Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How To Get Rid Of A Treadle

I get questions like the ones below from Daphne and thought it might be useful to put my ideas online.  Readers are invited to chime in with their own ideas in the comments section below.

Daphne wrote:
Good Morning!

I stumbled across your blog while trying to find information on a Run Easy treadle sewing machine that I have. Long story short(ish), I came into possession of this machine about 10 years ago when a friend got divorced and moved across country. She couldn't take the machine with her, but really didn't want her ex-mother-in-law to get her hands on it, so it ended up in my care. Fast forward 7.5 years, I'd lost track of that friend, gotten engaged, and ended up moving the sewing machine from GA to NH into my husband's small log cabin. Fast forward another 3.5 years to today where my husband and I are expecting our first child in a couple of weeks and find ourselves crunched for space.

The sewing machine is in pretty good shape from what I can tell. The wood cabinet has gotten a little dried out in our wood stove heated cabin, but I think a very little TLC with a light sanding and oiling is all it really needs. The sewing machine itself looks to be in good working order. The bobbin is still in place (one of the oblong type) and is even still threaded. The belts are still in one of the drawers of the cabinet.

Ideally, I'd love to see this sewing machine go to someone who will love it, take care of it and use it. If you have any suggestions on how to go about doing that, I'm all ears. If not, our town's yard sale day is coming up in two weeks and I will have to put this lovely machine out for sale, so my other question would be - what is a reasonable price for a sewing machine of this age in pretty darn decent condition? I have heard that many people today think that it's great fun to take an old sewing machine like this and gut it for other decorative purposes. I REALLY don't want to see that happen to this beauty. If I can find someone who will take her and love her and treat her right, I'll pert near give her away. Otherwise, at this point I'm planning on pricing her for a pretty penny just to discourage the idiots.

Thank you for any advice you may have!

Well, Daphne, first of all we all appreciate your desire to preserve a possibly working machine and save it from the dreaded fate of being converted into something else.

The economic realities of the law of supply and demand are going to bite you, however.  Supply:  there are literally millions of treadles lingering in parlors, basements, garages, and barns.  People have a sentimental attachment to them and keep them.  People are under the mistaken impression that they are worth something, and they keep them.  People don't know how to get rid of them, so they keep them.  Anyway, they keep them.  And eventually they try to get rid of them.  The supply of these things is ENORMOUS.  Check CraigsList for any major or minor city at any time and you will see them.

Demand is a different story.  A very, very small number of people want to sew with them.  

So:  Huge supply, almost no demand = very low cost.  This surprises all of those folks who spent $300 to $500 on one back during the brief period in the late 70's to early 80's when country decorating was all the vogue.  They absolutely do not want to hear that $30 to $50 is a reasonable price today.

Yes, you heard me right.  For a treadle such as you describe (unknown working condition, brand name nobody has heard of, wood not in perfect condition), you will be lucky to sell it at all.

There are exceptions of course.  If you have a treadle in perfect working condition, with immaculate woodwork, and with a gleaming and glossy sewing machine in it with absolutely gorgeous and intact decals, then $100 is a reasonable price to ask. You might even get it.

There are even some exceptions to this, for very rare and unusual early machines.  I'm not buying in the "collector's" market however, so I can't give you good advice about this.   The fact that I have never heard of your brand name does not mean that it is one of these rare and valuable ones, btw.  It was almost certainly made by somebody else and just badged or labeled with this name.

Oh, and by the way, the prices that people ASK on CraigsList are no guide to what they sell for.  There is no way to track what they actually sell for.  I look at CraigsList every morning, and I know that treadles often sit on CraigsList for months and months.

How about giving it to charity?  Any charity that USES sewing machines needs ones in good working order.  Any charity that SELLS sewing machines will have the same problems getting rid of it.  I regularly make the rounds of my local charity shops, and most treadles in the condition you have described sit for months or even years.  Yes, years.

So, what should you do?  My first advice would be to post a notice on the "treadleon" bulletin board.  This is where that tiny group of dedicated treadlers hang out online.  Mention your specific location.  If you really, really want it to go to a treadler, I would even offer it for free.

If you want to dispose of it at your town's annual yard sale, this is the marketing approach I would take.  Make a big sign saying something like "FREE TREADLE SEWING MACHINE:  APPLY HERE".   Then I would take applications.  Have them write a paragraph describing what they would do with the machine and why they want it.  Then give it to the most deserving person who might actually appreciate it and preserve it for the next generation.

Before you take it to the yard sale, I would also advise that you pick up some sewing machine oil and a treadle belt (I think you can still get them at Joann's) and see if you can figure out how to install it (very simple, and YouTube should help).  Give the machine a drop of oil at every point where metal moves against metal and see if you can get it turning freely.  Oil the treadle irons too.  If people can see it actually moving, you have a better chance of somebody taking it off your hands.

And that is the real point of my advice:  instead of thinking about selling it, think about how to find the right person to take if off your hands.

On the other on the way?  any chance you will want to do some sewing in the future?  A nice treadle is a wonderful thing to have in the house.  Nice and quiet, too---won't wake the baby!  And the same group at treadleon will fall all over themselves helping you online.  Think about it!


OK, all of my imaginary friends blog buddies:  please add comments, suggestions, or complete refutations of the advice I have given to Daphne!  And if you know who manufactured the "Run Easy", please let us know.


Daphne wrote back to thank me for the suggestions and to tell me her plans
  • first, try to track down the original owner to see if she wants it back
  • next, to contact a local quilt shop to see if the owners know of anyone who would want it
    • good suggestion---I should have thought of that!
  • finally, contact treadleon
Good luck to Daphne in finding her machine a good home.  Kittens are easier than this!


  1. I totally agree with your assessment! I asked a guy at a yard sale how much for a rusted head missing the slide plate and bobbin, it was a piece of junk, he wanted $100 for it! I told him it was not worth that, he said he would take it to an antique dealer and they would give him $100. I told him nicely it was a piece of junk and no one would buy it and walked off.

  2. Great post! Your thoughts and suggestions are totally on target!

  3. Brava! There are so many antique sewing machines available, but most people are just looking for the treadle irons, to convert into "chic tables." I learned to sew on my grandma's Singer Red Eye 66 treadle, and it offends me mightily to think of these wonderful, functional machines being trashed so that some "decorator" can make a buck on the destruction of our history. Please find someone to love your machine as you have.

  4. I agree. In the beginning, before I knew better, I paid $100 for a Singer in a treadle that still needs wood work, and the decals on the machine (along with half the paint) are mostly gone. Since then, most of my treadles have been free, to a good home. Treadle On and a local or pony express are her best bet to save this machine.


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