thread in and used that as the bobbin. These machines are very good for long periods of sewing, but are hard to find simply for the reason that as an electric the machine was impractical and they never sold very well. I have owned one and my biggest complaint was that it was loud. However, they do sew well and if you are a quilter doing a lot of straight seams then I would recommend keeping an eye out for one. Make sure it has the bobbin case though-otherwise it is not worth getting.
This is an older model of their “Vertical Feed.” If you look closely you can see that this machine does not have feed dogs. Why? It was one of the earliest versions of the walking foot, which the modern description reads: A walking foot has built-in feed dogs that grip and advance the upper layer of fabric that’s traveling through the sewing machine in unison with the machine’s feed dogs, which grip the underside of the fabric. The action of this special sewing machine foot helps keep the layers from shifting apart as they move through the sewing machine. 4
This machine is a lot like that, and I have found mine to be very useful. The only thing I don’t like about these machines is that they can be a lot louder then regular machines-but that is due to the mechanical design more then anything else. They are dependable and well built in my opinion. Davis also made regular sewing machines, distinguishable by not having the curved needle plate.
Sears Roebuck was more of a distributor then a manufacturer of machines. They had other companies such as Domestic and New Home make machines that were badged for their shops. Keep this in mind if you get a “Ruby” sewing machine, or something else with a different name. Chances are if nothing comes up when you search for it, then it is badged.
Why the best Treadle Sewing Machines are so Wonderful
We all have our reasons for loving treadle sewing machines. Perhaps it’s the quiet click – clack of the treadle as it merrily stitches along, or the vision of sewing with family gathered around the fireplace. Perhaps you see your grandmother, mother or another relative sewing on one. There are many sentimental reasons.
I like the fact that I have more control over my sewing. While I tend to go fast, I can better control the speed and thus I am able to stop and start easier. This makes for a good rhythm when piecing quilts, or doing free motion quilting. This is where you control the fabric, not the machine. I also like them because I am not dependant on any power source besides my feet. If the power’s out it is not a big deal and I can still sew!
I find it to be very relaxing and that you bond more with your machine. You are the power source and as such you get to know your machine a lot better. It may sound silly, but if you are able to have a good working relationship, or a bond with your equipment you are more effective and less likely to become frustrated and quit.
I also enjoy the feel of the machine. There’s something about having a machine that has withstood the test of time. It’s solid. It’s not going to break. And compared to modern machines, has fewer parts to break.
Although it is nice to have decorative stitches and reverse and fancy settings, if you use a basic Treadle Sewing Machine, there are fewer things you will have problems with. Because sewing machines were invented and produced by humans, they are not perfect and have their flaws.
Also, Treadle Sewing Machines don’t wear out as quickly as machines with many more gears and parts. The more parts, the more finicky I have found them to be. I used a Singer from the 1960’s that had a wide selection of stitches, and accessories and the complexity of the machine gave me a lot of problems.
However what I do recognize is that 90% of the time it is not the machine that is the problem. It is what my Father calls “User Error.” If you haven’t taken the time to make sure your machine is in working order, or you aren’t exactly sure how to use a sewing machine and you are struggling, then it may be operator error.
If you become really frustrated with your machine, and perhaps the whole process, take a break, and spend some time on something else and then come back to your project. You’ll see it with a new perspective and be able to be a lot more productive!
How to Tell if a Treadle Sewing Machine is right for You
I am now going to discuss how to be able to wisely select a Treadle Sewing Machine.
When I first started I knew nothing about Treadles. I did not know what parts were essential. I also did not understand how to determine “Value.”
The value of any specific Treadle Sewing Machine is ultimately what you decide it is. Keep in mind that unless it is a really old machine, such as 1880’s and before, it isn’t that rare and there is a good chance that another one will come along and at a better price. At the same time, if it’s something that you see, and you have the “instant love” factor, then you should think long and hard about passing up purchasing it.
Some questions to ask yourself when you are considering buying a sewing machine, whether old or new are:
Would I regret it if I passed it up?
What is the purpose in my purchasing it?
What does this do, or what function does it have that I don’t presently have?
Is this something you’ll see again soon?
Are you just wanting it because of the price?
Is it missing any parts?
Again, how much you really want a particular machine will significantly affect your decision. Where you live affects how easy it will be to find the right Treadle Sewing Machine for you. The right one generally turns up sooner or later, it is just a matter of being patient.
While there are some areas of the United States that treadles are very expensive, in most states they are available for under 150 dollars. I have never paid over that, and that is my limit, the highest I will choose to pay. Pick a price limit and stick to it. However, if you find one that you fall in love with then be willing to pay extra.
The most common brand of sewing machine that you will find is the Singer. It does however depend on your area. There are some areas, such as mine where the brand “White” is fairly common, almost as much as Singer.
I have sewn on many different brands of sewing machines. There is not much of a difference between brands. Some are easier to use then others, but overall the quality of these machines is about the same. Yes, people swear by brands, but I’ve never noticed much of a difference.
How to tell if it’s all There
Some things to always keep in mind while purchasing a Treadle:
Does it have all the parts needed?
Will it need additional love and care (repairs) before it can sew?
How easy is it to get replacements for things such as needles and bobbins?
What condition are the cabinet and irons in?
Commonly missing parts
Shuttles with one bobbin typically cost around 20 dollars. If the seller is asking 150 dollars for the treadle and there are no shuttles or bobbins then either talk the seller down, or don’t purchase it. Think about why you are getting it and how important it is to you to get it. I would say that there are some where this doesn’t apply, such as family machines.
Another part that is commonly missing is the slide plate. On a Vibrating Shuttle Machine, it looks like the picture below. If you have a Singer, then for most models, it is not a problem. They cost around 10-20 dollars. With other machines, it is a problem. They are hard to find, and can be very expensive. If the machine is missing a slide plate and it isn’t a Singer, beware.
This is what you should see when you open the slide plate. Keep in mind though that this picture was taken from the backside of the machine, and the back slide plate is open not the front. You may have to turn the hand wheel for it to swing into view.
There are a number of things that can go wrong with your machine. Yes, these machines are fairly simple in design, and once you get the hang of it, you should not have problems, but at the same time here are somethings to consider.
You don’t know where the machine has been, or how the previous owner has treated it, even if you are lucky enough to have inherited a family machine. Someone could have done things to the machine that you have no idea of.
While there are machines that were well taken care of, and much loved, you may have machines that were not. Like this one.
This is a example, of what a machine could be like. I don’t know anything about this machine, other than it is a parts machine. Yes, it could be made to work again perhaps, but would it be worth the? This is a Singer model 66, from around the 1920’s or so and these machines come up for sale on a very regular basis.
The machine does not have a wheel, a bobbin, or a needle plate. Be aware that machines can be stripped down even further then this one. A machine like this is not a good buy. It has been stripped. It’s a common model.
For machines like above, parts are fairly easy to find. But, the problem is because of how many of these machines there are out there, it’s easier and better to just buy a complete model, and be a little more patient.
If, however you are looking at it from a purely collecting standpoint and you are extremely sure that it is not something that comes around every day, then it doesn’t matter if it’s stripped or not.
In essence, the parts that you cannot live without and can be very hard to replace are these:
Bobbin and Bobbin Case – (also known as a shuttle)
Slide Plate – This allows access to the bobbin area and protects the bobbin area from thread and fabric from being caught in the moving parts when the machine is running.
Needle Bar- the bar to which the needle is attached.
Needle (for rare machines. For regular machines this isn’t a problem)