I have Brought a Treadle Sewing Machine Back to Life Again
21. November 2021
What completes the feeling of historically correct sewing more than using a 100-year-old treadle sewing machine? In my eyes, not much.
For this reason, I was on the lookout for a machine for a while, until I received one as a gift, in the hope that I would use it again, and it wouldn’t just sit in the garage.
Time, even and especially the time when it was unused, has left its mark. That’s why I decided to give it a good makeover and possibly get it back into shape to last for many more years. Of course, also with the aim of being able to use it for my projects.
The wood of the table-top and the covering showed the most obvious signs of age and use, which is why I started cleaning and preparing them first. I sanded the wood with very fine steel wool so that I really only removed dirt and old layers of oil or varnish. Above all, I didn’t want to damage the fine wood inlays. After several hours of concentrated sanding, the wood felt nice again and the machine itself had lost its slightly stale smell. To keep the wood in a well-kept condition for a long time, I then rubbed it with hard wax oil, which on the one hand cares for the wood and on the other hand forms a protective layer without closing the wood.
I didn’t change anything on the cast-iron frame of the machine because, for one thing, it doesn’t have any pronounced rust spots, it’s standing dry and, above all, I don’t have the possibility to disassemble the frame properly, sandblast it and apply new varnish. I have merely limited myself to cleaning it with a fine brush to get rid of the coarsest dirt, but to damage as little paint as possible.The sewing machine itself was in good condition, considering its age. Some signs of use are present, but many of the paintings, for example, are still there and only worn away in places of frequent contact. The mechanism itself also worked well, although a little ponderously. I used tweezers to remove dust and dirt, and used Ballistol* and sewing machine oil to clean and lubricate the various threads. The difference in the flow of the machine is remarkable. Now it runs smoothly and also quietly compared to the first sewing attempts.I had to tighten a small screw so that the upper thread doesn’t always break at the hook of the bobbin, and I replaced the belt because it broke after so many years of standstill. Now the machine is ready for use again, and I have made my first sewing attempts.It is a very special feeling to learn to feel and guide the movement of the treadle and the movement of the needle linked to it. While at the beginning I often faltered, the pedal suddenly tilted in the opposite direction and the thread broke, after some practice I am now able to control the speed and maintain a fluid rhythm. I am curious to see how my ability to handle the machine will develop over time.
In addition to restoring the machine, I looked into determining its age and found some interesting information. The manufacturer of this treadle sewing machine was easy to determine because the name Dürkopp is easily decipherable in the frame. The trademark is also easy to identify. The age is more difficult. Although the machine has a serial number, many documents were destroyed by a factory fire and the registers of the machines that can be found are not really helpful. Nevertheless, the serial number and trademark give a clue and the machine could have been produced in the 1840s. I also found out that Dürkopp was in a patent dispute with Singer about the lower thread spool, which was also used in my machine. After a few years, Dürkopp actually won this dispute. This information also helps to determine the approximate age of the treadle sewing machine, as the lawsuit ran from 1877 to 1883. But even though this machine was only produced around 1900, I find it remarkable how well it still sews and enjoy every seam we can close together.
In this video, you can come along with me through the whole process of the makeover of the machine.
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