Old Tech Friday: Sewing Machine!

Friday again, Aces! And do I have a treat for you, a real pip!
I would like to introduce to you the Minnesota Model E!

Minnesota Model E

Minnesota Model E

I picked this gem up for $25. As you can see the cabinet is missing two drawers, but replacements are plentiful on eBay. It’s treadle driven which gives you amazingly accurate and flexible speed control. It also has a great deal more torque than your electric models, so starting and stopping at slow speeds is a piece of cake.

Everything about the sewing machine is heavy duty, from the cabinet, to the iron base, to the steel internals of the machine. It will sew canvas, marine vinyl, and I’ve even run a piece of leather through it. Despite being nearly 100 years old, it uses standard Singer needles. Replacement leather belts are available new as well. Once you get used to working your feet and hands together, the whole operation is very easy and best of all fun!

Minnesota was a Sears brand of sewing machine. The Model E was one of their more spartan models. It features very simple cabinetry and a no frills sewing head. This is also an interesting machine because it is not a rotary sewing machine, it uses what is called a “vibrating shuttle” to form the stitches rather than a bobbin and case. The shuttle looks very similar to the shuttle used in a loom, and operates the same. This mechanism is not as elegant and does limit the speed somewhat, but it is very easy to understand and repair.

This sewing machine is good for simple work, it only does one stitch, but you can do an awful lot with chain stitch. The VS type machines do not sew in reverse, so ending a seam involves moving the fabric back a little ways and sewing over it again (a minor inconvenience). The only real problem I’ve had at this point is that it does not do button holes, I’ll have to do those by hand.

A word about treadles:
They are great machines, built to last a lifetime, or many lifetimes, and they can run without electricity (for all of you who read Tuesday’s entry). The old VS machines like this have several limitations, but many were produced that are rotary and use modern bobbins, some of them even have button hole attachments. If that weren’t enough, Janome produces a modern treadle for the Amish, which is capable of many different stitches. The machine comes as a sewing head only, so you must install it in an old cabinet, and they are not as heavy duty as the all steel Minnesota.

Keep your eyes open for these at rummage sales, antique shops and flea markets. At the very least, you’ll end up with an amazing sewing table for your modern machine, but before you scrap that old iron, give it a try and see how you like it!

4 thoughts on “Old Tech Friday: Sewing Machine!

  1. You’re right to encourage – if you get the chance give it a whirl. It took me a little while to learn how to treadle sew, but now I love it and would never want to go electric again 🙂 Thanks for the post!

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