Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aprons, Treadles, and Memories

I love sewing with my treadle sewing machine! I've had it for many years, but it's way older than that. This machine and cabinet were manufactured more than a hundred years ago. I take good care of it, regularly putting oil in all the little holes, making sure my needle is straight, changing the belt occasionally, and wiping all of the wood surfaces with wood conditioner. It's in great shape and has many more years of use in it.

My antique White treadle sewing machine

There's something incredibly restful about this machine. The up and down, up and down, of my feet on the treadle, and the quiet sewing that takes place, sans the whir of electricity, is always soothing. There are no fancy stitches with this machine. I can straight stitch--and that's it. And if I want to reverse to anchor my stitches? Well, I lift the presser foot, turn my fabric 180 degrees, and then sew the other way. Because there is no reverse on this thing.

Often when I'm sewing, I use one of my kerosene lanterns for light instead of flipping on an electric light switch. On a cloudy day or in the evening, it might be a bit harder to see, but the perfect fit of the treadle machine and the old-fashioned light make for a pleasurable time. Something else I do when I'm sewing with my treadle is wear one of my homemade aprons.

All of my aprons (and I have an entire "wardrobe" of them) are made using a one-yard pattern that I've used for the past thirty years. And they have all been sewn either on this treadle machine or by hand. They are old-fashioned aprons, and I make them the old-fashioned way. I have "good" aprons and work aprons, and I love them all. Two of my oldest aprons are used only for canning and harvesting veggies from my garden--they are a perfect "basket" for carrying my harvest into the kitchen. These old aprons are permanently stained, and I love them dearly! I wear my good aprons for everything else, and I choose which one to wear based on my mood.

When I wear my aprons, I also wear memories: My three newest ones, in lovely, summery calicos, remind me of a summer lost when I had major surgeries that included months long recuperations. My twin sister set me up with those. She cut out fabric, gave me needle and thread, and encouraged me to start handsewing them. In the end, both the aprons and I emerged in one piece, ready to take on the work of life.

My oldest apron is faded and stained...but I still have it because it reminds me of when my sons were a lot younger and we were all under one roof. It used to be my favorite apron, so it saw a lot of hard use. This old apron helped me cook and bake countless meals, chase chickens out of the garden, gather eggs, bring in a load of firewood to feed our woodstove in winter or lettuce and tomatoes to feed my family in summer, and wipe off dirty hands and faces. How could I throw away such a treasure?

My old treadle sewing machine is full of memories too. I've clothed my family, made gifts, and prayed for my sons' futures all while using it. I sometimes like to sit and sew and wonder about who used my old sewing machine before I did. Was she a mother? A farm wife? Was she content with her circumstances? Did she sit by lantern light and dream dreams for her family too? I hope so!


  1. Brought tears to my eyes. You have no idea how much you mean to me. The beautiful examples of being a wife and mother you showed me I keep tucked into my heart...things I won't ever forget!!! Also...I have a special made by your lovely hands in 1992. It was a going away gift. It has signatures of those ladies I loved so dearly. It's stained beyond repair...but I keep has sweet memories as well as hard ones...such is life! Love you dear sister!

    1. Blessings to you, friend. It's been so many years since we've seen each other, but our hearts connected, and we will always be friends. I'm so glad you still have your special apron!

  2. I'd love to see your pattern. I'm a quilter and made my toddler's first dress this past summer, but I've yet to do an apron.

    1. Hi, Melissa-
      My pattern is a homemade one (not a boughten pattern). But I'll take a photo of the apron and post that (I'll try to get to that this evening!). I'm not sure that will help you to replicate the pattern, but it could give you a start. Have you ever gotten online to Friends Patterns? I think they have a pattern for a good workhorse of an apron that they offer for sale. But what I love about my apron is that it only takes one yard of 45-inch-wide cotton fabric, plus two packages of extra-wind double-fold binding tape and a button (which I usually scrounge from my button box).
      How'd your toddler's dress turn out?

    2. Do you have an idea of this machines birthday? I have one like it and am needing the shuttle and bobbins--all I have is the machine and cabinet.

  3. Dear squishy: the patent date says 1898 but I believe myachime is probably from the early 1900s. They made these Whites for a number of years!