Why I now own this Singer Treadle Sewing Machine

A couple of weeks ago a listing on Ebay caught my eye. It was for a Singer Treadle Sewing Machine.

With a trend towards all things retro, Singer Treadle Sewing Machines have developed quite a cult following in recent years. A treadle sewing machine machine is built into a cabinet, and is operated with a pedal. And whilst some of the older ones have been converted to electric, this particular one hadn't been. That is to say, it is a sewing machine that doesn't need electricity to run. I was already excited.

Why this particular Singer Treadle Sewing Machine?

John-Paul Flintoff Singer Treadle

So this exact machine is now in my house!

The seller turned out to be John-Paul Flintoff. The sewing machine he was was selling was the one he had taken with him onto the streets of London about 10 years ago. At that time he was aiming to to teach sewing to strangers, in a bid to encourage people to be more self-sufficient and "sew their own". He liked to joke that it would come in handy "when the oil runs out".

As I read the listing on Ebay, this story rang bells with me. I was pretty sure I had read about him some years before, but it was a dim and distant memory. Then a search online found an article in the Evening Standard:"Sew your own: activist takes ethical clothing to the bus stops."

Why would I want to make my own clothes?

I have had a vague notion about making my own clothes since finishing my first ever garment last month. I learned to crochet 18 months ago and, whilst I'd made some scarves and things, I hadn't made a real item of clothing to wear. And then: I made this.


It is the Maple Leaf Cardigan designed by Christina Hadderingh at A Spoonful of Yarn. Every time I wear the cardigan I made, I get a little feeling of pride unlike anything I've had before. Mainly because I've never made an item of clothing before.

I can't sew. I can't knit. And, until 18 months ago, I couldn't crochet either. As I read the listing, and more about John Paul, I had that dangerous urge to bid that only a random Ebay listing can give you. The listing said the machine was collect only (of course it was. It's big, it's lumpy and it weighs a ton) and he was based in London.

It was bound to be in North London (wrong side for us) rather than South London (right side for us) since that is the way these things tend to go. I had a quick conversation with Andy and we agreed I'd put my maximum bid in and see what happened. I was uncharacteristically restrained, and did not think for one moment that my bid would win. And guess what? It won.

Collecting the Sewing Machine

We then had to work out how on earth to collect the machine. To you, dear reader, this will sound simple. We hardly live at the ends of the earth. Simply get in your car and drive from Sussex to North London and put it in the back of the car. How hard can it be?

Well that would work if we didn't have a 100% electric vehicle (EV) with a limited range. And that makes things a bit trickier. It's January, and it's cold. Experience tells us that the Nissan Leaf's battery runs down more quickly if it's cold. It also runs down more quickly when we're carrying a lot of weight in the car. A combination of both weight AND cold reduces the range of our car considerably before it needs charging again. And it doesn't have the most enormous range at the best of times.

Which doesn't usually matter, because we don't go far. As at now, there are no EV chargers on the M25 itself. That meant a diversion off the motorway to charge the car and, of course, wasting charge getting back on it again. We worked out it was going to take 2 charges there and 2 charges back. It was going to take hours and hours to do this in the EV, and it may have ended in tears.

So we did what we haven't done in the 18 months we've had the EV: we hired a car. You're ahead of me now of course, realising the hiring of the vehicle probably cost more than the Singer Treadle (it did). And so much for environmental impact of the machine, when you have to collect it in a diesel vehicle (I know).

Nevertheless Andy drove to London to fetch the machine. And being the hero that he is, he went alone rather than us having to drag the boys along for the ride too.

Our Singer Treadle Sewing Machine

Singer Treadle Sewing Machine

And here she is, in all her glory. I have decided to call her Geraldine.

Apart from the odd button, I haven't sewn anything since school. I blame this on being emotionally scarred when my domestic science teacher thought my pink felt rabbit was rubbish - it was - and stated in my report that "Beverley has achieved her objective this year to have as little to do with this subject as possible".

But that, of course, is all about to change.

The manual came with the machine. Plus I found a bazillion handy videos on YouTube about Singer Sewing Machines. One particularly helpful one advised practising using the Treadle with no thread in the machine first, to get the hang of it.

Having done this for about 10 minutes, the small squeak Geraldine had on arrival developed into a rather offensive shriek that could shatter glass.

I asked around and at least 4 people recommended the same man to come and give the machine a service. It seems Alex Askaroff is something of a legend when it comes to old Singer Sewing machines. And, unbelievably luckily for me, he lives half an hour's drive away. So it is clearly meant to be.

I texted John-Paul to thank him. His reply was lovely. He said he was really pleased that the machine was coming to us, and excited that we would make great things with it. He said he could never have imagined making shirts and jeans before he got it (neither can I). And that, if I take it out on to the streets, he would like pictures.

Alex is coming to service the sewing machine next week. And then what? In truth, I have absolutely no idea. Watch this space. 

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