Wednesday, May 20, 2015

My first treadle, A White Family Rotary.

I've always kind of wanted a treadle sewing machine.  I used to see them in antique stores and drool over the lovely decals and wooden cabinets.  At the time I only thought they would be lovely decorations, I even liked the tables with sewing machine irons for legs.  (I have since learned better, more on that later).

Then I started learning about vintage sewing machines, I thought the old electric machines were all anyone used.  But as I started to read more, I found out that many folks do indeed sew on treadle machines, and hand cranked sewing machines.  The best source of info is

So then my itch to get my own was even stronger.  Soon I found a treadle machine on eBay that was close enough to pick up.  I was the only bidder, and soon it was mine.

Well not immediately, it was close enough for someone to pick up for me, but due to my work schedule I couldn't go get it myself.  So my husband and step-daughter went off to get it from the seller.  That weekend my husband delivered the sewing machine head to me

Then the following week he brought the cabinet.  I had a bit of work to do on both, 

But I was now the proud owner of a White Family Rotary sewing machine.  I have actually come to be a real fan of this machine, Singers are very popular but the White FR is a workhorse.  Here is some history of the White sewing machine company
company-history.html  and as always Treadle On has some great information .  A White sewing machine expert was able to give me a manufacturing date from the serial number, my machine was made in 1927.  

ISMACS was also a great source for a manual,

But before I could get sewing, I had to do a little restoration work.  A bit of wood glue and a clamp took care of the drawer, and I freshened up the cabinet with Howard's Restore-a-finish.  This is a great product to use on cabinets with a few dings and scratches, it may not completely remove them but it sure makes it look better and is much less work than full on refinishing.  My husband teases me as I have the Howard's in a bunch of colors now to match different cabinets.  I also used a stain marker to color in some of the missing finish on the decorative pieces on the front of the drawers, my goal wasn't to have a showpiece as much as a working machine.  I like how it looks now.

There was a similar process cleaning up the head, going over it with sewing machine oil (after testing to make sure it doesn't harm the decals) to clean it, and working on the metal to remove rust and tarnish.  I will post about this one of these days, as I have learned a bit more since the days I brought this machine home.

A few things I like about this machine, notice how the treadle peddle sits to the left?  The White has you sitting right in front of the needle, and also has a wider opening than some other machines (since I am a big girl I appreciate that).  It takes a standard 15x1 needle, the kind you buy at the fabric store. It has a unique bobbin, but they are available pretty easily.  There are modern reproductions that also fit, but some folks say they don't fit on the bobbin winder.  I was lucky and got quite a few.

The thing to look for when you buy a machine is if it has the teardrop shaped bobbin case. There is a picture in the manual I linked too.  This case comes out easily and is often lost.  My machine was missing one, and it took awhile to find one.  Not impossible, but it took awhile.

The other thing to get used to with the White FR is that the hand wheel turns backwards.  This can take some getting used to, but becomes second nature after a bit.  The threading system has a different type of tension than many other machines, but if you go through the steps in the manual it is pretty easy.

Only a couple of months after I got this machine, I found another head in a thrift shop, it was electric with some scary wiring, but the decals were in much better condition.  I have seen quite a few White FR machines since, in varying condition - there are tons out there so don't believe sellers telling you it is rare.  I bought the new head home, took off the electric motor and swapped it into my treadle cabinet.  

This one was also dated to 1927, so it was a natural fit!

I was nervous about learning to sew on a treadle, but found it pretty easy.  I find it relaxing and peaceful the way spinning is, but I haven't gotten my spinning wheel out in ages.  I wanted to make a simple project on it to get used to starting and stopping, so I did this quilt top:

As always there is tons more information on the internet about these machines.  This blogger has some good tips:

Happy treadling!


  1. Beautiful white! Now that I own one, just curious - what did you use to 'clean' your cabinet prior to using the Howard's? I'm a big fan of Howard's now - but will need to clean it first. Also - what did you use to clean or polish the ironwork? Heck... also the black finish on the machine (or the decals)? I've only had metal painted machines and don't want to damage any decals. Thanks!


    1. I may have answered you elsewhere, but just in case I will do it again here. I cleaned the cabinet with Murphy's oil soap before the Howards treatment. I never did anything with the ironwork. The machine head itself I used plain sewing machine oil (tested first of course), and then put a coat of carnuba wax on to protect it. My understanding is water based cleaners are dangerous for decals, I have seen people mention using soapy water but I would be afraid to try that. Oil on a Q Tip didn't seem to hurt the decals, and brightened them up quite a bit.


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