Pedals for Progress has shipped sewing machines since 1999. In 2015 we created the Sewing Peace brand as a way to carry on our sewing machine activities separately from our bicycle activities. Publicizing sewing machine collections separately can be more effective than always making them part of our bike collections. And shipping sewing machines separately can be more effective because we can ship them to groups that specifically want sewing machines and may not even have a bicycle program. Plus we can ship a few dozen machines on a pallet rather than shipping an entire container, which costs much more. So we’re adding a new emphasis on sewing machines to our ongoing bike programs.
Most of the sewing machines we collect are electric portables. They are relatively small, and they add no shipping cost because they fit nicely nestled among bicycles in our regular shipping containers. Most customers of our overseas partners have reliable electricity, so the portables offer a great way to earn a living.
Besides electric portables, we also get a few old-fashioned treadle sewing machines, almost all made by Singer, which do not use electricity. These are gorgeous, well-built machines: almost entirely metal and super reliable. With occasional lubrication and a new belt every few decades, they can last 100 years or more. They are beautiful: the machines themselves, the cast-iron structure with the treadle and band wheel, and the wooden cabinets.
If we have room in a container of bicycles, we sometimes ship an entire treadle machine without disassembling it, wooden cabinet and all. But it takes up a lot of space — about the same as 4 bikes — so it is a questionable tradeoff for our bike-shop partners.
But now as part of our Sewing Peace program we sometimes ship sewing machines separately from bikes, and we’re trying a new way of shipping treadle machines.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve accumulated about a dozen of these treadle machines, so we decided to disassemble them and ship everything except the wooden cabinets, which are just too big. We put the sewing machines themselves into our standard Sewing Peace cardboard shipping boxes. We zip-tie the metal support structure together with the treadle and band wheel. We can load up a pallet with four walls of boxed sewing machines, electric and manual; and then we put the metal stands inside the walls of boxes.
Our overseas customers are incredibly resourceful and creative. We feel certain that, even without the wooden tables and drawers, they will be able to build whatever they need to make the machines useful.
We believe that even our customers with electricity will appreciate these machines. And we do still occasionally get requests from partners where electricity is scarce or unreliable: from parts of Fiji and Africa, for example.
Here’s hoping that these wonderful old treadle machines find new lives abroad and offer another way for people in our partner countries to make a living.