Letter Re: Sew You Think You’re a Prepper? Look to Your Treadle in Troubled Times

Some great points have been brought up by R.S. in a response to my original article. I appreciate the input and agree completely with the value of a true industrial machine while electricity is available. Nothing compares to a walking foot industrial for those heavy jobs that use materials such as thick leather, webbing and multiples layers of canvas. I should have mentioned that a household low-tech treadle would pale in comparison to a modern electric industrial machine.

I too, appreciate their capability for sewing heavy work.  As luck would have it, I own and operate both a Consew 226R and a Singer 211G155 due to a family business that requires industrial sewing. My Consew 226R (R = reverse) is a lovely machine and I use it regularly but I must admit, I do prefer my older Singer 211 which does NOT have a reverse.  Just sew-you-know, this is easily compensated for in an industrial application with a “looped” backtack sewing method. It is a technique that is strong, speedy and has been in use for many years. A looped backtack can also be applied when using a treadle which eliminates the need to rotate your project 180’ in order to lock your stitches.

The  backtack  process is pretty simple:
Sew to the end of your where you need to stop on your project, raise your needle and presser foot to the “up” positions. Pull your work toward you about 3/4” inch, drop your foot down and continue to sew. When you raise the presser foot up it releases the tension on top thread tensioner. This allows you the freedom to pull your fabric forward as needed and create a “looped backtack”. Be sure not to snip the loop when trimming threads!  

My intention here is not to steer anyone away from an industrial machine when one is needed, but rather to point out the advantages of owning a Singer 66 treadle sewing machine in a grid-down environment. They are a general purpose all-around useful household machine at an affordable price. A used electric industrial sewing machine can cost from $600 on up, while the non-electric Singer 66 can generally be found for less than $300. While the Singer 66 treadle will certainly not sew heavy webbing or thick leather, I can tell you from personal experience that the fabrics/hides they will tolerate will surprise you. They have been home-tested for 80+ years, unlike any other machine on the market. As I mentioned in my original article, a Singer industrial treadle is also available (model 29-4) to those who want to sew heavier materials. Both will provide you with decades of reliability.

As a prepper, when comparing the later electric version of a Singer 66 to the earlier non-electric treadle version, the following must be considered:
1. No electricity required.
2. See No. 1!
3. The standard Singer 66 electric machine was equipped with .5 amp motor (the equivalent of .07 horsepower). This rating is determined with the motor running at full speed. In a nutshell, the Singer 66 electric motor is just plain weak when compared to the foot powered Singer 66 treadle which is the machine my article focused on.
4. Because of the low power of the motor at start-up, it does not achieve the same torque (at start-up) as a treadle does. Even though the heads are the same, a treadle uses mechanical leverage and pulleys to achieve its torque. The treadle’s needle has punching power within only a few revolutions. With the proper needle and a bit of coaxing, a low-tech treadle will sew a respectable two layers of soft suede or multiple layers of denim.

Did I mention that the Singer 66 treadle sewing machine requires no electricity?

Let’s get down to nuts & bolts. Comparing an electric industrial sewing machine to a household treadle is much like comparing apples to oranges. But, allow me to attempt to do this. Let’s list the advantages of industrial grade sewing machines – using the the two models I mentioned above, and which I own, as examples.

1. Both machines have powerful motors. The Consew has .33 hp and the Singer has 1/2 hp.
2. These particular industrial sewing machines have walking foots for grip which pull the fabric through and make quick work of heavy projects.
3. Both accept heavy gauge thread and needles. Both have high clearance for thick seams and an added feature is a presser foot/tension release knee lift to keep your hands free.
4. Both are wonderful machines, a joy to operate. I agree 100% with R.S. on the value of owning an electric industrial (or two).

Okay, so now back to speaking about the foot-powered Singer 66 treadle again….

A foot-powered Singer 66 treadle, (and household machines in general) have a spring that creates pressure on the presser foot. The presser foot clearance is of medium to low height, and you are limited in the number layers it will handle. In addition, a household machine is really designed for household use and should not be used with industrial gauge threads (or needles).

So what is my main reason for advocating that readers own a Singer 66? It will not leave you in the dark….when you need it most it will be there and in working condition.

I thank you once again for the opportunity to continue to share my passion for the antique Singer 66 treadle machine. It is my hope for all who read this will seriously consider owning a low-tech, highly reliable treadle. It may not sew everything you want to sew, but it is absolutely a superstar when no power is available. – T.J.G.