Spelunking for treadles


Pardon me while I continue my informal catalogue of All The Things. Where “The Things” are elderly and antique sewing machines belonging to, well, everyone I know. Over Christmas we had the opportunity to visit my grandma, who is nearly ninety, on the old family farm. I fear I pestered her more or less continuously about sewing-related subjects… But she seemed fairly happy to tell me about sewing her own wedding dress and her mother making patterns from scratch. And then, of course, there are the machines.

The Machine

Exhibit A is the “new” machine. Meaning, the new electric machine my Grandma got for herself, probably in the very early sixties. It’s a lovely teal (!) straight-stitch Domestic, manufactured by White. Doesn’t it look like a rocket ship? It reminds me very much of the Piedmont, although it is a bit more futuristic, and probably (?) a year or five newer. The functionality is identical.

Buttonholers, attachments, and odds ‘n ends, oh my!

It took some digging around, but we eventually located the pedal and the attachments, including a nice set of hemmers and a Greist buttonholer (no eyelet template. /sigh). I gave it a bit of oil and changed the needle.

The needle that was in the machine.

Have you ever seen a needle that dull? I stitched a sample hem (to show my Grandma how the hemmer feet, which she never used, work) and a buttonhole just because. I would’ve liked to give it more of a workout, but the only “mending” lying around was some old coveralls that really, if I were to start patching, would end up more patch than original cloth. So I didn’t.

To infinity and beyond!

Cute machine, though. I would totally take it into space with me.

Stocking-mending kit. Not, actually, a matchbook.

My fave bit of paraphernalia was what I initially took to be a matchbook, tucked in the old sewing case (which belonged to my great, or possibly great great, grandma). Turns out it was for mending stockings—the stuff on the “matchheads” is some kind of water-soluble glue to stop runs, and then there is silk thread for darning the runs after, or something.

Then there is the treadle situation. There was, I was assured, a treadle on the farm. Granny (this would be my Grandma’s mother-in-law) had one, which Grandma used before she got the electric above. After Granny and her husband died, my Grandma and family moved into the “Big House” and the treadle was relegated to storage in the little house.

The Little House

The little house was built by my grandfather when he married my grandmother, and as far as I can tell was only occupied during the fifties. When my great-grandmother (Granny) and great grandfather died, in the early sixties, the younger generations moved into the big house, and the little house has been mostly abandoned ever since, although I do recall some half-hearted renovations now and then during my own childhood.

So, it took some considerable effort to get to view this mysterious treadle. First of all, it’s the middle of winter. There’s a foot and a half of snow on the ground. Just getting to the little house required some serious snow-slogging and a modest amount of shoveling. Then came the real spelunking, clambering through and around the array of… objects… which have come to occupy the little house, by the light of the flashlight plus the dim sunlight filtering through the ragged curtains.

Boxes and tins were moved, a mattress was dodged, and at last, just barely, we beheld the treadle.

Look familiar?

A Singer.

Actually, a Singer more or less identical to this one belonging to my Stylish sister-in-law.

Actually, a Singer completelyΒ identical to my SIL’s. Right down to the JA serial number that marks it as being manufactured in 1924.

1924 Sphinx-decal Singer

I’m not sure whether to laugh or headdesk. I didn’t get to dig around to see if it had manuals or attachments or anything—we’ll give that a shot in the summer. It does still move, and will probably be just fine with a bit of oil, but again, not something I’m going to attempt at this time of year.

But at least it’s a known quantity.

Now I’m just wondering what happened to Grandma’s mother’s machine. It was an Eaton’s machine, Grandma assures me. Maybe her surviving sister has it…

You may now return to your regularly-schedules sewing blogs. Where, y’know, actual sewing is happening. I have so many plans and so little time… >_<



Filed under Sewing

32 responses to “Spelunking for treadles

  1. Look at all that snow! I am shivering just thinking about you walking through it! πŸ˜‰ The machines are gorgeous! I absolutely love old machines. And having all the attachments too? Makes me feel warmer just thinking about it!

    • Haha—it was, well, brisk. About -20C, which is around where it stops being “fun winter” and starts being “real winter.” I had snow pants etc. on, though, so it wasn’t that bad. πŸ™‚ I just couldn’t make myself wait ’til spring, though! πŸ˜‰

  2. LinB

    I’m so impressed that you found the treadle! Our family’s “little house” was originally a two-room house for itinerant farm labor, on a subsistence/tobacco farm in the 1930s-40s, where a family of 10 scratched out an existence. The house the family lived in was built in the 1880s. I don’t know how old the little house was, but from the above description I’m sure you can imagine what a fine dwelling it was. (After my aunt ran away to be married at age 15, she and her new hubby were relegated to the little house. Two of their three children were born while they lived there.) By the time I knew the house, it was abandoned, rotting, and had earned the name “the snake house” for a reason. Don’t know if there was anything in it worth saving, but I’m pretty sure it had been scavenged well before it burned down one summer night. I’m not saying who threw the match.

    • Aww! The first homestead house on the farm was just a two-room shack, as well. It finally finished falling apart in the last few years; no one ever went in as it was used as a chicken coop for years so was pretty toxic. It wasn’t homesteaded until the 19-teens, though… farming in Saskatchewan didn’t really take off until after 1910, when they finally developed wheat with a short enough growing season (Marquis wheat) ;). The Big House was built in 1918, fully plumbed and wired for electricity. Neither of which was really in place until the 1950s.

  3. That sounds like so much fun! Did you get to see a picture of the wedding dress?

  4. Wow. I am so jealous, you can’t imagine. One of the things I loved about living in Saskatchewan was finding old treasures every where you went. I didn’t love the cold, that wind chill is a killer. I have felt -53.6 with no wind chill and I would take it over -20 in Saskatchewan any day.

    Is your grandma going to give you the treadle?

    • Yeah, wind chill is evil. And Saskatchewan winters are… well, it makes you appreciate the summers that much more, right? The old stuff on the farm is pretty spectacular, actually…

  5. I’m impressed with your persistence! I love old machines too. I do have my granny’s (great-grandmother) treadle. It’s a Singer 66 redeye, but it needs a lot of work because this particular granny was not very particular about how she kept her things:)

  6. Michelle jadaa

    ahh im hooked on antique sewing macines,i have 2 from the 50s and one from the 40s.hubby asked today what i would do when we downsize and i thought a minute and said id rent a storage just for my machines lol.Its a same that old machines are not given the respect they deserve,i would never buy a modern one for anything other than embroidery .

  7. How utterly Jetsons. I love it. I think if I was to collect old machines, that’s the kind of machine I’d be looking for.

  8. Amy

    Holy machines! I really loved following you in there to the little house that Grandpa built. I’d go spelunking for an heirloom sewing machine.

  9. I lived in the highlands of Cape Breton as a small child, and we would sometimes come across abandoned farmhouses off-road while hiking through the hills. We still have some old chests, bottles and other pickings that we took from those dangerously-falling-down farmhouses.

    ….and is that a walnut chest of drawers abandoned in the Little House?!

  10. The most wonderful thing is having a sewing machine with family history attached, congratulations!

  11. oh oh oh!! You know me and old houses. Wow – did you see that ? birds eye ? dresser in the little house!! And the machines!! Oh man – I love the really old one but the newer one is even a treasurer. Please please record your gramma’s stories before she can’t remember to tell you about them.
    And I’d take -55 here on the prairies (and I have for that matter) over any where else. It’s a sunny dry cold and the summers are amazing but you are right about real winter versus fun winter – great way to look at it.

  12. holy moly, i’ve never heard of the Sphinx treadle until this week when i found out that a labbie and you both got one!! hopefully everything works beautifully and rest assured, i’m completely envious of your vintage machine collection!!

  13. I just love how the women in your family sew, still sew and have kept so much stuff for sewing. I look forward to seeing how you get on with trying out the treadle in the spring.

  14. I love that blue ‘rocket’ machine! It looks SO stylish. I love the amazing stocking mending kit…. I don’t have Grandparents in Australia and the only Grandparent I met was in Cyprus and died in 2000. He came to Australia alone at 80, having never travelled before on a plane and only one word of English “water”! I saw him a few times in Cyprus too. I went to China a few years ago and it was -20 in Beijing … coming from Brisbane you can’t imagine cold like that, let alone have enough clothes for it! Ha, ha. When I went to Canada a fews years ago also in the winter, I realised I don’t have any ‘snow knowledge’.. what would I do if I fell into a deep hole or something. So strange.

    • Yeah, there’s a surprising amount of “snow knowledge”… Especially when it comes to driving.

      My grandparents never really knew any of their grandparents. Which is kind of trippy when you think of it. I’m lucky to have them.

  15. Wow. Do you have some sort of dowsing rod you use to unearth old sewing machines? Very cool!

  16. Kathryn Barnhill

    Hi I don’t know about the teal machine but the Singer is a 66 – they Aldo came in a so called Red eye pattern and another I don’t recall
    The manuals are free to download on the Singer site and you can even look up when yours was made and where from the serial number. I have “cast iron fever” can you tell?

    • Actually, I just double checked—the Singer 66 is a rotary machine, this one is a vibrating shuttle. I believe it’s a 19, but I’d have to double check that. πŸ™‚

  17. Pingback: To infinity and beyond! | Tanit-Isis Sews

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