January 17, 2019

What I Bought With My Christmas Money

For Christmas, I received an unexpected and rather generous gift of cash. I pondered what to do with it for a bit and then started a search on Craigslist. For a number of years now, I've wanted to replace my old sewing machine. But I didn't want another electric one, I wanted a treadle machine.

In my back-to-the-land days, I used to use a treadle sewing machine. We didn't have electricity although we didn't refer to it as being off-grid. Solar panels as we know them now were still being developed, so when it came to electricity we simply lived without. That's how living off the land was done back then. So I have some treadle sewing experience under my belt, even though I wasn't going to fool myself into thinking I still have the same dexterity as I did back then! But maybe it will be like riding a bike. (One can hope.)

There were a number of treadle sewing machines on Craigslist with prices ranging from $350 to $600. That was more than I had to spend, so I kept scrolling through the listings until I found one for a White Rotary Treadle sewing machine for $100. The listing was a month old so I didn't expect it to still be available. But I shot off an email inquiry anyway and then started researching this particular machine. From browsing sewing forums and the websites of treadle enthusiasts, I concluded that White had made a sewing machine of excellent quality.

I received no reply so I tried again. Finally, the response came back, "already sold." I wasn't surprised;  I just put on my patience hat and kept looking. I checked Craigslist frequently, but also took a look at a modern treadle machine - the Janome 712T. It was also more than my Christmas funds, but it was tempting since it can do zig-zag and buttonholes; stitches that most antique treadle machines can't. The main obstacle, however, was that it doesn't come with a treadle stand. Treadle cabinets to fit the Janome are available elsewhere for somewhere around $1000. I found an old treadle stand on Craigslist for $65 (most of them seem to be turned into tables), but discussion on sewing forums indicated that not all old treadle cabinets will accommodate the Janome. So the Janome was out.

After several weeks of waiting, a new ad appeared on Craiglist. It was the same machine I first liked, a White Family Rotary It was priced at $150. I shot off an email and waited. A reply soon came back that it was available, and yes, I could make an appointment to see it. Here's the happy ending to my tale...


What was interesting was that the seller told me I wasn't the first one to contact them; there were three others first. They chose me because my email was the most polite!




The treadle belt is okay for now, but if I need to replace it these are readily available.

The contents of the drawers came with it.


The first one contained an assortment of thread, buttons, needles (both hand and for the machine), tape measures, thimbles, old wire screwdriver, and a set of steel knitting needles in the long wooden tube.


Bobbins are in the upper right-hand drawer, along with some 3-In-One Oil purchased by the seller. She used it some but said she decided treadle sewing wasn't her style. The case contains all the attachments.


Once I learn how to use them I'll be able to gather, shirr, hem, sew lace, make tucks, quilt, ruffle, bind, underbraid, and chainstitch. That's more than I expected!

One drawer was empty, but the last one contained the original certificate of warranty.


The certificate is dated August 20, 1913. Between that and the patent date (April 18, 1911) I have an idea of when the machine was made. The original manual was in that drawer too.




It's well worn and the paper is frayed and fragile, so I took it apart and placed the pages in plastic page holders. I'll start a notebook and collect all the information I can find on this machine and treadle sewing.

The seller gave it a good dusting and polished the cabinet but admitted she hadn't used it in a while. I decided I should do some research and give it a good going-over to make sure everything is properly cleaned, oiled, and in good repair. With the help of several YouTube videos, I'll be able to do all that and more! I've definitely got my winter weather project cut out for me.

Continued over at Leigh's Fiber Journal.

55 comments:

Wendy said...

What a beauty. I love it when old machines keep being used. Things were so much sturdier then, not to be thrown away. Hope you will enjoy it for a long time. Wendy

Gorges Smythe said...

Congratulations, that quite a find!

Mama Pea said...

Congratulations on you new machine! I have a soft spot in my heart for treadle machines. I learned to sew on my grandmother's treadle. When we were first married, we bought (from an ad in the paper) a wonderful Singer treadle and I made nearly all of our daughter's clothes on it. Moved it up here with us to Minnesota where we knew we wouldn't have electricity for a while. Made lots of curtains on it trying to spiff up the dumpy trailer we were living in. Although I now use two Janome "modern" machines, I still have my treadle and wouldn't give it up for anything.

How fortunate yours had the manual and all those wonderful accessories with it. (I had no idea Janome made a treadle machine, so that was interesting to learn.) Your machine looks like it was a deluxe, top-of-the-line one and I know you'll enjoy using it.

Maggie said...

You can do buttonholes if you get an appropriate buttonholer. I bet Greist made one that would fit that machine. Buttonholers tend not to be expensive here in the UK, and my impression is that sewing bits and bobs are easier to find and cheaper in the US.

Leigh said...

Wendy, you are so right about being so much sturdier. Of course, it's made out of solid quality metal, which is key. Everything today is made with plastic, which has a much shorter lifespan. So glad they don't throw these away!

Gorges, thank you!

Mama Pea, yes, I was very happy to see that manual! Although I did find a White Rotary manual (#11) online. I always had problems with the tension on my electric machine, which was frustrating. I admit I'm not mechanically minded, so the simpler the better. :)

Maggie, thank you for that! I'll have to do some research. As long as it can be accomplished with forward straight stitching only (this one has no reverse) such a device would be exceedingly useful.

DFW said...

Beautiful machine. What a great find. I love the fact that the sellers sold to the polite customer. Many could learn a lesson from that alone. Good luck in your future sewing endeavors! Can't wait to see your first project.

Ed said...

As someone who loves going to estate auctions, it doesn't seem all to long ago when you couldn't give one of those away. If I had to guess, I would say late 80's well into the late 90's. Then around the turn of the century, those things became collectors items and now the prices are quite high. I've seen that with lots of old antique iron stuff (as I refer to it) that was made to last forever when they were manufactured. Popcorn shellers, flour mills, meat grinders, etc all come to mind.

Kris said...

Wow! What a treasure - antique AND useful. Glad you persisted and glad your polite and mannerly email was appreciated by the seller. Manners! Politeness? Respect. These things are practically non-existent in some sections of society anymore. Yay for you, gal. Kris

Maggie said...

Leigh, the buttonholers have a plate that covers the feed dogs and takes them out of action, and the device moves the fabric where it needs to go. They have cams for different types of buttonhole. We don't have White machines in the Uk so I don't know which model you would need, but someone will have the information in a blog, I'll bet.

Kristina said...

Great deal! My grandmother had one, but was sold at auction when they passed (and I was too young to even consider buying it).

Maggie said...


Leigh, it looks as though you need to be looking for a #2 model. I have interacted with this blogger on various forums and Facebook, and I am confident that she knows her stuff+.) https://edsmum.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/griestgreist-template-buttonholer-attachment/

Michelle said...

Merry Christmas to YOU!

Florida Farm Girl said...

Good for you. You'll have fun with the new toy after you get her all spiffed up. I haven't touched a treadle in many, many years but I'd bet that I'd be back in rhythm with it after only a few minutes.

Leigh said...

Deb, thank you! All of my sewing, spinning, and weaving stuff have been packed away for so long that it will be like an Easter egg hunt fo find and Christmas all over again to open the boxes. :)

Ed, you live in the right part of the country for that! Dan used to make a run to Ohio and would stop by an antique place that was loaded with stuff like that and at excellent prices. He brought me home some nice non-electric kitchen items and crocks. In the Appalachians, everybody focuses on tourists and snowbirds and so prices everything high. It's a shame, really, because there are many useful items for sale, but not for the prices they want for them.

Kris, that's so true about common courtesy. In the modern demand for respect, rudeness has become the norm, and society is the poorer for it.

Maggie, thank you, thank you! For both the explanation and the link. I don't know if I'll find one, but at least now I have something specific to search for. You're a peach!

Kristina, aw, that's too bad. My grandmother didn't have one, but she and my grandfather inherited their house from her parents, and she would often complain of all the "old junk" in the attic and basement. Fortunately, my aunt knew better and kept most of it from being thrown out. I received a few of these pieces and treasure them dearly.

Michelle, :)

Sue, I'm thrilled with this machine and very excited about getting back to sewing again. :)

Rain said...

Oh that is AWESOME Leigh!!! What a great find, good purchase! My grandfather sewed on a treadle machine too I think it was a Singer. He taught me how to use it, and I did use it often in my teens. It's sad though, when my grandparents died, my parents sold all of their furniture...how I wish I had that Singer again. You'll get used to it quick I'm thinking, great sewing ahead!!! :)

Ellen Leigh said...

Very cool!
I have my great grandmother's old White treadle machine. I tried to get it to sew, but could not figure it out. Then the belt broke, so I gave up. How wonderful to have the original 'how to' booklet!

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

What a beautiful find. I have my Mom's old treadle machine but she had converted it to electric. I think I saved the parts but probably will probably never convert it back. Might be of some use to someone when I die though. I love the looks of it sitting in my house! Nancy

rheather said...

I have the 1918 version of that machine minus the treadle base and the bobbin holder. My goal is to make a base and find a bobbin holder and bobbins. Of course, all this will happen in my 'spare time'!

A good and friendly vintage sewing machine group is Victorian Sweatshop. Lots of cleaning and oiling info- like don't use 3 in 1 oil, it gets sticky!

Congrats on your new sewing machine!

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

What a find!!! And all the original items and papers sweet!!!

abbeysmum said...

Congratulations on your beautiful machine, I'm sure you will have many hours of fun and joy getting creative and producing wonderful things.

A bit of Oil advice.....my machine mechanic is second generation Bernina service provider and always recommended that oil but now he says the best oil is the new formula Singer oil, just about anything else will become like glue over time and cause problems...anyone who works all day 6 days a week on every kind of machine is worth listening to for good advice ☺☺☺

Henny Penny said...

So happy you found this beautiful machine. I like that you were the first choice because of your being polite. I have a very old White that looks a lot like yours. Seeing yours makes me want to try it out again. My old machine treadles backwards.??

Leigh said...

Rain, thank you! Maybe you'll be able to find a machine similar to your grandfather's some day. The old treadlers were made to last a lifetime! A lot seem to be priced for collectors, but there are still some good deals for these old machines out there.

Ellen Leigh. thanks! There is a PDF White manual almost identical to mine here. Maybe it would help? The thing that is unique about the white is that the handwheel turns away from you instead of toward you like other sewing machines. I'm also finding a lot of helpful information on YouTube.

Nancy, they are beautiful, aren't they! I'm guessing is someone wanted to yours could be converted back to a treadle. In fact, I found a web article talking about doing just that from electric machines. It's amazing how many people still use them.

rheather, that's a wonderful goal! But I do understand about "spare time" lol. Thanks for the recommendation for the forum. I could certainly use that. Also had to mention that I bought a "lily white" sewing machine oil and compared it with the 3-In-One that came with the machine. I could see that the 3-In-One was thicker and not truly clear. Thanks for verifying my instincts.

Nancy, thanks!

Abbeysmum, thank you for that about the oil. I hadn't heard about the new Singer formula but did get a regular sewing machine oil to use instead of the 3-In-One. Advice from folks who know is the best to follow.

Henny, thanks! Good manners pays off! Yes, the Whites do treadle backwards. Or at least the handwheel turns backwards. I haven't gotten that far with it yet, but that's good to know beforehand!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

That looks lovely Leigh! And the original paperwork is a bonus find!

Agent X, not said...

Mine was a kick-to-the-curb Singer machine, no longer loved by her owners. The cabinet leaves much to be desired in decor...(a tar spill ruined the veneer; my "mister" is in the process of renovating this)...the unit itself is amazing. Congrats on the find. I am on the hunt for a legible manual. Enjoy your project.

wyomingheart said...

How awesome, Leigh that you shopped patiently until you found a perfect treasure! Congratulations! I hope you have many fabulous hours of entertainment, and projects completed.

Leigh said...

TB, thanks! I'm thrilled with the whole thing.

X, now that's a find! So glad you have someone knowledgeable to refinish the cabinet. I don't know if you've looked there yet, but I found manuals for old machines at ISMACS International. They are free PDF downloads.

Wyomingheart, patience and prayer. ;)

Shelley S said...

What a lovely machine! Congrats, not only on the $$ for getting it, but the patience in hunting, AND the fact that you were chosen because you were polite. I cannot count the number of times I've won an item online, or gotten a great deal on something in person because I was nice. How hard is it to be nice? I just don't get why folks choose NOT to be nice. Just today I got TWO deals because I was nice! One at Goodwill (2 extra unpriced pans and lids when buying a set of 3 similar ones plus 20% off for veteran discount), another 10% at Tractor Supply (TSC) after supplying survey feedback.

In both cases the employee giving me the discount told me they did so because I was so nice. So folks, smile, be kind, and karma will be yours!

Shelley in N. Michigan

Goatldi said...

How much fun!

I used a Singer Treadle in 7th grade . I fell in love. To this day I have tunnel vision and was pleasantly surprised to see a White.

And all the bells, whistles and papers. You are a lucky duck. As for your manners well I have known that for some time. But isn’t it wonderful that someone recognizes it? And you earned a reward for simply being you .😊

. .

Glen Filthie said...

Good luck with the new machine! What a beautiful find! Ours is a singer and it has major problems with dried and rotted wood. I was going to do a refurb but never got round to it. My wife used to be an accomplished seamstress but found that making her own stuff was more expensive than buying from the store most times. But when she does sew... she makes some truly unique stuff.

M.K. said...

That's so exciting! It's wonderful to have all those attachments and especially the manual, in case you need help figuring something out. It's beautiful. I have my grandmother's old electric machine - what a work horse! And I also have a treadle machine in its cabinet, but it's missing the bobbin case, and I've never bothered to find one. Good luck with your machine! I hope you enjoy it!

Victoria Howell said...

I used my grandma's treadle machine when I was in my teens. I felt like I was driving a standard shift car - LOL! I can't believe it sat around for 101 years before being sold. Amazing!

Susan said...

What a treasure! And with so many original pieces and parts, too! I have always wanted a treadle machine, but the prices up here are astronomical! I hope you keep us posted on its use and what you make with it.

Woolly Bits said...

cool find! I didn't know the old machines came with such a lot of extras... I inherited my mother's much newer treadle machine (singer), I think it's been built in the 50s... I learned to use it at home, no electric sewing when I was a kid! and I brought it with me to ireland, when I moved over here... I do have an electric one, but I will keep the manual one - there might be times without electricity - and with a bit of patience they can be taken apart, cleaned and used again - unlike the electric gadgets, which I couldn't repair if I tried:(

have fun with it - I am sure in time you'll figure out all the feet, attachments etc.:)

Leigh said...

Shelley, there is so much to be said for simply being nice. I've gotten goat sales for that very reason, because I was apparently the only one who took time to greet the prospective buyer and answer their questions. I'm sure retail employees especially appreciate it. Customers can be ruthless when they are unkind.

Goatldi, I'm thrilled! With both the machine and the way things worked out. :)

Glen, thanks! I agree with your wife. The price to make your own has skyrocketed. Back in the day, that was how we afforded nice clothes. Now sewers seem to be another cash cow.

M.K. I'm sure you could find the right bobbin case! There are a number of places that sell parts for old machines.

Victoria, and just think, those 100-year-old machines are still just as good as they were back then.

Susan, I agree! I think what' I'll do is do a series of blog posts on my fiber blog. I'll give everyone who's interested a heads up.

Bettina, I didn't know they had all those attachments either. I was thrilled! Yes, I'd keep the old one too. That's one of the things treadle enthusiasts mention, still being able to sew when the power is out!

Kathy said...

I also have the white family rotary treadle in a different cabinet. It is a nice, handy machine. It sews every bit as well as the electric machines, and there is just something so relaxing about the treadling. It is amazing that a machine of that age can still do such great work.
Congrats on your new baby.

The Wykeham Observer said...

Leigh, You've inspired me to walk 75 feet to my garage, take the cover off my grandparents old treadle machine and get it into the house. It was from my grandpa's Gull Lake cabin, and has sat in the garage a long time, but I'm hoping I can at least get it cleaned up. I remember my mom using it at the cabin, so with any luck I can get it going. I hope you have a happy experience with the "new" sewing machine! Phil/MN

Diane C said...

Enjoy using this lovely looking machine. I had my great Grandma's machine, it went through various family members and different locations. Sadly I needed the room it occupied, I heard about a charity that was helping women to be more self sufficient, so off it went in a shipping crate to rural India. I put a history of the machine in a drawer with all the original tools and instructions. I hope it is still working well and whoever is using it feels the love from those who used in it the past. I still miss it!

Leigh said...

Kathy, thank you! I can't imagine any modern machine still sewing well at over 100 years old! LOL. As a handspinner, I find treadling relaxing as well.

Phil, thanks to the internet, you should be able to find all the information and resources you need. Nice you still have it!

Diane, that was a wonderful gesture, good for you! They do take up room, though, which is why my seller was letting it go. In fact, I had no idea where I was going to put it until the ride home. With a little rearranging in the living room, I put it in front of our bay window. The plus is that I've got good natural light there.

Quinn said...

Congrats! I don't know if you use Ravelry, but there is a group there full of people who love, refurbish, and use all kinds of old sewing machines. Could be a great source of info.
Have fun!

Retired Knitter said...

Well, hello.

I am a new reader to your blog. I am not a sewer, but the antique sewing machine is truly beautiful. What a find!! My mother had a old Singer that also was an antique - in a built in case - which by the way - that stand is beautiful as well. I think that sewing machine landed in just the right hands - someone who will value it for what it is and treat it with respect and care.

Lynnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.L. Murphey said...

I'm sooo green with envy, but happy for you too. I settled for a battery operated one. I never seem to find one and have the money at the same time. Cockeyed Jo

Chris said...

What a bargain. Just had to be patient for the right one to come along. It was meant to be. Just wondering if the first owner it was sold to, was in 1914, as opposed to 2014? Because that's a mighty long time to have it on the shelf without an owner, lol. ;)

Unknown said...

Wow! You are so lucky to get the manual with it. We have been promised a Singer sewing machine, just need to collect it and figure out how it works! -Liz (Eight Acres)

Leigh said...

Quinn, thanks! And thank you for the information about the sewing group on Ravelry. I do have a Ravelry account, but I'll have to dig up my login info to get there. :)

Retired Knitter, hello and welcome! I'm currently working on giving my "new" machine a good cleaning and oiling. I'm really happy with it and expect many years of good sewing!

Jo, it does take being in the right place at the right time to find the right machine at the right price! I've looked on-and-off for years now and am delighted that everything fell into place. A battery operated machine sounds interesting!

Chris, I'm not sure how many owners this machine has had. People tend to hang on to them, even if they don't use them. The gal I bought it from mentioned when she got it, so I'm at least the third owner.

Liz, good to hear from you! How nice you have a Singer coming your way! I have found the best information on YouTube. It's helped me figure out almost everything so far, except for a few details that I had to hunt elsewhere for. It's a learning curve, but a fun one.

Kev Alviti said...

A great find. shows it always pays to be polite! I remember I got my greenhouse because the guy said my email was nicest and I had given him all the information to contact him without having a huge back and forth about it!
Can't wait to see what you make, I grew up with lots fo sewing going on around me but I never did any myself.

Leigh said...

Kev, what a great story about being nice. It shows that people really do appreciate dealing with someone who is kind and polite. Rudeness has turned me away from buying from more than one person.

Powell River Books said...

When I was in elementary school my best friend's family had an off-the-grid cabin in the foothills where they grew hay. They would drive for about three hours to get there each weekend when crops needed tending. Linda would invite me to go several times a year and I loved it. Her mom had a treadle sewing machine to make clothes for Linda and herself. Linda and I loved exploring on the big ranch and riding her horse. I was so jealous, I'd always wanted a horse of my own. - Margy

Kathy said...

AWESOME! I learned how to sew in the '60s and '70s on an electric White that's only a couple years older than your wonderful find. It had a knee peddle. Mom converted it to a portable but thankfully saved the knee peddle and wiring. I have the cabinet, machine, and the salvaged parts. Always been my dream to put it back together.

One note though... plastic sheet protectors can actually damage delicate paper over time. So either attach them to archival paper (think photo album) with photo corners, or photo copy them and then you'll have something to reference without damaging the originals. I wouldn't copy them on a scanner. A regular Xerox machine uses intense light (like a scanner), but is faster and less likely to fade the original.

Good luck! Post pics when you make something!

Leigh said...

Margy, what great childhood memories! I would have loved a friend like that. I've always wanted a horse of my own too. :)

Kathy, thank you! I learned how to sew on a knee peddle machine. :) Thanks for the info on the sheets. Fortunately, there are PDF copies of the manual online too.

Rose said...

What a beauty...I think using a treadle machine is like riding a bike. If you just sit down and do it...not think about it. It is funny, I could not sit and tell you where the keys all are on the keypad most of the time, but my fingers know where they are! I can't wait to see what you make on this.

Debby Riddle said...

Oh my goodness what fun!!! It looks like you got a wonderful deal!

Leigh said...

Rose, thank you and welcome! I so hope you're right about the treadling. I need to replace the belt, which has been ordered, so it will still be a little bit before I can try it out. In the meantime, I'm giving it a good cleaning. :)

Debby, thank you! I'm very happy with it and was pleased with the price. :)

mbumgua said...

My mom had the exact same machine when I was growing up with all the same stuff you show. The attachment case with the royal purple interior was really nice. She got the machine from my grandma in the 1950's. My niece has the machine now. I have another White which I salvaged from an old house we were tearing down. The frame and treadle are good but the wood has to be redone. I also found a second head for the machine so I have one for spare parts!

Leigh said...

Mbumgua, how neat! I can see how easy it would be to become a collector. :)