How to Shop for an Antique Treadle or Hand Crank Sewing Machines – For Beginners

So you’ve decided you would like to try sewing on an antique, people powered, sewing machine, but you don’t own one. There are a few things you should know before acquiring one of these old beauties. You have to decide if you want a collector’s machine or a functional machine that you simply want to sew with.

The difference is the condition of the decals (the fancy designs they used to put on them like flowers, gold scroll work, etc.), the finish on the machine itself, and the condition of the cabinet (is it perfect or does it show use or even abuse). For me, I couldn’t afford the pristine machines but really enjoy using the ones that were gently/regularly used. I have at least one that had gone through a fire and another that had an unusable top. You decide how much you are willing to do to it to make it usable.

The basic thing to know about an antique machine before you purchase one is if it has all the parts for actual sewing. For a treadle sewing machine you have to be sure it has the full functioning base. Sometimes they have been taken apart so vital elements are missing. Every treadle base has to have the pedal (the part your foot sits on), a pitman (the rod, metal or wooden, that attaches the pedal to the flywheel), and the flywheel (the large wheel that attaches to the pitman and has the groove in it for the belt to sit into). You should be able to operate the pedal and see the flywheel turn (with or without the belt).

Treadle Base Front

Treadle Base Back

If there is no treadle belt, do not be concerned. You can purchase those in many places online or use twine or clothesline until you can get a belt.

The next thing to consider is the actual machine itself. Now this is relevant for either a treadle or hand crank because, except for the treadle base, they are pretty much the same as far as function with the exception of the crank. If you are purchasing a hand crank machine be sure the crank is there. The only machine that I am aware of that a reproduction hand crank is available for is the Singer.

As you look at the machine take notice. Is there anything that appears missing, a slide plate, tension mechanism, bobbin winder, or such? These things should all be intact. Then, probably of most importance, is to look under the slide plate to see if the bobbin and/or shuttle are included. Many old machines did not use round, or rotary, bobbins like the ones we have today, but used a shuttle that looks like a bullet with a small spool inside. Both of these are necessary for sewing, the bobbin and the shuttle.

Shuttle in machine

If the machine you are looking at is not a Singer and has a round (rotary) bobbin, make sure it is included as well. The different manufacturers did not make their parts interchangeable. Although these items (shuttles or bobbins) are not impossible to acquire, it is more difficult because they have not been made for decades and you will have to find someone that is willing to part with some extras.

For a beginner user of these machines, I would not purchase one that does not turn, or is frozen up. It is likely you can douse it with enough oil to free it up, but if it is actually rusted inside you have a whole other problem to deal with.

How much will it cost, you ask? That is totally up to how much you are willing to pay, the area in which you live, and the condition of the machine. I would not suggest purchasing one that is not functioning, if sewing with it is your goal. Do a bit of research on the internet, in the local paper, at garage/yard sales and antique stores. Then let your heart be your guide.


The Stitcher’s Companion: Inside You’ll Find Essential Stitching Skills And Techniques, Secrets Revealed And New Ways Of Working You May Never Even Have Considered Before. A Great Book For Both Experienced Stitchers And Newbies That Will Both Entertain And Inform The Reader.

Sewing 101: A step-by-step guide to sewing basics.

Secrets Of Sewing Machine Repair: Discover The Secrets Of Sewing Machine Repair As A Hobby Or As A Business. Complete Repair Course Plus Loads Of Support Materials To Build A Profitable Business Or Enjoy A Super Hobby.


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