I learned to sew on my mother’s treadle sewing machine when I was about seven years old. I thought our neighbor’s electric zig-zag sewing machine was super cool, so as a teenager I saved up my babysitting earnings and bought myself an electric zig-zag machine. After sewing on this for a few years, I really started to miss sewing on a treadle sewing machine, but I didn’t want to give up that nifty zig-zag stitch, so I decided to try to make a zig-zag treadle sewing machine.
I searched ebay* until I found a zig-zag sewing machine with a handwheel that stuck out over the edge of the sewing machine base. I found a Singer Fashion Mate 252 from the early 1970’s, in (not so) lovely shades of green. There are a few other Singer 200 and 300 series zig-zag models that also can be used with a treadle. Janome now makes a modern sewing machine to be put in a treadle base, too.
I didn’t have a cabinet the sewing machine would fit in, but apparently they fit right into a Singer 66 cabinet. I cut out a hole in a scavenged particleboard desk top and attached it to a treadle base I bought at a garage sale. I keep meaning to replace that particleboard with something prettier, but it works just fine, and I’m more into function than form, so it’s never made it to the top of my priority list.
This sewing machine is harder to treadle than a straight stitch machine, but my back gets tired from bending over the sewing machine before my legs get tired, so its not really an issue unless I’m doing a lot of satin stitching.
I like how universal the older Singer short shank machines are – I can use all of my vintage Singer attachments as well as modern attachments for short shank sewing machines.
I’ve sort of hacked this sewing machine. Here are the other modifications I’ve made:
- The Fashion Mate 252 comes with straight stitch, zig-zag, and a blind hem stitch. In my many hours spent looking at sewing machines on ebay, I’d noticed some flat black special stitch cams that looked like the ones inside my sewing machine. I took a chance and bought them, and luckily they fit, so I replaced the blind hem stitch cam with the 3-step zig-zag cam. You can also sew a blind hem with the 3-step zig-zag, so I’m not losing that function.
- Usually stitch lengths are measured in millimeters these days, not stitches per inch as this sewing machine is marked with. I got tired of making the conversions, so I made a new label for the stitch lengths.
- The thread holder is a section of a knitting needle that I glued in place with a huge glob of hot melt glue underneath, since the original thread holder had broken off.
- I re-wired the light directly to a cord and re-attached it on the back of the sewing machine.
When I’ve told people about this sewing machine, they’ve commented that I could sew when the power is out. Which seemed kind of silly, since I’m not usually thinking about sewing when the power is out. I’m usually thinking about how I can keep the food from spoiling, and where the heck did I leave the flashlight. But we lost power several times this summer due to thunderstorms, and one of those times I noticed an article of clothing that needed mending sitting on my sewing machine and I took care of it, just for the novelty of sewing when the power was off.
I have been sewing with this sewing machine for years, and I love it. I have an electric sewing machine that’s only a few years old, but I hardly ever use it.
*I don’t recommend buying sewing machines on ebay. I bought three, and they all arrived damaged. Fortunately I was buying two of them for parts, and most of the parts were still good. Most people don’t know how to package sewing machines for shipping.