Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Something old...

When I was a little girl, my grandma used to sit me on the treadle of an old Singer sewing machine, under the cabinet, for time-outs.  Like all kids did, I'd get bored and look at stuff.  There was a broken leather belt, and fragments of baling twine stuck in the treadle wheel.  I asked Grandma what it was, and she said it was her mom's sewing machine from before anybody had electricity.  No, she'd never used it.  No, she had no interest in fixing it--she had a good electric machine, why would she want to?*

I'd wanted that sewing machine for a long time.  The table it's in is really pretty (even if it really needs some repairs/rebuilding done), and I developed a phobia of electric sewing machines when I was in my very early teens, after one seriously malfunctioned in Home Ec class.  I made sure my family knew not to get rid of it because I wanted it.  And because I wanted to fix it.  

Fast-forward to 2017: we bought this house.  And not long after we moved in, my aunts and my mom came up to visit...with that sewing machine in Mom's pickup bed.  It is a heavy bastard: the sewing machine itself is cast iron.  The treadle is, too.  The gears inside it, and all of the workings are heavy steel.  Only the table and drawers are made of wood.  But three old ladies and two young ones got that heavy bastard unloaded, and set on a scrap of carpet in the entry hall.  

And it's sat there for four year, being used as a side-table.  Same use my grandma put it to.  

Until recently.  

My other half has a pair of slacks that need to be repaired.  One of the seams let go.  Should be a fairly simple repair...if I can get a sewing machine to work.  

I had a small, cheap, plastic (and plastic geared) Singer sewing machine--an electric one--intended for light mending.  I bought it, intending to do some mending, and one of my aunts asked to borrow it.  She gave it back, not long after, telling me that it didn't work.  

As it turned out, she'd tried using it to hem some jeans.  And had stripped the hell out of the gears inside the machine, and bent the needle to the point where it wouldn't go through the plate to pick up thread from the bobbin.  No shit it didn't work--you don't use a light mending machine on anything heavier than light cotton.  

I...had not known just how badly she'd FUBARed my machine, until I pulled it out to try mending Odysseus's work slacks.  

And my mother-in-law's light-mending (aka, semi-disposable) Brother sewing machine...the drop-in bobbin's design is utter shit.  I can't get the thing threaded so that the needle will pick up the bobbin thread.  

I didn't (and don't) have $150-200 to spend on a decent sewing machine...but I had Grandma's treadle machine.  I opened up the table and took a look at it.  

To start with, I stepped back, and just looked at it.  It is, in a word, gorgeous.  It's a Model 27 Vibrating Shuttle machine.  Yeah, the decals are worn (off, in places, and just worn down to silver in others), but holy crap is the machine itself pretty!  It's not a square chunk of plastic like most of the modern ones, but a thing of graceful curves and lines.  The hand wheel turned--stiff, but it turned--and moved the needle up and down.  And flipped the bobbin back and forth.  It...honestly, it looked like it would work.  I just had been afraid to look at it before then.    

All it needed was the new belt (I'd spent my childhood picking fragments of baling twine out and dusting a lot of the treadle and treadle wheel with my picky little fingers), and some oil.  Honestly, it needed a lot of oil.  It hadn't seized up, but it was...really stiff.  

I'm friends with somebody on social media who fixes old treadle machines for fun.  With his advice and instructions (and help finding bits and bobs--like the treadle belt), I managed to get the machine up and running.  Sort of.  Maybe.  

I haven't tried sewing on it, yet, but the hand wheel and treadle work together, and the bobbin winder looks like it'll work fine, too.  

But all in all?  It cost me less than $20 to fix a machine that the serial number put at just over a hundred years old.**

I am going to learn to sew, and on this machine.  And, when I am gone, it will go to my daughter.  

And I have every expectation that it will still work just fine.  And be higher quality than anything new she'll be able to get.  

*To be fair to Grandma, she wasn't wrong.  Her electric sewing machine was made in the '50s, and the only bits on it that need work are easily sourced and replaced.  It still runs fine, despite being seventy years old.  

**The serial number on the treadle machine indicates that it was built toward the end of the first half of 1898. 


  1. My mother had the old stand, but not the old sewing machine. She did have an old electric Singer, which I gave my wife first dubs, after my mother died. She didn't want it, since she's a quilter from way back, and has special machines for the job. I gave it to a niece, who will probably pass it on in the future.

    There's history in the old machines, and yours is one of the best. It can sew when the electricity is off.

    1. And it won't malfunction like the old Singer did in Home Ec class: When I stop the machine, it *stops.* There's no running full throttle without input, and ignoring the off switch (the one I'm talking about had to be unplugged for it to STOP).

      It also won't run as FAST as electric machines can. I got it going about as fast as one of the "beginner" machines will on the slow setting...and that was as fast as I could get it to go.

  2. I'll bet your granddaughter will be pleased you kept the machine and taught her mother to use it!

  3. That IS a family heirloom and it will serve more generations! Good on you for fixing it!

    1. I'm just glad that *I* could fix it (with Odysseus's help, when more hands were needed), rather than paying to *have* it fixed.


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