Treadle Sewing Machine
Jennifer loved to prowl through old antique stores. She also loved to drive. When she took the kids on a long drive one Saturday to find a place they had never been before they came to a small town up in the mountains. She found a lovely little park and stopped for their picnic. The kids had a lot of fun on the swings, slides, and splashing in a little brook. Jennifer threw a blanket on the lush grass, laid down and watched fluffy white clouds create marvelous shapes.
When the kids were tired they packed up and headed back the way they had come. She saw an old building that had huge letters above the door and windows: ANTIQUES. She could not pass it up without exploring, so parked right in front of it. When the kids groaned, she saw an ice cream shop across the narrow street. “If you come in the antique shop with me I promise we will go over there after and get some sundaes.” They looked where she pointed and got so excited. It was getting hot and they loved ice cream sundaes.
The kids found a section of old toys and books, which entertained them while Jennifer browsed. When she was about ready to gather the kids and leave she saw a treasure sitting in a corner. It was quite dusty and almost hidden behind other furniture. It was a very old treadle sewing machine, just like the one her mother had owned when Jennifer was a kid. It had been sold years ago when her Mom got a new machine, but the loving memories were cherished with that old machine. She often wished she had it.
She wound her way back to the one in the shop, took her scarf off and dusted the cabinet. When she lifted the lid and the machine came up effortlessly she was astonished. It was in very good condition. She opened all the drawers and found the same old sewing tools her mom once had. The doors squeaked when sliding in and out, the wood needed some conditioning throughout, but these things could easily be fixed. A few scratches and nicks added to its charm,so she would leave them as is.
As she stood there gazing at the machine the owner of the store came over. “May I help you, Ma’am?” Jennifer looked at him and smiled. He looked like an antique himself, yet very pleasant. “Yes, thank you. How much do you want for this treadle sewing machine?” He crossed his arms and said, “$500.00 and that’s firm.”
That was more than she had hoped for, but could see the owner would not budge on the price. She stepped back and visualized the piece in her hallway where it would be prominent to all who visited. She would be so proud to own it. “I’ll give you $20.00 a month for it, first payment of $100.00 now.” He shook his head. “Naw, I can’t do that. I don’t like holding things while a customer pays each month.”
“How long have you had this machine here?” She ran her hand over the smooth wood that had been covered by the lid all those many years. “Judging by the smoothness of the wood here inside and the deep richness of it, I am sure no one has opened the lid for many years.” She asked, “Would you prefer it sit here for another 20 years or just for a year or so if I buy it?” He knew he had lost an ensuing debate, so agreed to the payment arrangement. They walked over to the counter and he drew up the invoice with all particulars on it. Jennifer made her first payment. He gave her a copy of the invoice and a receipt. They went back to the machine and he put a sold sign on it.
Jennifer was thrilled with her purchase. As the kids and her sat in the ice cream shop enjoying sundaes, she dreamed about her treadle sewing machine and how she would take excellent care of it. Maybe even display one of the old quilts her mother had made on it. She almost cried remembering how much she loved her Mom’s machine and often sat down to admire and touch it.
When they went back across the street to her GMC, the owner was standing there with two of his sons and the treadle sewing machine wrapped in a quilted mat. Jennifer was surprised. “I looked out at your vehicle to see if the machine would fit in. I think it will fit just fine. You trusted me to keep it for you, now I trust you to pay monthly for it.” Tears sprang to her eyes as they loaded the machine in her vehicle.
They shook hands, then impulsively Jennifer hugged him.
I learned to sew when I was thirteen years old. Mom had an old treadle sewing machine just like the one in the photo above. It always fascinated me to watch her use it. With seven kids and Dad , who was an outdoors man, she always had a lot of mending and clothes to make.
One day Dad brought his new jacket to me and asked me to shorten the sleeves. I was shocked he would ask me, but Mom was visiting her parents for the day and he needed the jacket for work. With pride, yet just a little unsure of myself, I measured the length he wanted and put pins in the sleeve to mark the right place. Then I sat at the treadle sewing machine for several minutes staring at the jacket, wondering how to do this task. I finally rummaged through the tools drawer and found a seam ripper. I carefully undid the seam on one cuff, then cut the sleeve a little below the pins. I fitted the cuff on the cut sleeve, pinned it, and with brazen confidence sewed the cuff back on, even putting in a pleat where it belonged. It had not taken me long to find my rhythm on the treadle with my feet moving up and down and hands directing the fabric in the feed.
Then a sudden panic seized me! What if I had cut too much off and the sleeve was now too short? Trying to be brave, I took the jacket to Dad and asked him to try it on. He was thrilled, for the sleeve was perfect. I adjusted the other sleeve in the same way, put the jacket on a hanger and hung it on the back of Dad’s bedroom door. He talked about my skill for days. I got a lot of hugs when he bragged about it.
Several years later, when we moved, Mom left the treadle sewing machine behind because Dad bought her a new modern machine. I still miss that old machine and wish I could find one just like it. They are antiques now and quite expensive. The photo above is just like the one Mom had.
The very short story above was inspired by that old machine and a dream I had last night.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns
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