Weekend Project: Treadle Tune Up!

I have crafter ADD.

I am still working on the perfectly fitted yet moveable bodice/sleeve–I’m on attempt #6 in the last three weeks, I believe, and have used up all of my muslin hoard in various attempts, but will be launching into the next iteration tomorrow. I let myself do one attempt every 2-3 days lest the frustration reach throw-a-sewing-machine point. I think I’ve almost got it, though 🙂

As a respite from said frustration, and because I always visit my grandparents on the weekend, and because my grandparents aid and abet my showing machine addiction by sending me sewing machine porn pictures during their flea market outings AND allowing me to stash my overflow in their basement, I decided to finish rebelting my Singer treadle! Months ago, my grandpa and I went on an hours-long drive to pick up this Craigslist find in a very cantankerous ex-hippy older man’s basement. He became much friendlier when I made it obvious I was not out to haggle and did not want to dismantle the machine and sell it as a foo-foo shabby chic table. Nothing against shabby chic, but seeing whitewashed cast iron hurts my little bitter heart. Apparently his too. He said he had bought it decades ago and an ex girlfriend used to sew on it during the 70s, but he had never gotten around to refinishing it as he’d hoped. It was dusty and had some staining and damage to the wood surface, and the machine is varnished and the decals have some serious wear. But that’s part of its appeal. There’s an aesthetic ideal called wabi sabi in Japan that I think of with old machines and antiques–beauty in imperfection, beauty in the natural cycle of decay with time, wear from use. I’ll spare you that rant, mostly, but it’s a fascinating subject. For example:


So anyway, my treadle. It needed a belt, and a TON of oil, and some serious scrubbing and loosening of varnished parts. Replacing a treadle belt isn’t hard, exactly–you just buy a precut length of leather belting, or measure it with a string over its path through all the turns of the flywheel and balance wheel, and then you trim it to the point that it’s got enough tension against the wheels to turn the machine, but not too tight. According to the interwebz, a slightly loose belt works better, and some people even recommend violin bow rosin to help with the grip. (This and much more wisdom on treadle tips and tricks here.) It took some fiddling to get the length just right, and my grandpa used a very small drill bit to drill a hole on either end of the belt. The edges need to be trimmed so that the two ends of the belt butt up to one another, and then you crimp the staple that usually comes with the belting shut securely by squishing it just right with a pair of pliers. Grandpa has mad skills in this department. Tricky but nothing compared to the storm of swear words that I unleash on a vintage Husqvarna. I love the simplicity of these old machines so much. There is a very Zen pleasure that comes from playing around with them–and in the treadling action itself. It takes some getting used to, since the wheel will move in either direction when you initially start to pedal and it will break your thread if it moves away from you (for a Singer treadle–White and some other models move the opposite direction, though). But using a slight turn of the handwheel with my right hand to convince it to move the right direction really helps. So does using my hand to bring the wheel to a complete stop. I’m sure it gets easier with time and practice.


All cleaned up, cast iron cleaned with a rag and sewing machine oil, etc.

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Sphinx decals. So cool! Evidently the discovery of King Tut’s tomb led to Egyptomania in fashion during the 20s.


My grandpa shared a big chunk of the mancave for my machinery. I think he enjoys it, too.  The treadle to the right is table only, and was a gift from some friends who wanted it to go to a nice new obsessive’s home. It was missing the front drawer and the wooden pitman rod connecting the flywheel on the base to the treadle pedal part had been broken. So after months of scouring online, I found replacements for both. Evidently the pitman rods were made in metal as well as wood–I wish there were a contemporary source for these, although I suspect someone with woodworking skills would have no problem making a new wooden one. Alas, I do not.  My grandpa repainted the legs as he remembers them from his childhood. He did a wonderful job on them!


The woman who it originally belonged to apparently loved that distinctive 70s green that the drawers are painted in. I don’t, and I hope to use some Citristrip one day to remove it. My partner jokes that one day I’m going to get us haunted by messing with the wrong antique. Let’s hope it’s not by refurbishing this one.

And also…I’ve been working on the pattern for this!


It’s from a fashion magazine during the 1880s that came with a huge pattern insert. The pattern pieces are all printed on top of one another, so I have my work cut out for me. It’s quite a tangle. But–once I get my sloper perfected; fingers crossed for try #6–I’m looking forward to attempting it!

Anyone else have any treadle experiences? I’d love to hear about them!

Christmas Sewing: Kimonos and Spock Shirts and Raglan Blouses, Oh My

I have three days, a 20 yard bolt of black stretchy chiffon, three shades of teal/navy blue jersey and black jersey, and a dream. I somehow think that I’m going to be able to finish four kimono tops and one raglan Spock style tee–and work a normal schedule!–over the next three days.

It isn’t going to happen. Thank you, Sephora, for backup girlie gifts.

But it will be fun to try.

I drafted my own pattern for the Spock shirt. My sister is a big fan, and she’s of the Zachary Quinto Spock era, so this is my guide:

trek-movie-spockLooks like a raglan tee with an almost sports-jersey texture, some kind of satin stitching or shinier bias tape at the seams which I’m pretending does not exist for my sewing purposes, and a black high collar that extends above the v-neckline. I tried sewing my son a version of this for practice, but he refuses to wear it. And I didn’t even get a chance to draw the eyebrows on him first.

And then there’s the kimono top I settled on (instead of a caftan, which may be a bit too far into hippie land for the mass appeal I’m going for). McCall’s 4304 “2 Hour Top,” which I have sewn before and which took me significantly longer than 2 hours, but in the almost-year that has passed since my first attempt, let’s hope I’ve gained some speed. I want to modify it slightly, as the drawstring is a bit too high to flatter the apple body shapes with no discernible waistline that run in my family. I also might shorten and bell the sleeves slightly, and add a bit of length in a slight A-line to make the shape a bit more flattering.


My plan of attack is vaguely industrial-sewing inspired (more on this in the future, as I find it fascinating in a best-practices efficiency kind of way):

  • cut all my pieces at once with a rotary cutter for precision
  • wind many bobbins ahead of time
  • sew the garments assembly line style. Do seam one on all four at the same time, seam two on all four, etc, to avoid confusion and having to figure out how to do each step all over again for each individual garment
  • French seams for side seams to avoid having to finish edges later and for neatness, especially on this fabric

I’m sewing it on my Kenmore 158.12111, which I am more and more happy with the more I use it. It has a dual belt system, which makes it slower than some, but incredibly precise. I can stop pushing the pedal and the needle stops within a stitch and it becomes really easy to time it perfectly after a little practice. It’s a little loud and little shaky, but I think that’s in part because it needs more use after sitting for years and in part due to the smaller base of a freearm giving it less balance. I’m very impressed by its strength and the regularity of its stitches–so far, it hasn’t given me any trouble at all. This is supposed to be part of the appeal of the Husqvarna models with the reduction gear, but the Kenmore has the advantage of being made of metal, being designed with room and smart access panels to get in there and oil and repair, and of using common bobbins and bobbin cases. To be fair, I haven’t really had the chance to enjoy a fully functional Husqvarna, but if the reduction gear is the key advantage, I’ll take a Kenmore any day for the sturdiness and simplicity.

Needless to say my collection of Husqvarnas is still nonfunctional. (I have four: the 19e I replaced a solid 19 3/4″ belt with a 20″ lug belt after days of struggle to attain much less than satisfactory results; a 1030 that is frozen completely solid and became a candidate for a very enjoyable Bacchanalian dissection and which I used as a source for a donor belt which was a big fail; a 6000 series with a broken camstack and a broken reduction gear which I’m going to try to replace with the gear from the 1030; and a 51e flatbed which appears to be in great shape except it has no cord and the plug is a weird type that I can’t find a replacement for. *shakes fist*)

AND I almost forgot! I finished my raglan blouse in a woven to my satisfaction and shall be sporting it in all its pastel pink glory for the festivities. I’ll have to post a picture when I’m not so dark-circle-tired-eyed and Sunday grosstastic.

Sewing Machines and Manuals: Vintage Bernina 740

favoritSo I know I said the thing about the not hoarding any more machines. Sigh. But then I saw a machine like this, a Bernina 740 favorit, on ebay for super cheap listed by someone who seemed very grandmothery and knowledgeable and loving to her machines and could not, for the life of me, resist buying such a rare and well cared for piece. (image source) I realllly shouldn’t be spending more money on something I don’t need (I can hear the lifepartner now: ANOTHER sewing machine??!?) but I look at these as something like investments, in that I can love them and use them and learn with them but pass them on to other hands if I choose to some day and they probably will still be worth something after my heavy usage. Vintage sewing machines certainly don’t seem to be devaluing, especially high end models; reading sewing blogs from 5 years ago discussing the pricing makes this pretty obvious. And if I can actually apply skills I’ve taught myself to repair them, so much the better for the potential return on my “investments,” should it ever be possible to pry one from my clutches.

Berninas are held in high esteem by people all over the interwebz, but I’ve never tried one. I was drooling over a few Record 530, 630 and 730 models for a few months, but the Husqvarnas I’ve been trying vainly to fix really turned me off on anything with plastic innards and tight, enclosed motor free arm body styles. The beautiful thing about the Favorit models is that they are a) flatbed, meaning I can access the lower mechanical parts easily for cleaning and oiling, and b) at least some of them have an externally mounted motor, making for easier belt replacements if needed and even motor replacement if it came to that. The ebay description claimed an all metal construction, so I’m hoping that’s correct, as at least the 730 Record models have plastic parts (cam gear, etc) that do eventually wear out. c) It’s 60slicious. That cream and avocado color scheme. That font. Those curving lines. Why are contemporary sewing machine designs so inattentive to sheer visual pleasure?? This is fun to look at.

Another beautiful thing? Evidently these are possible to rig up to huge industrial motors. Like so:

westauctions bernina(image source)

I have seen 740 Favorit and 730 Industrie models, but am not sure what the difference is in the construction. The motors for the industrie ones are enormous and mounted below the machine, and I’m not sure how the sizes compare. But I will enjoy investigating!

740-11 industrie(image source)

So of course I had to seek out a manual, and was happy to find that Bernina has a page devoted to out of print manuals. (bernina manuals) The translation is clumsy, but it’s kind of part of the charm. The manual for the 740 is (here).

The ol’ girl should be arriving around Christmas time, which means I’ll be enjoying this new baby over some spiked eggnog. Can’t wait!