The art and craft of sewing has begun to dwindle in popularity. However, this was not always the case. In the ancient world, and even in our own not so distant pioneer times, sewing has been an invaluable and necessary skill. In much of the last century, many young women (and some young men) were taught to sew by parents, in home economics classes, in some Boy Scout or Girl Scout clubs or even by employers. In this article, my hope is not to discuss hand sewing, but rather to impress the value of non-electric machine sewing.
I myself first became interested in sewing while watching my mother make aprons. I asked her if she could make some doll clothes for my doll. Much to my delight I received a child-sized sewing machine for Christmas that year. It did not sew very well or last very long, but it served its purpose well by planting the seed. It wasn't too long before I was operating my mom's machine and sewing all sorts of doll clothes from my mom's fabric scrap basket. I learned early the value of scraps, all the wonderful varieties of colors and textures.
In addition to sewing projects for myself and my family, I worked professionally sewing automotive seats and later for a high-end patio furniture Co in the upholstery department. One thing these companies had in common was a preference for older (1940’s-1950’s) industrial (electric) Singers that were operated 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. They are truly workhorses.
Another wonderful Singer treadle (model 29-4) was produced for industrial use, shoes & general leather working. Harder to find and a bit more pricey, however, it can be a great addition to your line-up for home use, especially in a grid down situation. It is not nearly as attractive as a model 66 although highly valuable for heavy leather applications. This particular machine is designed for sewing in very small areas. If you want to get serious about sewing, this machine goes where others cannot!
Today I am both a self-admitted “prepper” who lives, along with my husband, on the same family farm I was raised on. I am an avid collector of vintage and antique sewing machines. I have in my own collection, 40+ electric sewing machines and 13 non-electric treadle sewing machines. I am an enthusiastic sewing machine collector.
My sincere hope for new and seasoned preppers, is to be able to own an old Singer model 66 treadle (aka foot-powered) sewing machine (1902 - 1960). Now I realize there are fans of other brands, and I have operated many of them, dealt with finding parts, and have even sold my fair share of sewing machines. So why am I so adamant that self-sufficiency folks specifically get the Singer model 66 treadle machine?
In a low or no-power situation, the ability to sew and even better, to have a sewing machine will prove to be invaluable. While hand sewing skill is important, in order to get the job done fast and to be able to work efficiently with a wide variety of available materials, it will be very helpful to use a manual, non-electric (treadle) sewing machine. Being able to make new clothing or repair older clothing both for your own family or group will likely be the most common use for a non-electric sewing machine. However, what about sewing as a means of barter or income? The sheer durability of the Singer 66 means it can also sew leather and vinyl which could prove useful for gloves, backpacks, holsters, bags & even hats. The skill of sewing (including being a seamstress or tailor) might just be the ticket to providing your family with a valuable work-at-home income or barter commodity! After all, how many others will have more than just hand sewing supplies? Even without electricity, you can literally reap what you sew…
Other benefits of the Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine:
- They are very simple to operate - even a beginner can be sewing in a matter of minutes
- A quieter operation, unlike modern electric machines.
- They use a simple leather belt which can be easily replaced with common materials and a little ingenuity.
- They rarely break down as they have a simple gear operation.
- These machines can be repaired using simple tools such as a hammer, straight screwdriver & pliers. No specialty tools required.
- Spools (or bobbins) of various threads used by these machines are readily available and can be stored for years or decades.
- Aside from a few adjustments and perhaps a small amount of oil, they are very easy to maintain in working order
- They are of course, not only functional but very attractive as well and provide a living space with a flat surface (table) when not in use.
- They were commonly produced with 2 or 3 side drawers and a center drawer for storage.
- A host of attachments are still available including a ruffler, hemmer & buttonholer and many times you will find these items in the drawers upon purchase.
- The 66 models are not finicky and will allow you to use monofilament thread as well as the cotton and polyester standards
- The class 66 bobbins are very common and still produced today. And of course, standard machine needles are used, the size depends on your choice of fabric.
- NO ELECTRICITY NEEDED!!
I do recommend, however that you purchase the head if you stumble across one (machine only-not the base) as a second purchase for spare parts. It is likely you will pay a very small amount for the machine (head) and having the parts on hand will give you peace of mind. This isn't a necessity, just a suggestion, the machines are quite durable.
How to Find a Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine
In many areas the very best place these can be found is by doing a local Craigslist search. This is the safest as you will be able to visit the buyer and visually inspect the machine for wear/tear and functionality. Other common places where these show up include local auctions, estate sales, antique shops and of course on eBay.
The less rub (markings/finish worn off), the better. Avoid machines that show excessive rust. Often times you will find the wood veneer has split or warped but it does not affect the function. Turn the side wheel to ensure the needle bar moves freely. Lift the lever on the back of the needle bar to make sure the presser foot locks in place. If a machine is "frozen" and not missing parts, in most situations it can be repaired with a little mechanical ability and lots of lubricant. The price you offer should reflect the time you will have invested into it.
The average going price of this workhorse sewing machine generally range between $150 - $250 but the value of having a functioning one in a TEOTWAWKI or SHTF scenario could be invaluable.
I cannot stress enough - limit your purchase only to a Singer model 66. Avoid all other brands. This specific model can be hard to identify because
many were void of an identifying metal tag or stamp. The pedal and side irons will have either the name "Singer" spelled out or an "S" incorporated into the design, or both.
A quick inspection of the bobbin area is a must. The bobbin is located beside the presser foot (where the needle is located) under the chrome/stainless slide plate. If it accepts a modern ROUND drop-in bobbin, it is a 66. There were other later models produced (99, 201-3 & 201K) that should be mentioned, but these are much more scarce. Approximately 95% of Singer treadles produced were model 66, proof of its popularity!
Sewing with the Ultimate Prepper Sewing Machine
You can download the manual for free. Rest assured it is VERY easy to learn to use these machines.
Once you begin sewing you realize that the quiet rocking motion creates a nice straight locking stitch. With a bit of practice and you get a sense of the speed and stopping distance. Have fun!! Experiment!!
The 66 will accommodate many attachments, still available today including a buttonholer. From pants, shirts and blouses, to blankets, quilts and other home and homesteading fabric based items, the Singer model 66 treadle and a few basic patterns will give you a unique ability to provide items essential to any long term Bug-In or off grid situation.
Something homesteaders and hunters alike will appreciate… these machines will sew soft leather, even hides! A wonderful benefit since even most modern
machines will struggle with leather and many will not even sew it at all. Imagine the items you might make with the hides from this year’s hunting! Blankets, gloves, moccasins, holsters, belts, and more.
Make good use of your scraps and sew them into colorful quilts. A true form of art that is also functional.
Even in a home with electricity readily available, sewing on a treadle can become a choice. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in finishing a project in the same fashion that your Great Grandmother may have.
With a heavy needle in your 66 (19/120), you can sew materials like canvas for tents, tarps, bug-out-bags (BOB), chaps, backpacks, & flour sacks to name a few. You are not limited, this machine will also sew fine fabrics like silk and chiffon.
Because sewing is not really a manual labor skill, it can be done even by elderly or partially disabled persons. These persons in a post-collapse world are sometimes forgotten about by today’s younger preppers, or relegated to baby sitting and kitchen work. As long as a person is able to sit and operate the pedal and maneuver the fabric, they become sewers. It is important to have value and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Honestly, the only downside is the size & weight. For traveling and transporting, it is definitely not practical for a BOB. However it is extremely practical for a Bug-In or Bug out location. What it lacks in portability it more than makes up for in function.
So what’s stopping you? Investing in a Singer model 66 treadle sewing machine, a few spare parts, thread and various fabrics, and you will be ready - even if American society gets pushed back 100 years. After all, a “Little House on the Prairie” scenario is just as likely as a “Mad Max” one. Regardless, having and knowing how to use low-tech machines like the Singer 66 will make life easier.
Much like family values, and morality, sewing -and the items that sewing can repair and produce, are a common but often forgotten thread which stretches from our American pioneer past to all of our possible futures.