Few household items are more practical and cost-efficient than a sewing machine. Even rare home-sewing projects will quickly justify your decision to purchase one. Those who take on more regular and ambitious projects can easily save a small fortune over a lifetime of sewing.
Unfortunately, sewing at home by hand or machine is becoming an increasingly endangered skill. Fewer and fewer people are learning to sew as they grow up, which in turn means fewer people to teach the skill to the next generation. For many people, the only exposure to sewing they will receive is a semester or so of home economics in grade school, and even those classes are becoming rarer as schools scramble to improve test scores in more academic subjects.
In a society where convenience is valued over just about everything else, it has become the norm to toss clothes rather than repair them, purchase fabric products that could be made at home with a single row of stitches, or drop things off at the dry cleaner’s when they need to be hemmed or have a button re-sewn. This attitude is not only wasteful and expensive on a personal scale; it is also wasteful on an environmental scale.
If you do decide to purchase a sewing machine and master the art of home sewing, it will be a big boost to your household economy, not to mention your self-sufficiency. However, there is still the matter of selecting the kind of sewing machine to purchase.
Vintage – Not Just A Fad
Many people might dismiss the possibility of buying a vintage treadle-powered sewing machine, considering them to be more of an aesthetic choice rather than a practical one. Certainly, these old-fashioned sewing machines do have an antique beauty about them that sets them apart from modern machines. However, vintage machines can also be surprisingly practical purchases.
Treadle sewing machines come from an age when appliances were built to last, rather than to be replaced every five or so years. They are made of solid materials, with a minimum of parts. As a result, they rarely break down and are fairly simple to repair when something does go wrong.
Singer Sewing Machines
If you find a vintage sewing machine for sale, it is almost certain to be a Singer sewing machine. The Singer brand was created by Isaac Merritt Singer, and they first began manufacturing machines in 1851. Singer was not a true sewing machine innovator – he mostly combined elements from existing machines when creating his products. However, Singer had no equal when it came to marketing his machines, and they sold in large numbers all over the country.
As a result, most vintage sewing machines that can be found for sale these days are Singer machines. This does have some advantages for the consumer, since anyone who has learned to use a Singer machine in the past should be able to quickly master any other Singer machine should they come to buy one.
Ease Of Use And Repair
Singer or otherwise, treadle sewing machines are almost all easy to use and to repair. Even my mother, who abhors sewing projects in general, has been known to hem pants or even sew simple skirts on a treadle machine.
Because these machines are powered manually without electricity, the mechanism to move the needle is incredibly simple. Even people who are not particularly mechanically minded should be able to understand how a treadle machine works – not least because most of the parts are visible as you work the machine. And because the parts are built to last, the bands that rotate the pieces are usually the only parts that are subject to wear and tear. Fortunately, these bands are also by far the easiest components to replace.
The treadle power feature of vintage machines also makes it very easy to control the speed of the needle once you master the rhythm of the treadle. You can change the speed very quickly, and start slowly with a stitch as you get comfortable and make sure that you are lined up correctly.
Free Of Electricity
Of course, the obvious advantage of a treadle sewing machine is that it does not require any electricity to operate. This can be a great advantage for a variety of reasons, from self-sufficiency to economy.
If you are looking for ways to reduce your electric bill – and who isn’t – the economy of running a manually powered machine can steadily add up. Depending on how frequently you use your machine, this might be anywhere from a very slight savings to a reasonably significant savings over the course of a year.
We’ve already touched on how easy it can be to repair a treadle sewing machine, but this can be even more significant when compared to the complexity of repairing an electric machine. Electrical appliances to not have the same level of durability as manual machines, and it if often much more difficult to diagnose and fix an electrical appliance. Unless you are a competent electrician, it is often necessary and probably advisable to consult an expert in order to repair an electric machine.
Having a treadle-powered machine also gives you more flexibility about where your machine can live and be used. There need not be an electric outlet close you where you want to place the machine, and you could even keep it in an outdoor workshop where there is no electrical connectivity.
Finally, if you place a high premium on self-sufficiency, a treadle sewing machine is a choice that allows you to stay literally off the grid. It will help you to conserve your resources if you generate your own electricity and ensure that you will be able to continue to perform your necessary sewing projects in the event that your electrical resources were to fail.
There are two primary downsides to purchasing a treadle sewing machine, although one is really only a disadvantage on the surface. That disadvantage is the price: the sticker price of a vintage non-electric machine is likely to be much higher that the sticker price of the lower-end brand-new electric machines that are now being manufactured and sold. However, factoring in the durability of vintage machines and the electricity savings, you should easily be able to recover the difference in price and come out well ahead.
The other disadvantage is the bulk and weight of a treadle machine. The machines themselves are quite hefty, and they come attached to heavy tables that contain the treadle and bands. As a result, they can be difficult to move and a bit of a pain for someone who lives a very mobile lifestyle, e.g; younger people who have not established a permanent home.
Finding A Treadle Sewing Machine
Once you start to keep your eyes open for non-electric sewing machines, you will start to see them everywhere. The fact that these machines are so durable means that an impressively large number of vintage machines are still in working order and can be found online, at thrift or consignment stores, or even at garage and yard sales.
If possible, it is best to buy a machine in person so that you are able to look it over and confirm that it works properly. Some machines may have frayed or broken bands, or other minor damage. While most damage can be repaired, it is much easier to do so yourself after you have used a functioning machine for a while and grown familiar with all of the parts. On the flip side, you may find better prices and a wider variety of styles when you shop for a machine online.
©2012 Off the Grid News