DIY Treadle Sewing Machine Desk with Drawers

Inspired by this desk by Lacey Ackerman, I found an antique 1903 Singer Treadle Sewing Machine and set out to create my dream sewing table and desk. Simple, iron strong, elegant, repurposed, and custom made with a hint a irony (ha! iron-y: and punny).  The machine was rusting, although still mostly workable so I wanted to reuse as much of the hardware as possible and make a desk that could be reversed back into its original form if need be.  I re-used all of the same screws, and made sure to make no new holes or marks in the various parts that were still usable from the original.

You will need:

  • A Singer Treadle Sewing Machine Table (machine not necessary)
  • 2+ salvaged boards of the same thickness (1″ or more)
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Wood-joining hardware.  What the heck are these things called? (See step 6)
  • Sandpaper
  • Courage

Step 1

Get your boards cut to the same length.  I went to Ashby Lumber, but that’s probably not that helpful to you if you live in New Hampshire.  Someone told me Home Depot might do it.  Call them to ask first.

Step 2

Sand those boards down as well as you can to avoid future splinters. Paint them if you’re into that sort of thing.

Step 3

I found that the hinges that held the machine in the box were rather stubborn.  Come at them with some real confidence and they’ll give in to you.

Step 4

Losen, or if you prefer, Loosen the hooks on the sides of the machine from the bottom of the drawers before unscrewing the whole wooden top from the base.

This is the good time for the bottom to get all dolled up and freshened for a night on the town while it’s single.  Clean it up and help it forget about it’s former top.  It was falling apart anyway.  There’s plenty of wood in the forest and it will find a good top soon.

Step 5

Despite what the image shows you, do NOT stick lipstick into the screws.  Use a properly proportioned screwdriver.

Step 6

Perhaps embarrassing, perhaps my strategic vulnerability when it comes to hardware and know-how, perhaps my deeply ingrained training in femininity… but I have no idea what that thing is called.  I am open to creative and informative suggestions.

Step 7


Step 8

Set the drawer cage against the side of the iron legs on top of the upside-down table.  Set the hooks to the spot where they grab onto the iron legs, perhaps not firmly, but however they can manage.  Then screw them in place before moving on to connect the cage to the table’s top.

Step 9

After attaching the cage to the table top, insert the drawers and take a few victory laps around your living room.

BONUS?!  Read on…

Step A

One of the drawers from the original piece was broken beyond my repair, so I quickly re-purposed it into a mini shelf for my power piece.

  • Like the golden flower “wallpaper” looking design? I made it with a stalk of celery! (see how-to concept here)
  • Like the artwork on the left?  Check out Cathy McMurray’s amazing work on Etsy here.
  • Like the sneak peak of the art quilt on the right?  Check back soon, because I’ll show you what I consider to be my favorite masterpiece.
  • Want to learn more about the Treadle Sewing Machine?  Here‘s a cool history about the Singer Sewing Machine.

About Cheyenne

I like to call myself an attractivist. Not just because of my striking good looks but because I am committed to activism based in crafting, creating, and taking risks, not just criticism and resistance to how things are. I believe that in order for us to see what else is possible, we need to let go of what is. You can’t just put whipped cream atop of a pile of shit and call it dessert. First you need to get a shovel. I am fascinated by digging in and taking apart concepts, objects, and perspectives to see how they work. In the process I might see another way, or at least find a way to disrupt a dominant view of reality. I live in Berkeley, CA with my partner of nine years, our two cats, and a ridiculous spread of crafting items, feminist theory literature, and strategy board games. My favorite show is Twin Peaks, my favorite color is orange, and I take my cream and sugar with a little bit of coffee. I have a Masters in Women's Studies from SFSU and the equivalent of a Masters working at Cafe Gratitude as their Office Manager. I'm currently also the Media Director for Get That You Matter, a company dedicated to us all stepping up in our responsibility and worthiness. I love love, create crafts, and am thrilled to unravel things.
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12 Responses to DIY Treadle Sewing Machine Desk with Drawers

  1. Joanne says:

    Wondering what became of the machine? As a collector of vintage treadle machines I can only hope it did not end up in the salvage yard. Contact me if you still have it and would be interested in passing it on.

    • Cheyenne says:

      Oh I would never!! I kept everything that I didn’t use and the machine is sitting beautifully atop my craft storage center. What a wonderful and unique choice of collecting that is: treadle machines.
      As soon as I found it I researched a little and found it to be (in my humble opinion) a rather common machine and I presume factory made, so I decided not to try to refurbish it.

      • Joanne says:

        Awesome!!! So glad you kept the machine. Your model 27 was most likely made in the late 1800′s-early 1900′s and although common in many households, at the time, what is less common is, what appears to be from the photos, the overall condition. While not “collector quality” the “phesant” decals are quite vivid and appear to be for the most part all intact and all metal shiny parts look like they may just need a quick polish. In my searches the “pheasant” decaled machines are a bit harder to come by. Most seen on Craigslist and Ebay are the “Sphinx/Memphis” and “Tiffany/Gingerbread” and “Lotus” designs. Your machine can also be converted with a hand crank and set in a box base should you ever choose to use it. Love that you re-purpose!!! I will be working on two similar tables from the bases. Tiling the tops with broken vintage china plates salvaged from thrift stores. Also considering cutting some of the drawers in half , as well as the frames, Inserting new backs and making a 8 drawer cabinet of some kind. They seem a bit deep once removed from the original base. Thanks for letting me share your journey!

      • Cheyenne says:

        OOH that all sounds incredible! Do you have a website or a means of sharing that transformation??
        Also, thank you so much for letting me know about the machine. That’s so great to know, and for the record I did have a minute of wondering what I could do to get it running again although was practical enough to know that having the whole table/treadle with the machine would take up 40% of my entire tiny workspace and that wasn’t doable. Good to know that it can function without the treadle. I really love the idea of a mosaic top, what ingenuity! If you have a website I’d be happy to put a link to a tutorial you make on this blog post to share the love <3 (of Treadle machines ;)

  2. Thanks for the shout out! Always nice you hear you inspired ideas!

  3. Susan Ross says:

    Thanks for the great step-by-step. I inherited one similar to this from dear MIL, now departed. I’ve had it for a number of years, trying to decide what to do with it. Recently I’ve taken up machine knitting and have been looking for a way to refit the treadle base so I could get 2 machines on it. Actually, my SIL will be doing the work, he’s great with these kinds of projects, but step-by-steps are wonderful. Your pictures are detailed and clear. This is really great.

    • Cheyenne says:

      Thanks Susan! I cracked myself with most of these photos and my supreme lack of knowledge on the parts. Photos are the way to go ;)
      Machine knitting?? Two machines on one treadle?? Make sure to take a photo (or a video, better yet) of it in full swing! It sounds magical and complex. Good luck!

  4. Sharon says:

    Yes, I just started collecting the machines. The pheasant decal is pretty rare. Also, the table is cool, but the treadle cabinet seemed like it was in pretty nice condition. Almost made me heartsick to see it taken apart. There are lots of cabinets in less salvageable condition that probably should be made into tables!

    • Cheyenne says:

      Oh I understand. That is why I kept every nut and bolt for putting back together if wanted. Even in the drawers the previous owner had kept bobbins, threaders, and a special serger foot attachment. It was quite a find!
      I completely agree that we should be more conscious about what we are taking apart and be mindful with precious items that are in great condition. Cutting up a perfectly good shirt for the fabric is a sin, as is destroying an antique. I wrote critique and solution to consumptive crafts with my three laws of crafting consciously here if you’re interested ;) http://deconstructioncrafts.com/2012/04/09/problematic-crafting/

  5. Leonel says:

    Excelent post. I used to be checking continuously tbis weblog and I am inspired!
    Extremely helpful info particularly the ultimate phase :) I deal with
    such information a lot. I was seeking this certain information
    for a long time. Thanks and best off luck.

  6. Sam S says:

    Great instructions! though instead of using the joining brackets, might I suggest using a pocket hole, the connection would be a lot smoother and tighter. BTW I am a complete novice and with the pocket contraption its really easy!

    • Cheyenne says:

      Interesting! Thanks Sam. Looking at google images of pocket holes, I’m not clear on how they would interact on the repurposed wood. Is the idea that I could drill holes into the wood to create the placement for the screws?

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