Day 22 – #SOL2021:Treadle Sewing Machine and Estate Sales

“I can’t watch this. People are just walking out with his stuff…they didn’t even know him,”

Bitsy Parks wrote a great post this weekend about estate sales. You can read her post here. The post began with the above quote from a woman at a sale “I can’t watch this. People are just walking out with his stuff…they didn’t even know him,” a woman said tearfully to her neighbor who was ahead of us in line. ”

This opening sentence sent me to thinking about the White Treadle Sewing machine I bought years and years ago at an estate sale.  

Sitting in our living with the TV and Sound bar on top is this old wooden box it has six drawers with an old sewing machine folded up inside. I bought this White sewing machine at a sale when my daughter was very little, some 35 years ago. It was a sunny summer day and I was driving by a house in our neighborhood. The houses were all old but in good shape. Many were owned by elderly couples who had lived in the area since they were young. This was just about couple moving on. Maybe one of them died, maybe they both just needed more assistance I had no idea and at the time I did not really think about it.

I stopped and wander through the house finding many of the things were similar to my grandparents home or even my mothers home. There were familiar bowls, kitchen utensils, bedding and curtains but sitting in a corner of a bedroom was an old treadle sewing machine. It was in perfect condition. Fancy carved handles on the drawers. The oil can and bobbins were in the top left hand drawer. On the right side were the directions for the machine, and an envelope with the bill of sale. The post mark on the envelop was dated 1912. The bill of sale was for $70 dollars. She had given a down payment and then had a mortgage contract to pay the rest at $3.00 dollars a month. There were three receipts showing she had paid this machine off in three months. The first month she paid $10 and the next two payments were for six dollars each paid a month apart. Mrs AE Berthe had spent a great deal of money to acquire this machine.

I was in love and bought it. (I am sorry to say I don’t recall what I paid for it. I know they are currently selling for anywhere between $150 to $650 dollars.)

If you do not sew or are very young a treadle sewing machine works on foot power. There is a platform under the wooden box that is connected to a wheel. You begin by opening the top of the box and lifting the machine out to sit on a shelf. As you sit down at the machine you push the platform up and down with your feet which spins the wheel and making the machine work. This was a modern invention making sewing easier. No more hand sewing. (If you get the idea it was also before people were using much electricity in their homes.)

Both of my children – son and daughter – learned to sew on this machine. I did not have to worry as much about the needle going into fingers since the speed of the machine was so much slower and we were in control of how fast we moved our feet. We did not sew many things on this machine since we had long since moved on to electric machines. I have owned three sewing machines since this one was bought. The one I use now is old and as out of date as this treadle. The newer machines now are computer based and can do so much more than just stitch.

Even so I often think of the people, well, really the woman who used this machine to make clothes for her family. She may have been a quilter or did she sew for others to make a little extra money for the household? I will never know. She was indeed a stranger to me but over the years I have kept her in my thoughts as the machine became apart of our family.

So for those of you who feel sad about things that move out of the family at an estate sale please know that some of those things were taken into a new home and loved and cared for just as much – even if we did not know the person who left them behind.

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, care for my Grandson and write. Life is good!
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4 Responses to Day 22 – #SOL2021:Treadle Sewing Machine and Estate Sales

  1. Lakshmi Bhat says:

    The sewing machine is so beautiful. I love stitching and have stitched for my children and now for the past many years for myself. Mine is a Singer treadle machine but not as beautiful as yours. I am going to use this as long as I can. The slow pace suits me. Thank you for sharing.

  2. arjeha says:

    This took me back. We have my aunt’s treadle machine in our basement. I remember her sitting at it making dresses for herself. It is something we treasure.

  3. The sewing machine is lovely and also your reflection on how everybody may appreciate other’s belongins if we think ourself as part of a larger community. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. cvarsalona says:

    Joanne, I am so glad that I stopped by your slice tonight. Your thoughts remind me of when I was a very little girl and my Nonnie had a beautiful old machine. I was fascinated by it and even used it for a hiding place. I love antiquing and find the early decades of the 20th century an interesting time in history. I have been antiquing for years and when we decided to have a new house built, I also made a decision to sell many of my antiques.

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