Jan 15

The Free Sewing Machine Company

Another treadle machine followed me home. I couldn’t help it. She’s beautiful, and her cabinet is probably the nicest piece of furniture in the house. Beauty pics later; this is sort of a drive-by post. For now I’ll post the craigslist photos:



I have a lot of work ahead of me to fully restore this machine. She’s in by far the worst shape of the machines I’ve acquired so far, but oh, my. This machine is a whole nuther level of engineering up from the Singers. Wow.

Everything is lubed up and moving freely now, so I can start evaluating. The only thing stuck is the throat plate screw, which I worked around for lubrication purposes. I doused it liberally with WD-40 and I’m hoping that will remind it what the purpose of a screw is.

With just a little oil on its ball bearings the treadle spins 50 times from one kick before reversing directions, and then will sit there oscillating indefinitely. 50. My other irons go about 12, and I thought that was nice. I’m used to the momentum of spinning wheels, not these monster iron things.

Which, by the way, I have the bruise to prove. I was working on the drive band and pinched my thumb in the works. OW.


On the machine side of the engineering, I’m impressed by how finely pitched all the adjustment screws are. No need to turn the knobs 1/10th of a turn on this beauty. A full turn will barely make a perceptible difference in tension settings. The machine will also go a sizable number of stitches with one spin of the hand wheel. I didn’t count, but at least a dozen. Will C. Free appears to have been a big fan of ball bearings. All the major junction points have bearings that let the machine just glide. Quietly. Check out this YouTube video:

It’s even better in person.

There is a lot of corrosion and some pitting on the formerly shiny parts, and I haven’t gotten all the dead spiders out of the cabinet yet, but not too much rust all things considered. All of the functional parts are brightening up now that they’re moving.

And she makes stitches:


Pretty stitches, once I frobbed the shuttle a bit so the top thread could glide past without catching things got much nicer. Things are a bit lumpy in the background, but that last line of stitching is perfect. Flawless. Just what I would expect from this level of engineering.


I also noticed the stitch quality seemed to improve when I pushed the bobbin winder into play enough to tighten the drive band up, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me. And two footed treadling was definitely better; I can’t keep my treading smooth when I one-foot this beast.

I’m naming her Charlotte after my granny, who got me started with textiles. She had me knitting and sewing at 4, though even she couldn’t teach me to crochet. 🙂 Granny always appreciated the finest things in life. She lived modestly, but well. I believe she would have liked this machine.


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  1. yroger54

    So Jennifer,
    What was the problem you couldn’t get the machine out of the cabinet?


    1. Jennifer Leigh

      I didn’t find the release button in the front, and it wasn’t free anyway until I got some oil on it for a bit. I haven’t tried to pull it completely out now that I’m home because it’s more convenient for me to work on it in the cabinet. 🙂 I have flipped it up and cleaned it out & lubed it up, though!

  2. Dolores

    WD-40 is not good to use on sewing machines. It is a water displacement…but then as it dries it becomes thick and gummy. When needing to loosen things up..better to use Liquid Wrench and/or TrifFlow spray. I use both…I love Liquid Wrench….and I have TriFlow in liquid and spray…I use the liquid to lubricate the machine…and the treadles ‘joints’…..and use the spray mostly if I should be low on Liquid Wrench for ‘stuck’ parts….


    1. Jennifer Leigh

      I use triflow oil as my lubricant (and their grease on my more modern wheels) and tried that first to unstick the screw. When it didn’t work I spot applied a drip of WD-40 on the screw; I know what WD-40 is good for and what it is *not* good for.

      I just ordered some of this on a recommendation. “Break Free CLP-PS-10 Precision”

  3. nancy Drew

    I love my Free. I think it is the quietest and smoothest of my treadle machines. If you want to try out my cleaning tip, one that I learned from a longtime ‘Onion’ here it is. (Note, this is for metal parts not for paint or decals)

    Warm water in a shallow bowl and a couple of teaspoons of Oxyclean or equivalent generic cleaner. Let it dissolve. Put in the part and let it soak for a few minutes. You will see the brown grime bubbling off the metal. Even metal you thought was fairly clean. A soft toothbrush hastens the cleaning which usually doesn’t take longer than 5 – 10 minutes. That is all. Except rinse and dry well before returning it to the machine. Do that on the face plate I see in your picture and you will be amazed!

    My Free…http://2knitwits.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-free-sewing-machine.html

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      Would you try that on the bobbin winder, or is that too much Japaning to be safe?

      I discovered that there is a missing fitting for the thread path– the hook that should be on the front of the faceplate is missing. I’ve ordered a set of Singer 27 antique plates to replace the Free ones because I don’t think there’s a practical way to replace the spot welded wire that was the original hook. Which is a long way of saying I don’t necessarily need to clean that part. 🙂 But I will try your suggestion on the slid plates and inspection covers!

  4. Allison in North Texas

    Hi Jennifer, Thank you for your great post. I, too, brought home a Free in the very cabinet you pictured because it was so beautiful. However, mine is missing its three right drawers. It is also missing the mechanism that locks it in place once it is up. I’m thinking something is unhooked (a part of the chain is dangling) and the metal that rides in the groove of the lid is missing. You’ve solved the mystery though for how to get it out. I’m going to go attempt that now. Thank you again! Allison in Plano, TX

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      If you need pictures of the works, just let me know! Happy to help.

  5. Corrina Lynn Ricke

    I saved a free from a house that was falling down a few years back. I recently got it out of storage to clean up. The machine/cabinet is so pretty, but in such rough shape. I want to fix it up as best I can. Is there any way to date these machines?

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      I am not aware of anyone successfully dating them; I believe the records were all lost in one of the many sales of the company. If I recall correctly the remains of Free are now part of Janome, but it’s taken many transactions to get there.

      Mine is one of the earliest models made in Chicago, because it is older than the more common #5 but has the Chicago info on top.

  6. Gretchen Horwath

    Do you know what your the No. 5 was? I rescued one and am almost done restoring her. Just about to out her back together.

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      Can you clarify your question? I know quite a bit about the machine’s history; I researched and wrote an article for ISMACS last year.

  7. Sandy Hayes

    Hi I have bought a Rollos Rotoscillo treadle sewing machine I think its c1920 and know it was built in USA. The machine does not have the original bobbin case/carrier, would love to find one of these to be able to use this machine, if anyone can help me with some information on where I can obtain a bobbin case/carrier to fit it, I would be so grateful. Thanks in advance. Regards Sandy

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      The Free I have takes a standard Singer shuttle and shuttle case. Hope that helps!

  8. Rose Gold

    Hi I am looking for one drawer pull for my Free sewing machine. It is exactly like the one pictured. Any ideas where I could locate one?

    1. Jennifer Leigh

      I don’t think there’s a source for the drawer pulls. You might be able to get a metal worker to copy them; they are flat metal (I think copper?) that has been cut and beaten, so it wouldn’t take elaborate tools to manufacture a replacement.

      1. Rose

        Thanks. I appreciate your response.

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