Making do… The basics

Use what you have and make it work for you. I am not telling you to go out and buy a brand new machine or to buy all the newest fangled products on the market.  I love all the new sewing gadgets on the market, but you don’t need these things to make the things you want to make. I learned on an old singer that was motorized. It only did a forward straight stitch but I made it work for me! I learned and made so many things. Sometimes the most basic is the best, you have to be more creative to achieve a look. They say less is more and that the simple things in life are all you need.

Today, I have a wide variety of machines and I enjoy sewing with a treadle machine. I love the way it sounds and the perfect straight stitch it makes, and the fact that I am the power! I feel like I am closer to my art using the treadle. I freemotion quilt and thread paint so much easier on my treadle because I feel I am more “one” with the machine. It took practice and patience, but it was worth it. I have taught a few children how to sew using the treadle. I think it’s easier for them to. There’s not a lot that can go wrong with a treadle, they are a hearty stock, very durable and can sew through more layers of denim and tough stuff that any of my other machines hands down.  I really like and use the old attachments, they came with the machines and work terrifically. The underbraider and tucker attachments are some of my favorites, using them make the task so much easier. I could not believe how easy it was to make rows and row of perfect tucks without marking and pinning and pressing. You can find these at thrift shores, yard sales and even the dump!  Ask around you’d be surprised what people want to pass on.

Here are some tips for working with Vintage machines:

  1. If it has been a really long time since you may have used your machine consider taking your machine into a sewing machine shop to have it cleaned and oiled. If you are a more handy type person then there are resources on line and in book form to guide you through fixing and tuning up of your machine. It is always best to first find the user’s manual to your machine, if you cannot locate it, then look on-line. There are places that you can purchase either a downloadable copy or original manuals.
  2. Start with a new needle, for straight stitch machines avoid using the yellow banded singer needle, they are for zig-zag machines. A good starting needle is an 80/12 universal.
  3. Put the needle in correctly! Depending on what type of machine you have makes a big difference where the flat part of the needle goes.  Once again the manual will tell you which way the flat part of the needle should face.  Make sure you also put the needle all the way up into the shaft/holder. Tighten securely, but not so tight you can’t undo it.
  4. Threading your needle is important too! Depending on your machine you can thread your machine from front to back or from side to side. I have machines that thread left to right and machines that thread right to left and then the more common of today, front to back.
  5. The Bobbin is just as important.  Make sure you have the correct size for your machine and that it doesn’t have any cracks or warps to distort the smooth operation. See how important your manual is! Check it out for the specific s on your bobbin and how to place it into your machine.  The most common frustrations during sewing can be solved by making sure the needle is correctly in the machine and that it is threaded correctly. That goes for the bobbin also.  Take time to really learn how to thread your machine properly.

The more basic the machine the less that can go wrong with it.

I demonstrate the treadle sewing machine at the LW Paul Living Farm Museum in our Town. The day I first saw the machine it was in a barn. The men brought it over to the house and it was DIRTY, and It probably hadn’t been used it at least 25 years.  I wiped it down and swept it off and cleaned it up using only what would have been on hand in a rural 1940’s-1950’s southern farm house.  The belt was on, but very loose, and it needed oiling, but I put a needle in it and gave the hand wheel one good forward turn and off she sewed.  That was the dirtiest straight stitch I ever saw, but she worked! And I’m using her to teach about sewing and quilting to people who come and visit the farm.

Have I inspired you to try your Grandmothers machine yet?? Think of the power you’ll save. Now, that’s what I told my Husband when he was helping me to carry my third treadle sewing machine home.  LOL

I have a wonderful 1905 treadle sewing machine that my son, Brent and I saved from the dump. It was rusted and broken; the cabinet disintegrated back to the earth and the irons a bright rust color. We cleaned and sanded and tinkered and rebuilt it.  Brent painted it a “Mercedes Bend ice blue” because he told me that I drive a better sewing machine than car! My youngest son, Adam and I went to the hardware store and bought a piece of wood to make a top surface which my Daughter Calvy painted a doily finish. My husband helped me cut the top opening and last but not least my Daughter Mary Kathryn helped me name her, Chloe.  If you have ever watched “Smallville,” Chloe doesn’t die, neither did my treadle Chloe!!!

Other needed tools are your basic sewing supplies, scissors, pins, tape measures, marking tools and whatever else you like to sew with. Keep it basic and use what you have. My Dad wouldn’t let me use pins because he was afraid I would drop them on the floor and not pick them up. He didn’t want to be the one who found the pin  by stepping on it either! So, I placed paper weights and whatever I could find to “hold” the pattern pieces to the fabric when cutting them out. If there was a tricky seam that would need pinning I used a bobby pin to hold it. Use whatever works!


Get a good one! This tool is sometimes over looked, but ironing makes the difference between homemade and handmade…… It   gives what you make a professional finish. Definitely use a steam model. The steam can be turned off when needed, but shaping and setting seams with steam makes your garments clean and smooth.  Learning to iron properly also saves you money at the dry cleaners and keeps you clothes lasting longer. You’ll look better in pressed smooth clothes also! Thrift doesn’t mean you look messy or sloppy , Being polished makes anyone look and feel better. As you learn to use your iron and get comfortable with it, ironing doesn’t take that much time. Set it up in front of the TV or lke I do set it up on an outside screened in porch and enjoy a quiet time with nature ironing your loved ones clothes.


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