Singer 201K Treadle C1940
One day as I was passing a second hand shop on route to somewhere else, I spotted a very dilapidated treadle sewing machine, out the front. Honestly, it looked none too pretty. At first glance it actually looked quite ugly in its dark square shaped, Art Deco cabinet, scratched, and damaged and heavily covered in paint spatter. There was evidence of children scratching writing on the side. The lid was barely hanging off the side, all the screws had come away from the split timber. She had seen better days, that’s for sure. It was probably one of the ugliest treadles I’d ever seen.
I seriously questioned myself, I shouldn’t even be looking at this machine, but…..when I looked at the machine itself, I knew it was a good one. It’s a Singer 201K, C1940. The 201K was a wonderfully built and very expensive machine. I’d not come across one in this setting of a treadle before. Maybe a lot have been sent to the tip or heavily disregarded due to the rather austere appearance. I resigned myself that …..if I bought it, the cabinet was so sooo bad that I would have to paint it.
So I went inside and spoke with the shop owner. He said the machine was $60- I asked him if he thought he could get it into my car? I really didn’t think it would. Maybe that would be a sign that I should not get it! It was quite square and chunky…..
He said, we’ll have a look. Well, what do you know, it did fit, so I gave him the $60 and turned around and went home. Although this cabinet looked ugly and damaged, I guess I was feeling somewhat buoyed and confident, as I had recently had success repairing another machine and getting it sewing well again. I thought it just might be quite a bit of fun with this one.
Oh dear. When I got home of course it was a bit heavier than I had anticipated, but I got an old rug and somehow manipulated out of the back of my car without damaging it. (The car I mean.). So I sat it down in the garage, then I looked at it and thought, what have I done????? It looks so bad! I’m so sorry at the time I did not think to take a photo of it. I got a cloth and cleaned off the years of dust and spider webs and such. Now, lucky for me, my Uncle Bruce had imparted some wisdom, about cleaning old furniture, so I set about making up a mixture of linseed oil, turpentine and a bit of vinegar, after all, what did I have to I lose?
I got a lint free cloth and started cleaning the side with that mixture. Well to my great surprise, some of the scratches seemed to almost disappear, as if by magic. Then some the paint spatters came away as well. I felt so encouraged. I laid the mixture on thick and kept on rubbing. I doubled back on the really damaged parts like the legs. It was like a miracle! The cabinet was looking quite beautiful. All the paint came off and the scratches were almost invisible. I could not believe my luck! So I found some screwdrivers and glue and set to work trying the repair the top of the cabinet,
I took a closer look at the irons. They are very plain. The kind that were made to be inside a closed cabinet and they are actually mounted to the sides of the cabinet, rather than the base for the cabinet like most other treadle irons. To my great surprise, contrary to the exterior of the machine, the irons were in perfect condition. With just a wipe with a bit of mild detergent, they looked like new.
Now, the machine….well, of course it would not sew and I was not an experienced treadler at that stage. The hand wheel would not make the machine work so I carefully dismantled it and realised there was an integral screw missing.
I went through all the screws we had and somehow managed to find something that I thought would work. I was tricky and awkward, I was worried I might not be able to fix it. After much patience and manipulation I got a satisfactory result. I then set about cleaning the actual machine with sewing machine oil and oiling the machine well too.
The belt was missing. So after purchasing and fitting a belt, this was the result. Here she is with her modest paper clip decals, but looking shiny and gorgeous and in pretty good condition given her age.
Now to the sewing. I was thrilled. As one would expect from a 201K, the stitch is beautiful. I needed to improve my treadling. It took some practice but once you get the idea, it really is like learning to ride a bike. Once you do, it’s not forgotten. Click on the link below to learn to treadle.
I have had so much fun treadling on this machine. Every time I use it it’s a pleasure. As it turned out, this was no ugly ducking, but in fact a beautiful swan of a machine, just waiting to be restored to her previous beauty and functionality.
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I know that I have mentioned it before but treadle machines really are a joy to use. It’s everything about it. The quality of the machine, the gentle sound of the treadle in movement. The physical interaction with the machine. It sure is nice on a cold night to help the keep the legs active and warm, rather than just sitting. The action can help promote venous return to the heart. It’s a whole therapy in itself.
Once one is accustomed to treadling, there is a great ability to control machine speed and it makes working with small items like quilt blocks or even thicker fabrics or working in difficult seams easier I think. I recently made a handbag on the treadle which had some very thick and awkward seams. I was surprised how much easier it is on a machine like this as it copes with the heavy fabrics well and makes superb tiny stitches.
This cabinet is fitted with a door which closes firm and can keep little fingers away from the treadle mechanism. The door contains a nice storage box for threads and notions. When the machine folds down, one sees only a small square cabinet, which the unsuspecting would just mistake for a cupboard.
I’ve had a lot of fun so far with this machine. I’m so glad I did not pass it by. I would never have discovered what a beauty it really is. So if by chance you are also lucky enough to see one of these, don’t mistake it’s plain appearance because it really is a winner!
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Of course it takes a bit of time to repair one of these old machines and cabinets, but I truly believe it well worth the effort and is a mere fraction of the cost of a lot of new machines with incomparable quality and style.
5 thoughts on “Singer 201K Treadle C1940”
What is the recipe for the linseed and turpentine refinishing rub, please?
Hi Laura, You can use equal quantities of Boiled Linseed Oil and Mineral Turpentine. If a piece is particularly dirty you can use equal amounts of White Vinegar, Boiled Linseed Oil and Mineral Turpentine. It must be Boiled Linseed Oil, or the drying time will be too long.
What a lovely story! I discovered one of these beauties at the local tip last week. A quick turn of the flywheel proved it works perfectly, although the cabinet top has disintegrated. All the original feet and the book were still inside.So I snapped it up before they raised the price.
I shall make a new timber top, hiopefully of some decorative fiddleback wood, clean up the rest of the cabinet, polish the metalwork, and it should run sweetly and look timelessly elegant. I too love the interaction with the machine, and its gentle treadly sound. Wonderful to know that I can sew off-grid!
Where were you able to find a belt, that would work with this treadle machine ? I have my fathers machine he sewed draperies and re- upolstered furnitureIt has not been used in 40 years and the belt is missing. I would very much like to get this treadle up and running . Mary
Dear Mary. You should be able to get one from your local sewing machine shop. If not in stock they should be able to get it for you. All the best. I hope you get it up and running!