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Advice on old Singer machine

sedna | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Hello everyone, I am new here, I generally read and participate in Knots and Tool Talk forums. I am hoping to get some advice or maybe leads on where to continue looking.

I was recently given an old Singer treadle machine. It is heavy duty and I want to sew a boat top with it. I cannot get it to sew consistently. Things like breaking thread, fraying thread, stitches not right, – but I can find nothing mechanically wrong with it. I think it is just not set correctly. The problem is no manual and no one I know has ever used one.

The model is 78-1 and the serial is G8680308.

If anyone can suggest a source for manuals or has ever used one, I sure would appreciate some help.


  1. stitchmd | | #1

    What else have you tried sewing on it? I suspect your problem has more to do with needle and thread quality and size than with the machine. Are the stitches forming evenly so they look the same on the right and wrong sides? Is your presser foot adjustable so the heavy material can feed through readily?

    1. sedna | | #4

      Pasdenom, Elizabeth and MimThank you for the advice.
      I did check the machine over and lubricated it. My cousin (who gave me the machine because she has no room for it) put in what she says is the proper needle, however I did feel the hole in the needle is a bit small for the thickness of the thread. But the thread does go through the needle O.K. Is there a way to determine if the needle is the right size when there is no manual?The history of this machine is that it belonged to my cousins father. It is very old, he used it to sew horse harness, so you know it is heavy duty. There are some adjustments on it that I have necer seen on a modern machine.No the stiches are not even on the top and bottom although after some fiddling they are closer to being right. My cousin also spent about half a day trying to get it to work and she decided to take the machine back and take the machine off the stand and put on a glass top and make a table from it. I cannot bear to let her do that, but since it was her fathers and thus an heirloom, I will have to give it back unless I can make it work.I am off now to the site suggested to check on manuals and I thank you for your advice. If you think of anything else, let me know.
      Yours truly

      1. ACheryl | | #10

        I learned on a treadle back in the dark ages. For the me, the cause of problems was ALWAYS the bobbin. They need to be filled as evenly as angels can do it [and I was no angel]. It may be you are not using the correct size needle or thread and that causes the thread to friz or break. I won't mention brands but buy good thread. I find the thread made in a small country with Alps <g> is less likely to break or friz but your mileage may vary.Also, and this a big one on Singer, do you have the needle in correctly? Singer was always backwards of everyone else. You pull the wheel towards you to start too.

  2. Elisabeth | | #2

    A manual is listed here http://pages.sewing-machine-manuals.com/173/InventoryPage/1833463/4.html You might try talking to the people in the yahoo group called "wefixit" where sewing machine shade tree mechanics discuss trouble shooting and fixing their various machines including old treadle machines. For starters, check to see that you have all the basics: good thread, new needle that fits your machine and the task, tension set correctly, machine threaded correctly and such. If any of these are off your machine will act like it is not able to sew. Good luck with your treasure of a machine, I'm envious!

    1. sedna | | #5

      Thanks again, I just checked the site you suggested and they do have a manual, which I ordered.

      1. Elisabeth | | #6

        If nothing is broken then I'm sure you can get it to work. I'm not familiar with the old Singer treadles at all, but thinking of it as a regular sewing machine you would probably have most luck setting it up with regular thread in the top and bobbin, with a medium sized universal needle and testing the stitching on a medium cotton, such as sheets are made of perhaps. Using heavier thread changes the situation for the machine and sometimes is a little tricky. The needle needs to be a type that can carry the thicker thread through the fabric. A topstitching needle, for example, has a larger eye and a deeper indentation called scarf along the shaft to accomodate the thicker thread. A jeans needle has some of the same. The points are different on different needles. Sometimes the threading route changes a little for heavier thread, the manual should help with that I hope. For now I suggest testing with average thread, needle and fabric and getting the machine to sew a nice even and balanced stitch with that if you haven't done so already. Don't give up anytime soon on this machine. The older sewing machines tended to be made extremely well and sew better than new ones today in many ways. Here is my green queen http://elisabethh.com/automatic21.htm This is an incredible machine ca. 1960. I love using it, runs like magic. I also have a nice computerized Viking from the 80's that I often use but this older one actually makes a nicer stitch.

        1. sedna | | #7

          Thanks Elisabeth, I had wanted to sew a canvass material so that is what I tried it on. It never occurred to me to try it on something easy and then work up to more dificult fabric after I got the machine more or less "set". Anyway I will try your suggestion, but not yet. I ordered the manual and today I got shipping confirmation and it should be here within a week. then we shall see what it can do. I will send you a note to tell you how it works out.The machine reminds me of a treadle machine my mother had when I was a child, but this one is a lot bigger and heavier. Besides being usefull if it still works, do these old machines have any value as antiques?
          Keith Price

          1. SewTruTerry | | #8

            In regards to your question do these machines have value as an antique?  Yes they do and especially if they still run.  I know several people right now that are green with envy that your cousin just gave it to you.   Now on to the most pressing issue how to get this machine to do what it is supposed to do.  Are you using Singer needles?  I will tell you that especially the Singer machines do not like to work with out having the right needle in place.  I spent many valuable hours and countless money taking my Singer machine in for service only to find out that I was using the wrong needle.  Also make sure you have the needle in correctly.  I know you said that you cleaned and lubricated the machine but what kind of lubricant did you use?  Most of my old Singer machines get nothing but 3-In-One oil.  Anything heavier than that and they seemed to gum up and get sluggish. And if there was improper oil used before you got the machine there is the possibliity that the oil has gone rancid. If this has happened you will notice a smell that can only be described as musty or old musty wet dog. If this is the case than the machine has to be throughly gone through and cleaned and then lubricated with the right oil.  Also make sure that you have oiled all of the areas that need oiling.  There should be spots around the machine to do this.  Finally good luck.

          2. Elisabeth | | #9

            I'm glad the manual is on the way! That should be a big help.A vintage machine in good working order does have antique value. Not so much that you shouldn't use it but certainly enough that it shouldn't be taken apart and the base be used as a table. The machine and table work together. I remembered this site http://www.treadleon.net/ Think of the treadle machine knowledge those people must have! Like all old machinery the Singer needs regular applications of fresh suitable oil (sewing machine oil) and if it has been sitting, a cleaning off of old oil gunk. Keep that WD-40 away from it!

  3. mimi | | #3

    Sounds like your machine just needs to be serviced (think about it:  if you bought a used car wouldn't you have a machanic look at it?).  Could just be a matter of cleaning it up!


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