Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coming Home - circa 1880s Remington Treadle Sewing Machine

1880s Remington No. 5 Treadle Sewing Machine

Oh my goodness--look what hubby Jon found in our barn Sunday afternoon!  And if you read the entire post you'll discover who owned this machine!

Beneath all the rust and crud is a circa 1880s Remington fiddle base sewing machine.  Jon found its walnut half cabinet with three drawers on a wrought iron base too--its all there.  Well almost all there. We're searching for missing bits and think we have a chance at a full restoration.

Let me just show you how far we've taken the restoration in the last two days.

Yep--that's the same machine.  Our friend Jerry Johnson (expert vintage and antique sewing machine restorer) has 15 or so hours into cleaning, oiling, and removing rust from metal parts.

Here's the throat plate, needle shaft, needle thumb screw, and presser foot, frozen in years of rust.
Can't even see the feed dogs or its cover w/screw.

Polished throat plate, feed dogs cover, presser foot, needle shaft and needle thumb screw

The vibrating shuttle and long bobbin pins are missing.  I tried a 1904 Singer shuttle and a White (New Willard) shuttle c 1930s, but both are too short for this c1880s Remington No. 5 by almost 1/4".  But I'm searching for those items.  The original needle (now clean and rust free) is round and longer in length than what I expected to see.  So, there's still quite a bit of research to do.

Thursday 12 Mar - we borrowed a leaf tension spring and shuttle from a friend Cathy to see if my husband Jon can machine a new leaf tension.  Perhaps there will be a test sew on the Remington this weekend

Our friend Norm who owns/operates Barber's Sewing Machine Repair in Stevens Point reviewed the Remington on Thursday.  He said the borrowed leaf tension is a good fit, and identified the shuttle and bobbin as as a Boye No. 13.  Although Norm has many old shuttles in his stash, he didn't have a No. 13.  He measured the original needle; closest fit is a Boye No. 8.  He had 5 of those old needles in stock and I bought all 5.

This morning I found one  No. 13 shuttle with one bobbin on Ebay.  Quickly we're finding the missing pieces.  

Removing rust from the throat plate, sewing machine oil and fine steel wool

I've been working on removing rust from smaller metal pieces with sewing machine oil and steel wool: throat plates, tension screw, stitch length screw, and pressure foot.  I can only say--it is hours and hours of sore knuckle work.  Jerry says, it takes three things to restore an old sewing machine: Patience, Patience, and Patience.

Before and after of the throat plates

Patent Dates

The hand wheel shaft was frozen solid with rust, but Jerry managed to free it up over a period of several hours using WD40.  Nudging and gentle tapping--the stuck hand wheel and the needle shaft. 

At first nothing, then a bit of movement, then a little more, and gradually we were squealing like little pigs.  Jaws dropping--astonished as he got it spinning like a top--and enjoying the precious sound of choo-ga, choo-ga, choo-ga as the needle shaft and feed dogs sang their song.  

The leaf tension located on top of the machine.  
The metal tension springs are missing, but we are hopeful to find some.  

As a newbie to the wide wide world of antique sewing machines, I'd never seen machine tension presented as anything other than a dial with tension discs and spring.  So the leaf tension is a surprise to me.

At first glance you can barely make out the name Remington
To the right is a partial view of the rusty tension guide.

Polished stitch length adjust, and bobbin winding assembly

This is a very plain approach to bobbin winding--usually you see a heart shaped governor that guides thread left to right and back again dispensing thread evenly over the bobbin pin.  So until I ask more questions, I am thinking one has to hold on to the thread to guide it back and forth to fill the bobbin.  

The hand wheel is really big--bigger than I've seen on other machines.

Jerry believes the fancy designs could be hand painted rather than decalcomania (decals).  I noticed the hand painting is very faded (nearly non-existent) on the backside and top of the machine. I suppose it is the result of sun exposure in a window where one would sit to sew?

If you have more information about this Remington No. 5, please leave us a note.  I would love to hear from you.

This weekend, I'll work on the rusty wrought iron base, while Jon is making a new pitman rod.  I think I understand this correctly, as Jon showed me  the broken pitman rod--it is a wood arm with drilled holes--and it connects to the foot pedal and treadle wheel that turns the belt to power the sewing machine.


I saved the best information for last.  Looking over the machine cabinet Jon pointed out--some child wrote in pencil on the side of one of the cabinet drawers, "Gusta was sick today."  Oh my goodness, the second owner of our house Thomas and Maren Quien had three daughters and one son:  Ragnhild, Gusta, Peter, and Bessie.  I'm guessing this  Remington No. 5 Treadle Machine belonged to Maren Quien.  I'm so very happy.  Her sewing machine has come home.


  1. Great job, congratulations!

    Just a little advice regarding the WD-40 oil. It is not exactly a stable lubricant suitable for delicate machinery; over time it tends to thicken and attract dust, and it can become so gluey that it tends to jam the mechanisms. In the typewriter collecting community we've found that WD-40 is very perjudicial in the long term, so we avoid it when it comes to lubricate our typewriters.

    The consensus around this community is that the precision mechanisms of typewriters (and sewing machines) can be cleaned with carburetor cleaner or some other degreaser, and then lubricated with some very light and stable oil. Singer, for instance, makes, or used to make a very good-quality light oil for sewing machines; or you could get some light oil of the kind used to lubricate guns.

    Hope this help a bit.

    P.S.: I really enjoy your blog!

  2. Thanks Miguel for your word of caution. We agree with you.

    We re-state Jerry used WD40 in one area: the hand wheel, to free it up because the rust had locked it down down tight and it just wouldn't turn at all.

    In that instance only we felt a bit of WD40 could help the situation and it was allowed to sit for an hour. Sure enough, it worked.

    We use sewing machine oil for cleaning and lubricating our sewing machines.

    If you re-read the article you'll see I mentioned several times we used sewing machine oil to clean.

    Like you, Singer sewing machine oil is my favorite. I confess I use it to clean and shine the machine exterior surface too. A couple drops on a soft cloth.

    Once the machines are up and running, for maintenance--we follow suggested guidelines for lubricating; some areas need only one drop.

  3. Dear Mrs. D.,

    This is such an exciting story. As you might know, I collected antique toy sewing machines from the same period, and my fascination with them had largely to do with the incredible decal work that they all sported. That you and your friend were able to clean the machine so thoroughly and retain the decals (or hand-painting) is just amazing. Congratulations!

  4. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for sharing. I didn't know you collect antique toy sewing machines--that is fabulous! Have you blogged about this on your website? I want to see--tell me more.

    Tell me, are you familiar with leaf tension springs?

    Tomorrow we are going to review a treadle machine that has (top tension) leaf tension springs--those are missing on my machine.

    I'm carrying a camera and the Remington machine with me to see if the their leaf tension springs fit. And, if they fit I'll make some tracings around the leaf tension springs to develop a reference folder as I look for a few parts I need.

    I received email from a person who has several large vibrating shuttles and long bobbins for sale--we think they may well fit my No. 5 Remington.

    The search is fun. I'm learning new things, and of course reading the history of these sewing machines is entertaining.

  5. What a beauty! Isn't it amazing the treasure that sometimes lurks under dirt and rust? You have a real find there, and that it ties in with the history of your beautiful house it just bonus.

  6. Thanks Elaine for stopping by and commenting about our Remington No. 5 sewing machine.

    Update: we borrowed a leaf tension spring and shuttle from a friend Cathy who has a 1910 New Home. With luck we'll try a test run this soon.

    Hope the Quien grandchildren stop by our post to see their grandma Maren's sewing machine.

  7. Oh what a find. Have you named her yet? Or am I the only one who names sewing machines?

  8. I am selling my Remington No. 5, but am here in Seattle. Contact me for details and picture. I have a copy of the owner's manual, walnut treadle cabinet, box cover and a few pieces. I am an old house person and need some more room for my hand crank Singer. Loved your article.

  9. I am looking for a manual for my Remington New No.5 treadle sewing maching. Where can I get a copy of the manual?. I noticed that you had one with your machine. If you could make a copy I would appreciate it, as I have a hard time locating one. I will reimburse you the cost. Please get back to me at this email address. Thank you

  10. Dear anonymous,

    As owner of 1893 Victorian Farmhouse blog, I am replying to your question. I do not have a manual for my Remington No. 5 Treadle sewing machine. I see Ms. Serafin left a comment about having a copy of the owner's manual, but I note also that her profile information is private--so she cannot be reached.

    There is a great yahoo group called Treadle On. Through that group you may be able to obtain the Remington No. 5 Treadle sewing machine manual. I'll give it a try on your behalf as I am a member of that group.

    Best wishes,
    Mrs. D

  11. Lovely machine. So glad you know some of it's history. I wish I knew the history of my vintage machines.

  12. Thanks to the writer of this article. I appreciate your effort in making this informational blogs. I know it's not easy to do this but you have done a really great job. Congrats. I'm pretty sure your readers enjoying it a lots.


  13. Hi, I have the same machine, exact same patent plates, I have just got it to work and ready to wind the first bobbin. This is so exciting.... would you know where I could get a copy of a manual?