Friday, November 04, 2005

A Glimpse of the Antique Treadle Machines I Use

Part of the fun of sewing period- or vintage-style clothing is making up the pieces using vintage sewing treadle machines. At least it is for me.

I find antique machines pretty to look at. My boxy, modern Bernina with its single bland pink and blue decal is a visual yawn compared to my Warwick, with its romantic hand-painted tendrils and mother-of-pearl decor on the bed, or to the elegant classicism of the legs, or "irons" that support the Willcox and Gibbs.

That's just a start, though. Most antique treadles were designed to take on a wide variety of materials, some of them very heavy and dense. They power through heavy-duty tasks that will wear out a motor on an electric machine. They won't whine if you want to go one-slow-stitch-at-a-time-in-a-really-delicate-spot. Granted that this is not a vintage sewing example, but I am proud to write that when I constructed floor length silk curtains recently, the Willcox managed sewing through four layers of silk and cotton lining, all together, and topped off by sticky, heavy commercial curtain header tape, without an issue. I turned to it after the Bernina refused to operate on such a heavy load. Silly me. Should have started with a treadle.

Then too, a vintage machine will produce vintage effects. My handcrank Singer is a whiz at setting up gathers in heavy was built to do it. The Willcox (mine dates to 1911) will produce stitches so fine you can barely see them. A chainstitch machine, it was popular for making underclothing, among other things. As one contemporary guide explained, the stitches have more stretch and give than do lockstitches. You can produce simple chain stitch embroidery with it too, or sew on soutache braid just as such braid was originally meant to be attached. The "tuckmarker" produces perfectly aligned tucks of all sizes.

There are many of us out there who love these machines, who conserve them and rescue them from being broken up for lampstands or other uses. Some of us collect them, others of us collect and use them, too. Most all of us feel that we are custodians of an important part of sewing history.

Where To Learn More

If you have the least bit of interest in learning more, try these sites.

  • TreadleOn, "headquarters for a group of almost a thousand people who collect and sew with antique sewing machines". See This is a truly amazing group of folks from all over the world.
  • The NeedleBar, "A reference site for collectors of antique and vintage sewing machines". See
  • ISMACS. "The International Sewing Machine Collectors Society caters to those interested in collecting and learning about full size and toy sewing machines". See
  • Photos of the vintage machines in my possession, at My collection is very small. There are many sites across the Web belonging to folks who have collected and conserved dozens and dozens of machines.

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