Tag Archives: oil

how to sew on a vintage treadle – part 1: oiling

Find Part 2 *here*.
Find Part 3 *here*.

Ok I promised a series of tutorials on sewing with a vintage treadle a while ago and here we go!
So you’ve acquired a vintage treadle and have no manual? Or the machine has been in the family for generations and hasn’t been used for decades (“Oh, that old thing surely doesn’t work anymore”)? Let me start by saying it is next to impossible to actually break a sturdy old treadle machine, so it will very probably still work and with a little care just as well as it did 80 or 90 or 100 years ago.
Now I am definitely no expert or anything of the sort on vintage treadles but I was given a treadle by my grandma a few months ago (click here to read more) and it came without a manual. I figured out how to work it and I am hoping by writing this little series of tutorials I can help others figuring out their machines too.
My machine is a german Phoenix 50 from ca. the 1930’s:

As you can see it was in an extremely good condition and came with a leather belt. The first thing we’ll want to do is try and turn the wheel/crank (gah, this is tough in english for me!) by hand and see what happens. Does it moves smoothly, does the needle go up and down? If the wheel doesn’t move at all we’re off for a rocky start, because there is a chance that there is actually something broken or out of place. If it does move it may be a little rusty and not the smooth buttery feel it’s supposed to have.
In any case, we’ll start off by oiling the machine well (chances are, it hasn’t seen oil in quite a while). We’ll need special sewing machine oil or at least oil that is resin and acid free. If you have any oil in the house (for example for oiling doors and such) have a look if it says resin and acid free – very important! Do not use oil that is not resin and acid free because it will leave residue in your machine and clog it up.
On my machine the holes for oiling are actually marked in red and hard to miss:

You can click on these pictures to see them a little bigger. One drop of oil in each hole should be enough but don’t be scared to overdue it.

These metal babies need a lot more oil than modern machines to run smoothly. I actually had to get my machine fixed because of tension issues and when I got it back it was positively dripping with oil…that’s how much it needs!
Have a look at the underpart as well (you’ll need to remove the leather belt for that). All the bolts down there should move freely when you turn the crank. If they don’t, don’t be afraid to oil those well too. Basically everything that moves should be oiled, period.

If used frequently, oil your machine every couple of time you use it. Before starting to sew on good fabric, do a couple of stitches on scraps to get rid of excess oil.
Ok, that’s it for part one, I hope it’s easier to understand than it was for me to try and explain 😉 Upcoming parts will include changing needles, threading the bobbin, threading the top thread, adjusting stitch length and tension and whatever else I can think of.
And most importantly: Enjoy your treadle, those babes are true treasures and you’ll have lots of fun using them!