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Treadle Sewing Machines:Sew Simple

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Treadle Sewing Machines

Knowing how to use a treadle sewing machine is on it's way to becoming a lost art. Many people think that the treadle, or manually powered, sewing machine is a thing of the past but that is not true.

There are still many treadle machines being made. Not only that but there are many antique treadle machines still in use today! These simple sewing machines last an incredibly long time because they are built to last. There are no computer chips to fry, electric wires to cross, or intricate programs to go haywire. Best of all, they can be used when there is no electricity available, whether you are off grid or just want to save money. Do they work as well as an electric machine?

Benefits of a Treadle Sewing Machine

Most people that have used treadles think that they work even better than an electric model. The seamstress is able to have much more control over the speed of the machine and the machine stops immediately when you do. All sewing machines use the same basic stitch, A seam is created when the stitches are tight and cross at a central point. All machines use this premise. Now, you can't do fancy stitches with a treadle but the straight stitch will allow you to make about anything your heart desires and as an added benefit you will be burning calories as you go.

Treadle sewing machines are especially good for quilting projects because of the increased control and quality of the stitches. Using the foot treadles in rhythm becomes a relaxing pattern, much like when spinning. Rather than sitting hunched over the machine, and becoming tense as you sew you may find that your tension and stress fall away as you sew.

They are simple to care for and will last forever. A few drops of oil here and there, a tightened screw and your machine is ready to zip out your winter quilts, your summer dresses and the rag doll you want to make your daughter for Christmas.

How to Use a Treadle Sewing Machine

Do plan on giving yourself a few days to acclimate to your treadle machine. It works a little differently than an electric and you will need to learn to coordinate your feet and your hands. Make a few simple items with straight lines. A nine patch quilt block is a good choice for learning to sew on a treadle sewing machine.

  • Sit up straight in your chair.

  • Place the fabric under the needle and lower the presser foot just as in any machine.

  • Turn the balance wheel toward you.

  • Place the ball of your right foot on the upper right corner and the heel of your left foot on the lower left corner of the treadle. You will alternate the heel and toe of your feet to produce a pumping action. This is much easier to do than to explain. T
  • here is no reverse on a treadle machine so in order to reinforce your stitches you will need to turn the fabric and sew back in the other direction.

There are several manufacturers of treadle sewing machines. If you are buying a vintage machine try to stick with Singer. The reason for this is simply that the Singer Company has the manuals available for down load at the Singer website.

Maintenance and Repair of Treadle Sewing Machines

Treadle sewing machines are simple to fix n your own. Most parts are still available. You can find many of the manuals and vintage parts on the Internet - just do a Google search.

If you are having problems with your sewing machine see if one of these things may be the problem:

  • Skipped stitches- Check that your needle is in correctly.
  • Snags the fabric- Change the needle.
  • Jamming-Make sure the machine is threaded properly

Always use 3 in 1 oil to clean and oil your machine. Keep the needle changed with every project and use a good quality thread to keep lint from buildingup in the bobbin.

If you ever had the urge to go off grid, to live Little House on the Prairie style, or just to be able to sew when the lights go out think about getting a treadle. There is a satisfaction in being able to create an entire project on a treadle sewing machine that you won't find anywhere else.


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    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      6 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      You might try your lical sewing repair shop

    • profile image

      Rita Porter 

      6 years ago

      I just purchased a Damascus treadle machine. I have not been able to find needlse for it. Can you help?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My mother lives with me and is still using a minnesota Model C treaddle sewing machine.We need help winding the bobion, if anyone could walk me though it I would so apprecicate it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Have you heard of a Critical Fee Treadle sewing machine?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Just wanted to remind people back in the day of sweatshops all the machines were treadle and they could turn out all sorts of clothing. I always remember that when I sit in front of a machine. Currently re-doing the cabinet on an 1891 Singer Model 27 vibrating shuttle. The wood veneer is beautiful. They don't build cabinets like that anymore.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Marye, way to go. Thanks for the wonderufl article and boost I need to get the leather belt for my husband's grandmother's 1920s Minnesota A treadle. I oiled it up today and can't wait to start. I'm a brand new G-ma and her parents want me to sew baby wipes from t-shirts. They are going green and my treadle will start me sewing green. Can't wait to get back into sewing dresses, etc. and want to learn quilting. Thanks again for a super article!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am 59. My Grandmother made ever Grandchild in our family (16) a quilt for their birthday and made most of her own clothes and countless gifts on the old Singer treadle machine that my Mother inheritated and sewed on most of my growing up years. It is in the original near mint cabinet and the machine is beautiful. I used it quite a bit in my teens and now I think I will begin using it again. I am working in leather now making purses and I suspect witht the proper needle it will work as well as some of the industrial machines. I have a Singer 7442 that I use for drapes and pillows and creating things around the house but I'm anxious to work with the antique Singer now.

    • Pam Kellogg profile image

      Pam Kellogg 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for such a well written article. I've had my antique Singer Treadle machine for a few years now and I love it! I still use my electric machine but there is something about the rhythm of treadling that sooths my nerves and quiets my mind!


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I once used a treadle sewing machine in New Zealand when I was a teenager and that family loved that machine. The friend of mine still sews and when I looked at the stitching of the things she had sewn with the old treadle machine, it was a whole lot better than what I've seen for many a year since that time. I would love to have one especially if the power goes out (and with all the calamities in the world today) as i could still sew and I love to make quilts etc. Yes I do love the fact that you get to set the speed and when I was a child my mother had a black singer machine (electric) that did not have a reverse (yep you had to turn the fabric around to get the reverse thingy) but sewed beautifully and had a big iron piece that came down for you to press with your knee to sew. I think pumping with the treadle would be a lot easier than that hunk of iron you pushed with your knee.

    • imatellmuva profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in Baltimore

      Margaret, I have a treadle sewing machine, a Singer from the early 1900s. I have the cabinet too, but I don't have the pedestal that the cabinet sits on. Can you believe someone threw this away? It was in an alley getting wet in the rain!

      The cabinet is water damaged. The wood is splintering on the sides, but the front of the cabinet is still intact and absolutely stunnig. It has little drawers for notions with a beautiful ornate design carved into the wood. I want desperately to restore this!!

      Oh Mary, I am ecstatic! I am bookmarking this hub! I learned more in this hub than I've been able to find on my own! Thank you...Thank you!!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have an electric Singer 478. I would like to convert it to a treadle. Which treadle table will fit? (I do not mind the "lift", only putting it into work).

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My wife's granny moved to IA in the 1800's possibly with a Mason treadle machine which we now have. Would appreciate any info about the co..

    • Darlene Norris profile image

      Darlene Norris 

      8 years ago from MI

      Good article. I learned to sew on my grandmother's old treadle sewing machine. I found one at an auction in SD about 20 years ago, and of course I bought it. I had it for over 10 years. I sewed a lot of quilts on that old sewing machine. Sold it to an Amish family in TN cuz I wanted a machine that would sew backwards, as well as do zigzag.

      Love my electric machine, but went to an auction last month and found another old Singer treadle machine. I was the only bidder at $5! It needs a needle clamp and a couple of other parts, but seems like it should work just fine once I get one. Those old sewing machines have such a nice stitch. The new machines just don't compare.

    • GCSandy profile image


      8 years ago from Page, AZ

      Nice article. Great information. I grew up with a treadle machine which I inherited when my mother passed away. It has been sitting and gathering dust but you have inspired me to pull it out so I can use it again.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Somehow, this Page sold a Sewing Machine on my Zhlio Store.

      So thank you, It netted me 7 euros. I guess someone must have read this and looked up one of my obscure Sites.

      I am a fan of Janome fancy embroidering Machines, but hey still love the old ttreadle I started on. Somehow, they have the control, for me anyway.

    • profile image

      Glenn Jacobs 

      8 years ago

      My mother left a Singer treadle machine. However, by the time we got it back, there was nothing but the treadle frame. My mother-in-law left us a Necchi portable with zig-zag, straight stitch and reverse, but it was corroded into immobility. We loosened it up with WD-40 and great care and mounted it on a scrap of plywood on the Singer frame. That was 25 years ago and it is still our favorite sewing machine.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I learned to sew on a treadle machine at age 9, graduated to an electric, found it to be a piece of junk after 1-1/2 years and returned to my mother's treadle which I have been using ever since. I am now 63 years old. I've made wedding dresses, dungerees, tents, backpacks, velvet blazers, blouses, dresses, slacks, etc. My machine is still humming along and the best part is that my husband or I can repair oursleves!!

    • profile image

      Ruth Ann 

      9 years ago

      I too began my sewing history on my mother's prized Free No. 5 treadle sewing machine. After going through several electric sewing machines I am again in treadle heaven. I have just received a treadle Minnesota Model B for my birthday and it rusn better than even I remember. I missed the treadle so much I am so thankful for this chance to get back to basics with my new found love.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      where can i find a part for rhythim machine?.

    • 2patricias profile image


      10 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I used to make almost all my clothes on a treddle sewing machine. I made a few very complicated garments, some copied from Vogue magazine. Once made my husband a formal shirt! My hint for a professional finish - hand tack seems first.

      And you are right - speed control is wonderful - far better than electric models.

      Thanks for a good hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I learn,t to sew on one. It was good grounding!! Good article.

    • rodney southern profile image

      rodney southern 

      10 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      Very interesting hub! I will forward this to some folks!


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