Treadle Sewing Machines: Using Your Muscle Power To Sew

Sewing may seem like a sedentary activity, but it wasn’t that long ago that home seamstresses and tailors sewed with their feet as well as their hands and that’s because they used a model known as a treadle sewing machine.

A Green Alternative

A treadle machine works without need for electricity or batteries. The sewer pumps down on a flat plate called a treadle that’s attached to two drive shafts. The drive shafts turn the wheel on the machine that makes the needle go up and down. In other words, good, old-fashioned muscle power is used to move the needles to create stitches. Many sewing enthusiasts today like the environmental benefits of using a machine that doesn’t require manufactured energy.

Some people have had treadle machines in their homes merely as decorative antiques, such as the popular Singer or White models. Many of these antique versions are still in good working order and can be purchased from select online dealers. Prices range from as little as $200 on up.

Pros & Cons of Treadle Sewing Machines

Treadle sewing machines are sturdy and built to last. My mum’s Pfaff treadle machine is 60 years old and still sews without a hiccup. All it needs to keep it running smoothly are a few drops of oil here and there every now and then. That’s it!

With these machines, there are no computer chips to worry about, no intricate programming to fiddle about with and because there is no electricity being used, at the end of the day, you can brag about how you contributed to energy conservation.

One of the drawbacks to these machines is the leather belt that turns the wheel, like any material that’s subjected to constant motion, can wear out and break – often at the most unfortunate point in a sewing project. Veteran users of treadle machines usually keep a spool of leather on hand and fashion their own new belts whenever an old one wears out. Recently manufacturers and users have discovered that urethane coils make longer-lasting belts than leather, so many have switched to this contemporary material.

Instructions and repair parts are other concerns about using an antique treadle sewing machine. Fortunately many dealers sell manuals as well as parts and having them on hand is a good idea.

Straddling The Old & New: Janome712T

Finally, if the thought of sewing with an antique treadle machine is just too daunting, there are contemporary versions available as well. The Janome 712T features 10 utility stitches and sports a flatbed design that can fit into most sewing cabinets. However, it requires a treadle operated sewing table that must be purchased separately from another source.