Sunday 15 April 2012

Introducing My Singer Treadle

On Easter Sunday I was gifted a Singer treadle sewing machine.

First I was unsure 

Then I was excited 

Then I thought "Oh Nuts!, what have I let myself in for?"

Now she is my new found love

She was clearly cherished and used for many years before being abandoned in a damp garage.

Despite being worn where miles of thread has rubbed against the end plate she was rusted from neglect, her belt didn't fit and her treadle creaked. The cabinet in which she resides is in a terrible state and I'm not sure what to do about that yet.

There was luckily nothing missing but she was in serious need of some TLC

I spent 3 days hunting the internet for decent advice on how to clean up a treadle and found advice to dip it in kerosene for days... perhaps this is appropriate in some cases but frankly it didn't sound like they knew how to treat a delicate and useful tool that a sewing machine is. 

I also found quite a few blog posts and you-tube videos of
'I have just bought this for $400, 
I'm not sure how it is supposed to work'
I gave up looking for a reliable guide and instead took all advice with a pinch of salt.

I know a little of sewing machines so at least I knew where to start.
(The photos were taken after I had spent a good while cleaning the machine)

The good thing about having a far-from-perfect ancient relic is that you don't worry about accidents while trying to fix it up. (see below)

I started (as recommended on many a website) with WD40 but it took the gold off of some of the decals, then I found out that the black body is in fact 'japanned' and not enamelled... and I now doubt WD40 is the best idea, though certainly not the worst. Turns out sewing machine oil may be the best thing to clean the outside with.

Her leather belt was cracking and slipping but this was fixed by just shortening it 
(which is easy to do, if you are careful) 
You simply prize the staple apart and trim the belt by an inch or so, carefully make a new hole, I used a chunky darning needle as our bradall was too large, then pop it back on the staple and crimp it shut again.

I treated the length of the belt with olive oil, which is a simple and effective leather conditioner, and it now works a treat.

Her insides must have been heavily oiled before she was left in a garage, they were in OK condition and just needed a bit of the muck loosened (WD40 is appropriate this time) but always follow it with a heavy oiling with sewing machine oil.

The treadle needed some WD40 too, to make it rock with ease.

I took panels off to clean and carefully replace, I polished the bits that looked like they were once shiney and scrubbed as much of the tarnish off of the balance wheel as I could.

And then she was ready for use.

And she goes like a dream, and it is so therapeutic to sit and hear her whirr away while your legs rock slowly. She is powerful and sewed through quadruple thickness denim without flinching. 

It is easier to manover the fabric under the needle than on my electric and you have much beter control of speed.

I have sat her infront of a window for light, I'm thinking about an angle-poise lamp for the future but it won't be as good as natural daylight anyway.

She comes with wheels, but they are small and cast iron and will wreck havoc on my lovely floors, so she will live on a rug.

There are locks all over the cabinet so you can lock the drawers and the machine casing, presumable to keep children safe (or stop needle thieves), but a crawling baby could easily loose a limb on the treadle mechanism.

Once I had her cleaned up and ready to sew I looked on google for advice on how to use a treadle to sew and I found very little, I did find a man being an idiot on youtube and an archived magazine article from the 70s but advice seems few and far between.

I found some amazing youtube videos by this lady 
handcrank rather than treadle but she is knowledgable.

She still needs a little polishing, I am looking at it as an on-going task. I'm hoping to eventually put up some tutorials on how to clean, care for and use a treadle but for now I'd be happy to answer any questions with my teeny amount of new-found knowledge.... or perhaps you have some tips to share? let me know in the comments.

Edit to add some linkage: 
If you need help identifying your singer sewing machine be sure to check out my post here
If you would like to see how I spruced up the cabinet click here

The Nitty Gritty
  • 1923 Singer Treadle 15K acquired for free through gumtree you might also try a local freecycle, they come up on eBay all the time too.

  • WD40 for removing grime and goo.

  • Old toothbrush and cotton buds to clean nooks and crannies.

  • Singer Sewing Machine Oil

  • Peek polish to make the nice bits all shiney.


  1. Wow she is a true much nicer to look at than the modern ones...i have an old Jones sewing machine..nickname Matilda..coz she is soo heavy..cost me £10 from a junk shop about 10 yrs thing i have ever bought..has never let me down and goes like a dream bless her..she did take some cleaning but luckily for me i am married to master upholsterer and he knows machines..i do have an electric one but its more trouble than its worth..needles snapping..bobbins moving honestly its easier to do it by hand...

    1. I have nicknamed my Singer 'Nefertiti' because of her Egyptian decals ;o)

      I have a brilliant electric Brother machine that I do love, and it does all the fancy stitches I might need but, she is so much more trouble to take in and out of storage and she doesn't look nearly so nice.

      I have only had Nefertiti a week but I already know that I will use her often.


  2. My girl is a 66k made in Clydebank in June 1937. Her name is Prudence (a nice old fashioned nae for an old girl). A friend threw her in with a spinning wheel (Primrose) I bought from her.Prudence had been stored on a veranda for about 20 years.
    Prudence took a lot of cleaning up with WD40 (my daughter says I have an unhealthy attachment to the stuff), Mr Sheen and 3 in 1 oil. Everything is clean and working again, but I can't seem to get the tension right, so off to the machine doctor for her soon.

  3. Hope you got on well at the machine doctor.

    I too had an issue with (what I thought was) tension but after faffing about and grinding my teeth for well over an hour I decided to check the condition of the needle... oops.

    I have never before known a needle to wear down, on my electric machine they either bent or snapped, but never just worn down over time. I couldn't be sure that I had changed the needle during my cleaning process (I would have thought so, but I couldn't be SURE) so I don't know how many decades the needle had been there for.

    Anyway, all changed now and whirring away again. :)

    I hope Prudence is feeling better x


    PS. I think my Sister named hers Prudence too, I'll need to check.

  4. Hi Ann,
    I have today become a proud owner of a singef treadle machine that is really in need of some renovation . I found your blog really informative and shall use it . I have tried to find other information but to no avail I can not wait to get started but shall need to go to the diy shop first for supplies. I have not got a name for her but I'm sure one or two will come to me whilst I am doing the work. Thanks again for the info kind regards

    1. Hi Wendie,

      Let me know if there is anything else you need help with, I'd be happy to write a little more on the subject.
      I bought 'singer sewing machine oil' and 'peek polish' on ebay if you can't find it at the DIY store.

      As I explained I really found very little information out in internet-land and it is so hard to know what is genuine advice and what is rubbish.

      I hope you enjoy using her, I'd love to hear what name you picked. One of my sister's is called Pearl.... as in the song 'Pearl's a Singer' :)

      Thanks for dropping by
      Ann x

  5. Hi Ann - Yesterday, I bought not one, but two treadle machines at a charity shop. One is 1937 like yours, and the other is about 1915. I was looking for model numbers when I saw this lovely web site.

    I also have misgivings about WD 40 on the decals. I think it has "silvered" them. I spent all day yesterday, happily cleaning gunk off the bobbin area. The rest was fairly easy. One problem, though, the Bobbin winder is not clicking down at all. Just seems to be loose. And, the one bobbin does not fit properly. I will have to find some decent bobbins. Any Suggestions? My machine is called Gladys, after my mother who recently passed away at 103. the other will be called Jensine, after my Grandmother.

    I have always loved before and after pictures. So, I have two great big ones in my dining room trying to become beautiful.

    I used WD40 on everything inside, and then SM oil. The peeling shellac layer is coming off with Auto Tar Remover! I am very careful with the decals. Next, Turtle wax will be tried to try to give it a bit of a shine. I am just happy to have saved these from becoming garden tables or ending up in the rubbish tip. I live now in Scotland, but from California.

    Where can I learn about bobbin winders?

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog.

      Is your machine a 15K? I am assuming it is, because you say it is like mine.

      My treadle takes a 'universal' bobbin, also sometimes called a '15K' bobbin; they are really cheap to buy on ebay.

      If your bobbin is the wrong size, it might stop the bobbin winder from working properly? I will check mine tomorrow, but I think you need to clip the bobbin into place before the winder will click down.

      If you want any more info, this PDF might help:

      Hope that helps!


    2. Mine is a 66, not quite like yours. About 1935, we think. We have dismantled the winder, as it was very sticky and gunky, and hope that may solve the problem. I think your bobbins will work, too. Thanks for your help!

    3. I checked it out today and yes the bobbin winder only clicks down if the tiny notch on the hole of the bobbin is lined up.

      I've written a new post about identifying your machine, that might help you with the year and where it was made.

      Glad to have helped out.

  6. I just acquired a 1904 model 28 treadle machine from a charity shop in Edinburgh. She still runs OK and just needs a good clean and maybe a new belt. Sadly she wasn't built in Clydebank which where I was brought up so I remember the factory and it's big clock tower! My Gran had a medal of long service from working there too.

    I really enjoyed reading your experiences and hope I can replicate the success you have had. I'd love to find some replacement decals for my girl (Victorian design) but no joy as yet.

    I also still need a name for her.

  7. I just acquired a 1904 model 28 treadle machine from a charity shop in Edinburgh. She still runs OK and just needs a good clean and maybe a new belt. Sadly she wasn't built in Clydebank which where I was brought up so I remember the factory and it's big clock tower! My Gran had a medal of long service from working there too.

    I really enjoyed reading your experiences and hope I can replicate the success you have had. I'd love to find some replacement decals for my girl (Victorian design) but no joy as yet.

    I also still need a name for her.


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