Do you ever get more excited about restoring an antique than about something brand new from the store? I felt that kinship when I met Charlotte Baker in rural Monroe County, Tennessee. Baker had invited me to see part of her treadle machine collection and to learn more about them. Why collect treadles? "It's just us people that like the antiques, we just love them, and we're kind of crazy!" I was wondering if it's really worth the effort to spruce up an antique machine to get it running again. She assured me before my visit that it would be. "These work better than the ones with the computers," she said.
Baker must admit that like many of us, she's used the newest version of whatever machine is available at one time or another. In fact, she spent 38 years making a living by sewing on commercial grade machines for manufacturers like Levi Strauss and Sea Ray Boats. But she says that her grandmother, Eliza, who helped raise her, taught her to sew on a treadle not much different from the Singer Model 66 Red Eye now in her living room. "Everything I know I learned from my grandmother."
Baker says that when her children were young, she made both clothing and utilitarian quilts on the treadles. She sewed for her own family as well as working freelance for neighbors. She's worked with everything from cottons to polyesters, making cheerleading outfits for a daughter and a Vonore Blue Devil costume for her son who was school mascot.
"I can make a dress on this, I can make anything on this, except a buttonhole," so Baker explains that she added snap fasteners instead to her children's clothing. You are limited to a straight stitch and you have to manually reverse the fabric to back stitch. The simplicity of the early machines is also what's made them so popular. They are rugged and useful for working with heavyweight fabrics. They don't have many parts to replace. Baker gifted me with a new leather belt to replace on our family's machine -- one of the few parts that can dry rot and not necessarily hold up after several decades.
Baker has not only sewn but also collected and dealt in antiques through the years. If you have questions or would like to give one of her treadles a new home, you can reach her at Charlottesholler@earthlink.net
Tomorrow: my first lesson in treadling and the simplest restoration tip of all!
Labels: crafts, sewing, with our own hands