Grandmother’s war horse rides again

Hey Folks,

Today’s post is not about woodworking because there are more important things going on in the world.  Okay, there is always something more important, but events of late seem to be affecting all of us, all at once.

So instead of dining chairs and such, I’ve been making face masks to reduce the possibility of corona virus transmission.  And I’ve resurrected my paternal grandmother’s old treadle sewing machine to tackle the task.

First of all, let me say that I have a new appreciation for Grandma’s dexterity and coordination.  Working a treadle sewing machine is not like working a treadle lathe and is more like walking and chewing gum at the same time.  That is to say two very different things going on at once.

The big difference between the lathe and the sewing machine is that the lathe only drives on the down stroke while the sewing machine is a full 360º crank.  If you lack momentum, you can dead stop, or worse, backup.  This old treadle machine has a shuttle bobbin and does not backstitch so the thread usually breaks at that point.

Grandma’s old machine is a Davis, which predates Singer by about a generation.  The latest patent engraved on it is 1835.  You can read an interesting article about the Davis Co. here.


The cabinet is made of some beautiful sections of quarter sawn white oak, with extensive ray flecks.  The front is ornately shaped and the center drawer has hand carved reliefs.  The fronts of the side drawers are veneered.  The machine itself is brought up to table height by an ingenious chain link elevator mechanism.

Of course, after about ten minutes, the age old leather drive belt gave out.  Upon examination it appears to have been repaired twice in its life, so I retired it and fabricated a makeshift temporary until a new one arrives.  It seems that you really can buy anything on line these days.



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