During the recent market crash of ’08, antiques hit bottom dollar and I crossed off most of the items on my Antique Bucket List. However, I have a special affinity for hand cranked and treadle powered tools. The market was bad, so why not add a few sewing machines to the mix, especially the treadle kind, while you’re in a bidding frenzy on eBay? Prices were so low that sewing machines were selling for less than the associated shipping costs and I ended up a few machines …43 to be exact (several are shown below). The wife was upset that the garage started to look like a sewing store. However, she was not aware how much these machines would be worth once the market boomed again. Machines that I bought for $25 easily sell for $150 today and, just to rub it in a little more, the better ones sell for $250. Let’s just say I’ve made a little money after cleaning up some of these machines.
During the devastation I also picked up a few machines that spoke to me. For instance, Willcox & Gibbs sewing machines have always fascinated me.
Not only are they unique looking, their operation is somewhat unique as well. Unlike typical sewing machines, the Willcox & Gibbs is a chain stitch machine that continuously loops the same thread through itself so there is no bobbin under the little chrome table. What is a chain stitch you ask? Well, it’s the same way sweaters are knitted. Just like the Looney Tunes cartoons, if you grab the correct end of the thread and pull, the whole stitching unravels. I’m not a fan of chain stitching, but these little machines are appealing because all of the mechanical workings are exposed. The matching W&G art deco treadle is also quite beautiful, but unfortunately I don’t own one. My plan for this little Willcox is to mount it on top of an American treadle frame with a new table top. The Rococo Revival style American frame is quite beautiful but isn’t really designed for heavy use, so it is perfect for a display piece. Below is a staged picture showing the concept. The treadle frame is still being restored, but several restoration pictures and the completed left side is shown below.
I will be restoring several other machines for use. One is the Singer 99 that I will use with the Wheeler & Wilson frame I mentioned in a previous post. Another is an old but mint Singer 201-2 (shown below) that I will be converting to the industrial 1200-1 version with knee lifter by using parts from a donor 1200-1 and mounting everything on a Singer industrial treadle frame. Both of these machines and their treadles are in various stages of restoration and I will post pictures soon.
Note that any Singer sewing machine can be converted to a treadle type by simply changing out the smaller balance wheel for a larger spoked type that accepts a leather belt. To convert the 1200-1 shown above, the motor assembly is removed and the wheel and wheel guard are replaced with parts from a common Singer 15K. There is a hard mounted light on the front of the arm, so I would have to wire this directly to a cord. Otherwise, the conversion is very straightforward. On the other hand to convert a 201 to a 1200-1, I will have to drill and tap a few holes to mount the knee lift assembly. Why go to the trouble? The 201 is a beautiful machine with gold art deco decals (shown above right) whereas industrial Singers, like the 1200-1 (shown above left), have almost no decal ornamentation.
If your interests are hand cranked machines, there are plenty of ornate ones to make you warm and fuzzy inside. The Singer 28 & improved 128, especially the Scottish versions (designated with a “K” at the end of their numbering), are very beautiful. Mint condition machines are hard to come by due to the hard use most of them endured. However, the Singer 128K shown below is the most well preserved machine in my collection and shows no signs of use.
If you want to convert your machine to a hand crank type, reproduction hand cranks are available through online retailers and on eBay. These can be attached to any Singer that has the larger spoked wheel and a motor mounting boss. There is a great conversion tutorial here.
There are a number of great folks putting these human powered machines, chain stitch and otherwise, to good use and I have yet to meet anyone who wouldn’t bend over backwards to help a fellow treadler. There’s a lot of great information the interweb and a number of dedicated websites to get you started. For instance, I’ve visited Richard’s Treadle On! website too many times to count. He has great articles and a nice flea market page. Also, don’t forget about the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society. They have every resource imaginable. My best advice is to be careful: these machines are beautiful and addicting. Until next week, keep treadling!