Posted in Sewing

The Free Sewing Machine Company

January 15, 2014 - 12:00 pm

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.



Deborah Robson

January 15, 2014 12:00 pm

You’re going to have me getting my old treadle machine back in action yet. I just got it back in my house (it’s been 1200 miles away for a number of years). With its cabinet, of course. I used to love using it. When it made a stitch, it made a STITCH. I love the activity of treadling, too.

Welcome to Charlotte!

Sharon Weaver

October 30, 2014 12:00 pm

Can you please tell me which needle the Free uses?

Jennifer Leigh

October 31, 2014 12:00 pm

It uses a standard “universal” needle, happily. 🙂

Margaret Hanson

January 21, 2016 12:00 pm

I would love to get my “Free” machine up and running. She is missing a few parts. Any idea where I can purchase these parts? She is missing her bobbin and case, one of her plate covers and a belt.

Jennifer Leigh

January 21, 2016 12:00 pm

Do you have a picture? I pulled apart a “parts” Free so I would have spares. I may have the plate cover you need.

The model I have takes a standard Singer bobbin and shuttle, and any treadle belt will work on any treadle, as long as the belt is long enough.

Ann Smith

June 14, 2016 12:00 pm

I am going to look at a Free #5 this evening. May I contact you if I need parts? Is this a clone to a Singer 27?

Jennifer Leigh

June 14, 2016 12:00 pm

It is not a clone. There are a lot of similarities, but only the shuttle and needles are interchangeable.

I have a parts head, but it’s the head that came before the #5, so I don’t know how many of the parts would transfer.

Ann Smith

June 14, 2016 12:00 pm

thanks, I did buy the machine, everything seems to work ok on it, all components are moving. It has a belt and I’m able to use the treadle. Fabric did move thru the feed dog. Extremely dirty and dry, both machine and cabinet, will take some elbow grease. Any advise how to clean the decals? I don’t want to ruin them. I was surprised to see the leg irons painted a brown instead of the usual black.

Jennifer Leigh

July 5, 2016 12:00 pm

Hi! I have another article on cleaning the machine, including the decals, here:

The brown color is how the irons were initially finished. Will C. Free apparently thought it looked much nicer with the wood than black did. The brown color is mentioned in several of the early advertisements as a decorative feature.

Ann Smith

July 5, 2016 12:00 pm

Good article, thanks for sharing. I have the machine mostly cleaned, I haven’t tried too hard on the stencils, now I know what to do. My husband offered me TriFlow, I was afraid to try it. My cabinet is a parlor cabinet, it’s really neat how the treadle raises up into the cabinet when the machine is lowered. With a closed cabinet, you have no idea there is a sewing machine in there. Reminds me of a music cabinet. My cabinet finish was mostly gone, I have the wood about ready to stain.

Aundre Lewis

July 12, 2016 12:00 pm

I have a Free no.5 model No. C94692 that looks just like yours. It has no belt but turns freely and the cabinet is in great condition. What do you suppose it is worth? I have all parts.

Jennifer Leigh

July 12, 2016 12:00 pm

No idea. These machines have no intrinsic or collectible value. It’s all about how much an individual feels it’s worth to them. at a guess, for an unrestored head in a nice cabinet, between $50 – $80.

Joan Anderson

August 19, 2017 12:00 pm

Hi, so nice to find your site. I just bought a Free#5 treadle at an Estate Sale for $30. I don’t even have it home yet. The cabinet top is in rough shape, but it looked like the original. I opened the top and took a picture of the machine and then had to leave it. Can’t wait to start playing with it. Hope I can still contact you with questions. Thanks.

Jennifer Leigh

August 31, 2017 12:00 pm

Please feel free to reach out any time!

Melody note

December 4, 2017 12:00 pm

Do you have a date for this machine? The cabinet is the same as the one I just bought and I am trying to find out a bit more about it. Thank you in advance.

Jennifer Leigh

December 4, 2017 12:00 pm

I don’t have a date, but from what I’ve seen the cabinet didn’t change for at least the first decade. The mold for the head and the decals changed a couple times in that period.


December 4, 2019 12:00 pm

recently acquired The Free Sewing machine in the same cabinet and has rotoscillo mechanism (as in video). It is in great condition, has lots of attachments and a manual. Would be willing to share a pdf of the manual. It is one of the most quiet running machines I have ever heard,

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