Sewing machine – some basics and a bit of a life ramble

It occurs to me, as I have spent the better part of my “time off” either sewing or reading since January, that sewing is fast becoming a lost art.  I’d like to be working with my kids to change this, but while they’re interested (read as have the patience to sew a 3 inch seam by hand in under 5 minutes), I’ve got to get some costuming done for our big event, and have a newly minted (and growing) teen boy.  He’s grown so much, in fact, since our last event that he doesn’t fit anything that used to be his.  Ergo, mom needs to sew him some new stuff.

A little background here – das husband and I used to run a business called Belt and Bodice, where he made the leather stuff and I made the clothing, for sale.  I’ve done a LOT of sewing over the years.  I was also the back up costumer for a renaissance fair.  Like I said, LOTS of sewing.  Much of that was done on a treadle.  I happen to like treadles better than electrics for several reasons.  They’re steel geared (never break on you) and can run thru pretty much anything you throw at them.  They’re also more controllable.   All sewing machines are driven by one of two things – a belt or a hand crank.  Hand crank machines were much more common in Europe and cities, so finding them can be like hens teeth if you live rurally.  They also tend to be expensive.  You’re much more likely to find a  wheel and belt driven treadle machine.

A word on treadles – in our previous lives, das husband and I used to regularly visit the local auction.  We’d buy cheap treadles and I’d rehab them for sale in the business  I can’t even say how many treadles have passed thru our house.  I can say, however, that at one point, I think we owned about 7…that number is now down to 3 and one hand crank.

Treadles are fairly simple to operate; pump the pedal, the wheel moves the belt, which turns the hand wheel, which moves the needle. The needle does the sewing.  Here’s a little diagram for you to look at. treadle diagram  If you are interested in these machines, there’s a very nice group of folks who mostly do quilting, but who also rehab machines at  They’ve got an awesome list serve that can answer most any question and used to pony express machines across the country.

That said, most folks think electric when they think sewing machine.  I’m fond of the post war steel geared machines that, like treadles, are indestructible.  They were also the height of non-computerized machine tech.  Personally, I like Morse and White brand machines. Your mileage may vary if you end up getting addicted to sewing machines!  These are typically available very cheaply – just last week, I saw a knee activated post-war White with cams (discs you stick into the machine for a pattern) and a double needle (needed for things like jeans) for $50 in a local resale shop.  A similar, but modern, computer based machine with plastic gears will start around $300.

So now that you’ve chosen a machine, what do you do?  Well, you try to sew something.  Start simple.  Even so, you’ll likely mess it up.  Keep going – sewing is one of those places that even when you know what you’re doing, you still regularly mess stuff up.  Buy a pattern and follow the directions.  Take a class at your local fabric store.  Experiment.  Watch You-tube videos.  Try something new.  Like anything, sewing takes regular practice.  It’s frustrating, but proper prep (using pins, cutting things correctly etc) makes the actual sewing of the seams work right.

About catfeet1

Mom, canner, reader, sci-fi geek, she who loves car seats
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1 Response to Sewing machine – some basics and a bit of a life ramble

  1. CD Thayer says:

    I’m a treadle user too!
    CD in Oklahoma

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