Thursday, February 07, 2019

Antique Treadle Sewing Machine: Cleaning

When I was a little girl, my mother told me an antique was an item over 100 years old. In later years I saw that term used much more loosely, and one antique dealer told me it meant any item being at least 50 years old. When I was hunting for a treadle sewing machine, most of them seemed to be described as "vintage." Mine is 106 years old and no matter how it's described, it works and that's the main deal!

The seller had dusted the machine and cabinet, but when I got it home I wanted to give it a good cleaning and oiling. When I gave it a thorough going-over, I found it to actually be quite clean with very little dust, cobwebs, or lint. Here's the underside of the machine the first time I tilted the head back (after I figured out how).

So whoever had the machine previously took good care of it. They did use it a lot, as evidenced by the machine's cosmetic wear.

The clear top coat finish was almost completely worn off, and the decals were quite worn as well. Also, some of the metal plating was worn off, as you can see on the needle plate. There was some pitting on some of the plated surfaces as well. Because of all that, I had to ask myself exactly how much work I wanted to put into it. Did I want to do a full restoration or just give it a good cleaning? Basically, I was looking for a functional work machine, so I opted for a thorough cleaning.

The dark places on the metal parts are grime. This is the result of oils combining with dust and dirt. The oil can be from lubrication, but even clean hands have natural oils that are transferred to things we touch. Because the decals were wearing off I was concerned about what to clean it with. So I did a lot of research and looked at a lot of videos before I got started. The best cleaner was simply sewing machine oil.

For cleaning: clear sewing machine oil, toothpicks, an old
toothbrush, and clean cotton rags. Not pictured: metal polish.

A can of 3-In-One Oil was in one of the cabinet drawers, but when I tried to squeeze some onto a cotton rag it was thick and amber colored. So I went with the sewing machine oil as recommended. It is very thin and clear ("lily white") and was much easier to work with.

The entire machine got a good wiping down with the oil. This did a great job of collecting dust and loose surface dirt. On the gunky metal parts, I let the oil sit for a bit. Then I was able to scrape the grime away with toothpicks and toothbrush.

The last step was using metal polish on the metal parts. Considering that there was some pitting and flaking of the plating I wasn't expecting like-new results. I just wanted it as clean as I could get it.


No where near new, but much cleaner and shinier than before! Oiling next.


Sam I Am...... said...

You did a beautiful job! What a gorgeous machine. I would love one but I don't 'need'! I always learn from you. So what' s next? What are you going to sew? Do you have any other machines? Lisa at Farmhouse on Boone has some great free patterns for aprons and all sorts of things. I'm going to have to start sewing if I want anything to wear this coming spring. I have lots of winter gear but not much for the hot days.

Kris said...

Great job, Leigh. You got the old girl looking her best. Question. Will you give 'er a good rub down after all that clean/oiling? I would be afraid that residual oil would get onto fabric. That happened to me when I refurb'd my high school slant-needle Singer (which at this point appears to qualify for 'antique' status -- *sigh* Me too. LOL).

Ed said...

I love restoring old things made almost entirely from metal. I detest trying to fix things made almost entirely from plastic. I don't understand why we keep making things from plastic.

Mama Pea said...

Not only does your gorgeous old treadle look a lot better, but I'm betting you now have an intimate knowledge of the "ins and outs" of the whole machine. I'll be watching for future posts on the continued restoration of this beauty (I think I mentioned before it must have been a top of the line model) and the projects you'll use it for.

rheather said...

That's a great job! I love the patterns of use on a machine-it makes me feel I'm adding to its history.

Susan said...

A treadle machine is on my wish list - this is a lovely machine and now nice that someone not only used it well, but took care of it. You did a wonderful job in restoring it!

Helberg Farm Stories said...

I absolutely love it!! Been looking around for one of my own. We had a beauty (was a family heirloom) before the fire, but alas - all gone. It was right above where the fire started so there was nothing left to save (yes, i am getting teared up just remembering). It was next to our 106 year old Tiger wood upright piano - also nothing left to save. Cherish it deeply for me please ;-)

Fiona said...

Its so very beautiful!!
Great job, I bet you have projects lines up for it when you get the cleaning done.

Rose said...

What a beauty! You made her look gorgeous...that she sews is priceless!

Leigh said...

Sam, thanks! First time to clean a machine like that. Next is replacing the treadle band and then I can start sewing! I have an old electric Singer, nothing fancy, but it has terrible tension problems. I was told it would sew heavy duty fabrics and leather, but that hasn't been the case. Whites are known for doing well at that.

Kris, thanks! Yes, I wiped off any excess oil. Plus I used the kind that is said to be nonstaining; just in case.

Ed, they are amazing, aren't they? Plastic doesn't hold up nearly as well! I don't get our obsession with plastic either. Not only because it's a poor substitute for metal and wood, but because it's a petroleum product. I thought we wanted to get away from that.

Mama Pea, yes, that's very true. I kind of wish I could do a full cosmetic restore on it. I even found a place where I can buy new decals, but they are pricey and my main goal is usefulness. Still, I'm happy with it.

Susan, I hope you find one in your budget range! They last almost forever.

Rachel, fire? Oh no! What a heartbreak. I'm so sorry. Hopefully you'll find a good treadle machine soon.

Fiona, thanks! Yes, I do have projects lined up! Hoping for some cold and rainy days soon to do some inside work.

Rose, thank you! Can't wait to put her to work.

wyomingheart said...

Fabulous! That is one beautiful work of art! What did you use for metal polish? Thanks Leigh.

Mike Yukon said...

That looks like one fine machine. Everything looks exceptionally strong and build to last.

Leigh said...

Wyomingheart, I had both silver polish, which I used on the plated metal, and Mother's Mag and Aluminum polish for everything else. They both worked really well and what a difference cleaning and polishing made.

Mike, it's extremely heavy duty, and I'm thrilled with it!

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

Great job! Good for you taking the time to do what you did I'm sure that machine will last a long time for you

Leigh said...

Nancy, thanks! Good equipment deserves good care.

M.K. said...

She's a beauty. You did an excellent job. At 106, you can never expect her to look as if she's new ... anymore than we can expect it of ourselves, haha! She's perfect, and she'll give you good service. I can't wait to see what you'll do.

Leigh said...

M.K., functionality is the important thing! I've seen some in better shape in terms of finish and decals, but I'm not complaining because I know this machine was well loved and well taken care of.

Chris said...

Finally found my way over here, so I could tell you what a great job you did! The solid build reminds me of the old electric Singer, my mum first showed me how to sew on. Love the heavy (yet smooth) feel of the needle operation. It sounds contradictory, but that's the only way to describe it! I look forward to reading your thoughts, on how it sews.