Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Free No. 5 Treadle Sewing Machine

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I did it again, but in my defense, I was ENABLED!!!!  Friday night, I was at home, watching a movie, minding my own business (YES I WAS!!!!) when my friend Amy (such a sweetie) sent me a picture text. She was at a consignment store with her husband, spotted a treadle sewing machine, knows how I love sewing machines, and sent me a picture. I answered her by saying, ‘WHAT? WHERE? WHY?’

My phone rang, and she told me about it. She thought I might be interested in it. I told her, no…I really did not have room for another piece of furniture, but I was encouraging HER to buy it. When she and her husband got home, they did some research and found out a little bit about it, and I was blown away at how pretty the cabinet was. She also said her husband was seriously thinking about going back to get it on Saturday.

Louie and I had planned on going to Cedar Rapids on Saturday to Play It Again Sports’, so Louie could do some trading of golf clubs. We went to our regular thrift store stops, and when we got near the consignment store, we went in to see if Amy had taken it home. I was surprised to still see it there…so what was I to do?????  How could I walk away from a $40 machine?

Well, if I was afraid of cleaning, and dusting, it would have been easy, but I know how much difference a little furniture polish and a little elbow grease (and smearing sewing machine oil or baby oil around on the surface of an old black SM head) can make. Here are some before and after pictures of the cleaning up process. (Click to enlarge)

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SEW, now my new treadle sewing machine sits in my kitchen for me to adore. The treadle mechanism works like soft butter. I might even consider trying to sew on this baby sometime.

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I was delighted last night to find a FREE (no cost) pdf manual for my FREE No. 5 sewing machine HERE. I LOVE the internet! (Which is also why I don’t get much sewing done. With work, and my thrifting, sewing machine, and internet addictions, there just doesn’t seem to be much time for sewing!)

Thank you Amy for telling me about this machine. Amy is my enabler, (and so is Louie) but in her defense, I enabled her a few times too. One being HERE, the same day I got THIS.

A little bit of history of the FREE sewing machine company in Rockford, Illinois can be found HERE. Rockford, Illinois is only 2 hours from my home. I might have to see if the building is still there and take a road trip!

The following photos were found on the Ismacs site. (Click to enlarge)



FYI: Here is some information from the ISMACS site on how old sewing machines heads were ‘painted’. They actually were NOT painted, but Japanned.

The colour most-commonly associated with sewing machines is the black of japanning. As well as being an effective protection against rust, japanning was a cheap way of giving the largest parts of the machine a decorative finish. Each casting to receive this treatment was fettled and dipped in viscous black paint. The japanning was then dried in oven for some hours.

Coloured decoration could be applied to the black ground either as paint or printed transfer, though nearly all ms were decorated with gold leaf or gold paint. Hand painting was supplanted from about 1880 onwards by transfers. These demanded less skill to apply, gave a uniform finish and were cheaper. Another common way of decorating European sewing machines was by setting thin slivers of mother of pearl into the japanned surface. Once all the decoration had been applied, a final high gloss coat of varnish was sometimes given.

These painted finishes survived more or less intact, depending on the quality of materials used, the thoroughness with which they were applied, and the use and abuse the machines received in their working lives. Japanning can chip and scratch. A clumsily held screwdriver, sharp pins, buttons and zips, or even constant ordinary use, wear away varnish, transfers, gold and paint. The habit of wrapping a sheath of folded blanket or rag around the overhanging arm may have been a practical means of keeping pins handy but it is also an effective way of obliterating the decoration underneath.

Regular care and studied neglect both offer hazards to the chances of the paintwork surviving intact. Anything more than light dusting, over 60 or 70 years, will wear varnish and decoration away. Repeated applications of furniture polish can build up into a hard brownish translucent layer, difficult to remove. Neglect, on the other hand, may allow rust to take over so seriously that it attacks the castings, despite the thick layer of paint.

One problem which I have come across, and for which I have yet to find a satisfactory solution, is the crazing and lifting of varnish. Crazing is not serious while the varnish adheres but sometimes it becomes detached from the japanned surface, lifting with it the painted or transfer decoration. In this state it is fragile and if it is to remain in place, cleaning which involves friction has to be avoided.

Before attempting to clean any painted surfaces gently wipe away the dust and then look at it very carefully. These baked surfaces are often hard and durable and if there is a layer of congealed oil or polish, paraffin and rag may be all that is needed to remove it. Test a small area on the underside of the machine. See if it removes the film. See if it leaves a whitish surface or "bloom" when it dries and check that this bloom can be removed with a rag moistened with light mineral oil. Acetone or solvent are not safe. Nor is thinners. Spit sometimes works, but be sure it is not mixing with the dirt to form an abrasive paste. Above all make absolutely certain that nothing you do loosens or removes the remaining decoration. Sometimes dusting is all that can be safely done.

I have never yet seen a sewing machine repainted well enough to convince me that the gains outweigh the losses. A sewing machine in perfect condition can be impressively beautiful. We can see what it looked like when It left the factory and the freshness and vigour of the decorative finishes, which helped to sell it, are not dimmed by chips, scratches or grime. A "used" sewing machine, on the other hand, can tell us much about its working life; which parts were handled most often, what sort of work it did, even how it was usually picked up. Even if the skills are available, I do not think trying to make a used sewing machine look like new is a worthwhile exercise.

Thanks once again, for letting me share.

Be blessed and have a wonderful Sunday.




Suzan said...

All I can say is "WOW!" I would love a working treadle. I have one in my kitchen that belonged to my great-great grandmother and is a Howe which dates to around the beginning of the Civil War. It uses a shuttle to secure the threads. Sadly, it does not work and the cabinet is in terrible shape. It was in a barn for a very long time and when first brought out to the daylight was covered in bird poop. My uncle cleaned up the best he could but the veneer is cracked and broken in many places. It does not have the "bonnet" but all the drawers are in good shape. I use it as a display in my kitchen. As I live in the midst of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, nice antique treadles are hard to find. Amish families use the ones that are handed down from generation to generation. The ones you might find for sale are snatched up very quickly!

Pokey said...

This is such an incredible find!!! Living in CA, I would never stumble onto a machine and cabinet for as sweeet a deal as this, unless it was at a garage sale!
The fact that you both work them over for the beauty underneath the years and can get them functioning too, is pretty cool. I'm happy for you, Michelle, it is a beauty!

Amy, a redeemed sheep said...

I was very glad to enable you! I'm so glad you went to get her. She needed a good home.

She is beautiful...Like you.

Hazel said...

Wow how lucky can you get ,its awesome . I'd never find anything like that here in our thrift stores if its anything of value they put it up for auction instead of for sale .Enjoy you deserve it .

Pam said...

You did a great job getting her cleaned up. I have resisted treadles, but this style might be too tempting if I could come across one.

Amy said...

WOW!! the cabinet is gorgeous too!

Jules said...

This is fantastic! Love the cabinet!! :) That is what my treadle is like... full cabinet. It isn't looking pretty right now. So embarrassed! Where IS the maid????

Renea said...

Love the new heading to your blog. It is so you and your little "addiction".

Kathryn D. Duke said...

what a special machine and cabinet ...great to have someone like you to rescue it!!

diamondstatecurlygurl said...

Hi Michelle, I am Marlene's daughter and I love reading your blog! Mostly I'm a lurker.. mainly because I'm a workaholic (I'm working on that!) but I HAD to say hi today and tell you how beautiful I think that machine and cabinet are! I have great ambition to sew and quilt like my mother one of these days and I have a bit of a sewing machine fetish also :) Thank you for sharing your finds, there are folks out there you're touching and you may never know them all. tammy

Val said...

You amaze me!!! I love it. It is gorgeous!

Jeanna said...

What a beautiful machine! Wonderful find - I'm always keeping my eye out for something like that! Thanks for the tips on how to clean one up with out damaging it, I will be referring back to your post next time I find an old machine!

Cheryl's Teapots2Quilting said...

What a find! Enjoy it and USE it. If you head to Rockford, let me know. There are several quilt stores there, and I'm sure lots of thrift stores, too. Fun!

Tammy said...

What a lovely machine. A real bargain for just $40. Good information from ISMACs about japaning the black finish and applying the decorative decals. Your free machine is a real beauty.

Rebecca Strader said...

I just purchased an identical machine with full cabinet to restore. Its my first antique sewing machine. I'm hoping it wont be too hard of a job for me. Seeing your machine and what you did with it is very inspirational to me. Yours is beautiful. I only hope mine comes out looking half as good as yours. You did a wonderful job. Thank you for sharing your story.

Alissa Barrett said...

Hi Michelle,
I'm looking at a Free #5 on Craigslist here is Spokane WA. It's not as good a deal as what you got, but like you I think the cabinet and the decals are beautiful. I was wondering if you had found a place to purchase spare part for the "Free" machines. I've spent a few days hunting around. I know I need will need a stitch length knob/lever if I buy the machine. This will be my first treadle but I want to use it and need to be able to find parts, otherwise I will look for a Singer since their parts are everywhere. If you know a good place to call or a website for Free #5 parts I would be delighted!
Thanks a lot, Alissa

Cyndee said...

I have a FREE No.5 sewing machine and i don't have a belt for it. Do you know where i could get one and how much it would cost?

Michelle said...

Hi Cyndee,
Ebay is a good place to look. They are not expensive, and they come with directions.

Kathy said...

Michelle, I was glad to find your post about the FreeNo. 5. I inherited one from my mom and am working to get it cleaned and oiled. Mentioned in the manual was a felt pad on the underside of the frontthroat plate that should be kept well oiled. Mine does not have a felt pad. There is quite a bit of wear on the underside of both throat plates from the bobbin though. Can I add a felt pad? Your comment will be appreciated. Thanks! Kathy

elle-maree said...

My brother bought me one at a yard sale for my birthday for $25.00. Everything moves but not sure how it sews. Thanks for the site with the manual maybe now I can see how to get this baby up and running. I'm so excited and happy to see that I am not the only sewing machine lover in the world. My kids think I'm crazy. lol

Rockester said...

There is one of these FREE number 5 machines at a secondhand store near me for not a bad price. It looks like it could either be treadle but also has electric cord and foot/knee pedal. It has its bullet-like bobbin case and bobbin and nice cabinet. Just a lot of dust. Not bad on the decals. Feet and attachments are there. But no manual! Cannot decide if I should make an offer on it. Do any of you have a copy o the manual?

Michelle said...

Rockester, there is a link within the above post. You must have missed it. Here is the address:

Rockester said...

Comments were collapsed when I was reading so yes I missed it. Sorry to be redundant but THANK YOU for helping me out. I appreciate it so much. Will read up on this and see i the machine is for me. Might have to go back and get it.

Kay said...

Love your machine! You did a great job cleaning her up. I just bought one in a cabinet tonight for the same price. I so appreciate the information on this post. I just finished printing a copy of the manual. I look forward to cleaning mine.


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