Old White Rotary treadle sewing machine, in the process of restoring.
Old White Rotary treadle sewing machine, in the process of being restored

These old sewing machines are such great examples of durability, and amazing engineering.  The first machines became available during the mid-1800s.  By 1900 most homes had one, and many of those machines are still available.  I learned to sew on a 1915 treadle that belonged to my grandmother.  My daughter recently gave me the exact same machine for a birthday present.  I love sewing on it, especially for quilting.  Its quiet, and so easy to be more precise.  My ‘go-to machine for anything heavy duty, or if I want to sew something quickly, is a 1938 Singer 201-2 that a friend rescued before it went to the dump.  It came in an ‘ok’ Craftsman style cabinet, that needs some doctoring up.  The 201 is referred to as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of sewing machines.  Story is, that Rolls used these machines to sew their upholstery for their cars.  This sewing machine has sewn through 6 layers of denim without an issue.  I love the even stitches, and how easy it is to use.

My favorite as far as looks, is a 1964 White Fair Lady.  It was released at the World’s Fair that year, and is a great Zig Zag machine, that looks like a classic car from that era.  Love the two tone paint, and how easy it is to use for straight or zig zag stitches, and also for making button holes.  Fairlady

Finding parts, and fixing up old machines isn’t too difficult.  As far as fixing them up, its a lot of sewing machine oil – the only thing to use on the old, black machines with decals, anything else can remove or scratch them.  For the insides, its QTips, cotton rags, old toothbrushes,  more sewing machine oil and lots of elbow grease.   If the machine is frozen, heat from a hair dryer helps a lot, and patience.  I’ll be creating a list of places to get parts.

I love finding deals on old machines and fixing them up.  Most I pass on to others, but did manage to sell one recently, and made almost enough to pay for the one I had just purchased.  I’m not getting rich, but I am enjoying this.  I like the satisfaction of getting an old, dirty one running and usable.  I’ve never been mechanically inclined, but this isn’t difficult.  Its also given me a much better understanding of how gears and electrical motors work.

Where to look?  Thrift stores, yard sales and definitely word of mouth.  I have two friends who do house clean outs and they’ve sent quite a few machines.  People have heard that I’m the crazy sewing machine lady, and send machines my way also.

Most people assume that if they have an old treadle that was their grandmothers, its worth 100s of dollars.   Unless it is very old, rare and in perfect shape, its not worth as much as you’d think, or hope.  I’ve never paid $100 for a machine, and I have 3 old treadles in very good shape.   Antique collectors will pay more than most who plan on using it as intended.  Antique shops charge accordingly.   Machines that are damaged, or missing parts see their value decrease quickly.

Keep your eyes open though – decent machines that have a lot of life left in them are out there.  I try to avoid machines made after 1970 or so, because they most likely have nylon or plastic parts, and once they break or wear out, they are tough to replace.  With all metal parts, as long as they are oiled and the gears greased as intended, they keep going and going.

Do you have an old machine?  I’d love to hear about it.  Check out our sewing page at: