I’ve been sewing on treadle sewing machines most of my life, and I really don’t enjoy sewing on electric machines, so when I first saw the Janome 712T, which is a modern treadle head designed for the Amish and other off-grid sewers, I was curious about it. But it’s currently selling for $289 online, and that’s a lot of money to pay for a machine I couldn’t try out first. When I saw a barely used one for a quarter of that price, I couldn’t resist buying it.
As I was researching this machine and reading reviews, I noticed a lot of preppers are recommending this machine. Before I get any further, just in case you are a prepper and don’t read down to the end of this review, please don’t waste your money on this machine. It’s probably not what you need. More on that at the end of the review.
Lets start with what I like about this machine, since the list of things I don’t like is really long.
The manual is pretty good, and it was written or at least edited by someone who actually speaks English. If you’d like to look at the manual for more information on the features, you can download a pdf copy from Janome’s website.
The Janome 712T makes nice stitches, and has a decent selection of utility stitch patterns. The only stitches I ever use are straight stitch, zig-zag, tricot stitch (3-step zig-zag), blind hem, and stretch blind hem. I really like the feather stitch, but I’m not sure where I’d use it. Here’s a sampler of the stitches it can do. The upper edge was finished with a wide zig-zag stitch and the overcast foot. I think it finishes the edge better than the overcast stitch used on the lower edge. The stitch width on the buttonholes seems a bit narrow and is not adjustable – the stitches might not hold well in coarsely woven fabric.
Compared to vintage zig-zag machines, the Janome 712T does really well sewing knit fabric. If you use the right type of needle, it will sew on any fabric without skipping stitches. It is not terribly picky about needle type or thread type for most fabrics. The ability to sew well on knits and elastic is probably the one thing that makes this machine worth keeping for me. All of my vintage machines tend to skip stitches on knit fabrics and elastic.
The extra-high presser foot lift is nice. If you push up on the presser foot lifter, it will raise up extra high to help you position the foot. It lifts higher than any of my other machines, and is really helpful when you are positioning the buttonhole foot.
It takes plastic class 15 bobbins, which are common and easy to find.
I like the clear bobbin cover and clear bobbins, so you can easily see how much thread you have left. I also like that there is a diagram showing the proper bobbin thread direction, since I use several sewing machines and they all thread a little differently.
You can open up the machine with a phillips head screwdriver and oil it, so you don’t have to take it to be serviced for routine maintenance. The manual says that it only needs to be oiled two or three times a year if used constantly, but remember that your vintage treadle base needs to be oiled with sewing machine oil after every 8 hours of use.
The manual does not mention using twin needles, but you can use up to 4 mm wide twin needles with this machine. To thread the machine, either put a bobbin on top of your thread spool, or use two bobbins if your spool is too tall. To prevent thread tangles, position the upper bobbin so it is unwinding in the opposite direction from the spool or lower bobbin. Hold the ends of the threads together and thread the machine as if it was a single thread, except for the very last thread guide before the needle. The thread that goes through the left needle should go through the last thread guide, but skip the last thread guide for the thread that goes through the right needle.
Here are some views of the insides.
The Janome 712T does have some nice features, but its main disadvantage is it’s REALLY HARD TO TREADLE. I don’t think Janome went to any special effort to design a low-friction machine here – I’m guessing they just modified a design for an electric machine to have a different handwheel so it could be used on a treadle base. There are plenty of vintage zig-zag machines that can be put right into a treadle base, and none of them I’ve tried have anywhere near as much friction in their inner workings as the 712T.
I first tried putting my Janome 712T on a Pfaff treadle base with a large 14 inch diameter drive wheel. It was so hard to treadle, I almost couldn’t keep the machine going. I had to lean forward and really push on the pedal. After just a few minutes my legs were burning. I needed a treadle base with a smaller wheel for this machine. For reference, I previously had my Singer 328K on the Pfaff treadle base, and I could sew all day on it without getting tired.
Smaller treadle drive wheels make pedaling easier, but the trade off is slower sewing. I have a couple of Singer treadle bases with 12 inch diameter drive wheels, but I’m happy with the machines I have set up in them and I didn’t want to modify the cabinets to fit this machine. To get the 712T to fit in a typical Singer treadle cabinet, you have to remove the metal piece that the belt goes through on the right side of the hole in the cabinet top. It is typically attached to a large spring that assists with raising and lowering the machine. Other reviewers have also mentioned having to cut or sand their treadle cabinets a little to get the Janome to fit.
Here’s how I ended up getting the Janome on a treadle base that worked better with this machine. I used an Elgin treadle base (a $25 garage sale find) with the table top from a Singer electric sewing machine cabinet. The Elgin drive wheel is just slightly smaller than a typical Singer drive wheel, which makes pedaling a bit easier (but still not what I would call easy – you are going to get some exercise using this machine no matter what treadle base you put it on). The table top is one that fits a longer base Singer machine, such as a Touch & Sew, 328, 401, 500, etc.
Here are the dimensions of the hole in the table top:
I wanted the sewing machine to be able to fold down, and to do that you need about 7.5 inches clearance between the underside of the table and any obstructions on the treadle irons. The Elgin treadle bases (the same as “The Free” brand bases) have the wheel and a cross brace up pretty high, so to be able to lower the sewing machine I had to raise up the table about 2.5 inches. In my typical haphazard woodworking style, I screwed together some scrap wood into a frame and screwed it onto the top of the treadle base to raise up the table. I’m only 5’2″, so with the table raised up I have to sit on a tall stool to put the table at elbow height, but I think sitting up higher gives me more leverage to push on the pedal anyway, so I’m OK with it.
If antique treadle cabinets or cobbled together frankentreadles like mine aren’t your style, you can buy some nice Amish made cabinets to fit your 712T (or any other sewing machine that would fit in a Singer treadle table). I wouldn’t mind having one, but they sure cost a lot. I’m guessing they are worth it, though, if you have the money, since they look well-built enough to last generations. Or if you have the skills and tools, you could make your own table top. Just a solid piece of wood with holes to fit the sewing machine and belt would work.
Here are some of things I don’t like about this sewing machine:
It requires a lot of effort to treadle. Did I mention that?
It’s not a heavy-duty sewing machine. Your legs will provide more power than a typical sewing machine motor does (at least at low speeds), but I don’t think this machine should be used for sewing jeans, for example. An occasional jeans hem might be OK, but make sure you hammer the seam flat before you sew it, and sew slowly. With my vintage machines, I can sew fast to get enough power to sew over the seam in a jeans hem, but I’d be seriously worried about breaking the Janome 712T doing that. Just because you can sew over thick fabric with this machine doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of plastic parts inside. You’ll need an all-metal vintage machine or an industrial machine if you plan to sew heavy fabrics regularly.
Like most low-end to mid-range sewing machines made these days, it’s “disposable”. You use it until something major breaks, at which point it’s cheaper to buy a new machine than to have it repaired. For example, take a look at the timing belt as seen from the underside of the sewing machine. I’m not a sewing machine repair expert, but it looks like you’d have to disassemble half the sewing machine to replace that.
It’s not good for sewing 1/4 inch seams. Janome does make a 1/4″ foot with a guide on the edge, but with the needle in the center position, 1/4″ to the right is right in the middle of a feed dog section, which might fray the fabric edge. I did figure out that you can put the needle in the left position and adjust the blind stitch foot (which comes with the machine) to get a 1/4″ edge guide. This would only work for sewing straight edges, though. I wouldn’t recommend this machine to quilters. Besides, when you are quilting, you will probably be sewing for long periods of time, and you will quickly get tired, because this sewing machine takes a lot of effort to treadle (I think I mentioned that . . .). A vintage straight stitch machine is probably the best option for piecing quilts, and requires almost no effort to treadle. If you want to have zig-zag stitches for applique, there are vintage zig-zag machines that you can treadle (more on that later).
It doesn’t take standard snap-on presser feet or short shank feet. You have to buy Janome feet. Standard snap-on feet will attach to the machine, but the needle is a little over to the right of the center of the presser foot, so the needle won’t line up right with a standard foot. You can see this with my favorite quarter-inch foot. The needle hits the foot rather than going through the hole.
The zipper foot that comes with the machine is just dumb. Snap-on zipper feet are not good in general, but this one is particularly bad. Since the needle is a little to the right of the center of the foot, you really can’t sew close to the zipper teeth. I recommend getting an adjustable low-shank zipper foot. Because the foot is adjustable, the needle being a little off-center doesn’t matter. Just remove the snap-on foot adapter and screw on the zipper foot.
The presser foot pressure is not adjustable.
There is nowhere to attach a hand crank or motor. This machine can only be used with a treadle stand.
There is a setting called “Auto” on the tension dial. This is misleading. This is just the default tension that works most of the time for most thread. The machine is not magically adjusting the tension for you. Adjust your tension as needed. For example, set it to 3 for machine basting or 5 or 6 for thick topstitching thread.
Here are some directions for attaching a treadle belt and getting started treadling. Use a 3/16″ leather treadle belt, or if you prefer you can use 3/16″ quick-connect hollow-core urethane belting and matching connectors. If you use a leather belt, prolong its life by slipping it off the drive wheel between uses. Since this machine takes a lot of force to treadle, I had to adjust my leather belt to be pretty tight and rub it with rosin to keep it from slipping. Also, instead of connecting my leather belts with the staple it comes with, I prefer to sew them together with heavy thread through the same holes you would use the staple in. After going through the holes several times, I tie off the threads and put fray check on the knot.
If you are new to treadling, the main thing you need to do is develop a habit of always using your hand to get the hand wheel going in the right direction every time you start sewing. The top of the hand wheel moves toward you on this machine (a few vintage machines turn the opposite way).
A lot of references on how to treadle a sewing machine don’t mention this, but it’s way easier to operate the foot pedal with one foot at the back edge of the pedal and the other foot on the front edge of the pedal. It doesn’t matter which foot is in front. Experiment and find the foot position that works best for you. The Janome 712T requires so much force to treadle (I know I probably mentioned that a couple of times) that proper foot position really matters. I also found it easier to treadle this machine while wearing shoes, although I usually sew barefoot or in socks on my other treadle machines.
My advice for preppers:
It really bothered me when I saw this machine being marketed to survivalists and preppers. I know the reason why this machine is being recommended – affiliate links. It’s not like you can link to a vintage machine on Amazon, right?
Since sewing is no longer a commonly taught skill, most people seem to be completely clueless about sewing machines these days, and I read a lot of things on forums that really made me cringe – the blind leading the blind in completely the wrong direction. If you want to see proof of how clueless the general population is about sewing machines, just go look at the sewing machine ads on Craigslist. I bet you can find a few ads where the seller only shows pictures of the back of the machine. Sometimes there are half a dozen pictures, and not a single one is of the front of the machine. Can you imagine trying to sell a car and only posting a picture of the back end?
If you want to be prepared for the future, you don’t sew now, and aren’t interested in learning, just pack up some hand sewing needles, thread, fabric scissors, a seam ripper, and a book that shows you how to sew basic hand stitches, and call it good. Hand sewing is fine if you just need to do a bit of mending.
If you are at all mechanically inclined and/or you sew regularly now and would like to be prepared to start a sewing business with treadle machines, you need to have machines that will last and know how to fix them yourself.
I would start by getting the Tools for Self Reliance Sewing Machine Manual (free download), sewing machine oil, and a set of special screwdrivers. Now get two machines of the same model – one of the models the TFSR manual covers (Singer 66, 99, 15, or 201, but not 15-91 or 201-2 – those two are gear driven). The Singer 15-88 (treadle), 15-89 (handcrank), or 15-90 (belt driven electric – when putting it on a treadle base you can replace the handwheel with a Singer 9-spoke wheel or just use the solid handwheel) would be my first choice, since they are common, versatile, and can stitch in reverse. Now go through the manual step-by-step and learn how to fix your sewing machines. You’ll have two sturdy machines in good working order, and if a part breaks, you can use parts from the other one. Of course, then you’ll start to want just one more machine so you can fix the one that’s now missing a part …
Honestly, unless they are missing parts, usually vintage machines just need to be cleaned and oiled, and maybe have a bit of rust polished off. Even a completely frozen machine can often be unstuck by just oiling it well and warming it up with a hairdryer (or leaving it next to the wood stove or heat vent).
I can’t mention working on vintage machines without warning you to never use 3-in-1 oil or WD-40 on a sewing machine. When these products dry out, they leave a film that will glue the moving parts together. If you need a penetrant, use kerosene or Liquid Wrench, then oil well with sewing machine oil after the parts are moving. Use only clear sewing machine oil to oil sewing machines – if it’s turned yellowish, the oil is old and it’s time to get some new oil. If your machine has gears, they probably need grease – Tri-flow synthetic grease is often recommended for sewing machine gears. The Singer 201 is one exception I know of – use oil, not grease, on its gears.
Also, I should mention that there are some new reproduction parts available for these machines. Since there were millions of them made, and they were made to last, there is still a demand for commonly missing parts like slide plates. Take a look at Sew Classic to see what’s available.
There is a lot of information on fixing vintage machines available on blogs these days, and there are forums and yahoo groups where you can find people willing to help with vintage sewing machine issues, too. You can also find some books on the subject or courses you can take if you really want to get into it.
Once you have some basic vintage sewing machine repair skills under your belt, get a vintage zig-zag machine and fix that up. I recommended Singers for your first straight stitch machines because they are good machines and they are easy to find and get parts for, but I don’t care for Singer’s early zig-zag machines. The Singer 237 is probably the only common metal Singer zig-zag machine I would recommend for treadling. It has a plastic race cover, but you can get a new replacement race cover. Get a replacement even if the old one isn’t broken, because those old plastics are at the end of their expected lifespan and can break at any moment.
There were many good treadle-able metal zig-zag machines produced in Japan in the 1950’s and 1960’s, sold under many different brand names. Some of them even take cams to make decorative stitches. Look for machines with an external belt driven motor, a hand wheel that sticks out past the base of the machine, and no other obstructions that would get in the way of a treadle belt. Look underneath the machine and see what you find. If you don’t see any belts or gears, there’s a good chance the machine will treadle easily. Usually all you need to do to treadle the machine is remove the motor (held in place by one large screw) and put it right into your treadle cabinet. You can use the original handwheel – there’s no need to try to replace it with a spoked wheel.
Buy machines locally if you can. Shipping is expensive, and most people don’t know how to pack a sewing machine so that it will survive shipping. Also, you can try the machine before you buy it if it’s local. I just checked my local Craigslist ads and there were over half a dozen metal zig-zag sewing machines priced from $30 to $65 that could be treadled. I could buy five or six of them for the price of buying the Janome 712T new, and they will most likely be in good working order 20 or 30 years from now when the Janome’s lifespan is up.
I have to warn you, collecting vintage machines is highly addictive. Once you have one in good working order and realize how well it works and how sturdy it is compared to new machines, you will see the value. It’s like there are all of these dirt covered gold nuggets lying on the ground, everyone else is passing them by and calling them dirty rocks, and you just have to pick them up because only you know how valuable they are.
If working on your own sewing machines sounds like too much work, check if there is a sewing machine repair place near you that will work on vintage machines, or buy one already fixed up from a reputable seller like Stagecoach Road Vintage Sewing Machine Restoration. The labor costs will be expensive, so you might pay as much or more than you would buying the Janome 712T, but if you keep your vintage machine dry, oiled, and run it once in a while, it will likely still be in good working order longer than you are.
Finally, I wouldn’t recommend the Janome 712T to preppers or quilters, so who is it good for? If you live off grid or have unreliable power, only sew for short periods at a time, you need to sew knit fabric and elastic frequently, and you don’t need to sew heavy fabric, this would be a good machine for you. It would also be fine as a second machine to use only when you need the special stitches or to sew on knit fabrics, as long as your primary machine is a good vintage straight stitch or zig-zag machine that treadles easily.