THIS PAGE IS A VARIETY OF POSTS CONTAINING INFORMATION ON PACKING AND SHIPPING ANTIQUE SEWING MACHINES:
(Original FAQ prepared by Marie Pintar from posts to the "Treadle On" list. Subsequently added to by others. What we have now is a series of statements regarding various people's methods of packaging. It is suggested that you print out and read them all before deciding on what will work best for you.)
Suppose your house is so over filled with your collection that your dear patient spouse can barely move from room to room, and you are considering moving all the living room furniture into permanent storage to better house your collection. While you may enjoy this thought, the rest of the family definitely will not. One novel approach to clearing some space is to pack a few of them off to Mom's. So far my mom has been the gleeful recipient of 3 antique sewing machines. They make great presents, and if I'd like to visit this annex of my collection, free room and board are included. Or you may find your self on a vacation far from home. With 9 kids and the family dog, there's just no way to get that treadle into the family car. What do you do? Mail it to yourself! it's no use trying to mail kids and dogs, the post office just won't accept them.
In order to be mailed, sewing machines need to be separated into their basic parts. Fortunately this is very simple. Please never leave any sewing machine in a wooden case to mail it. I can promise you if you do this, the case will not survive. A wooden case does not stand a chance against a 35 pound cast iron sewing machine head. To add further insult to injury, the wood fragments will scratch the sewing machine beyond belief. I've never seen this myself, but I've heard accounts of the victims of such ill planning. If you have a portable, you only need 2 boxes, one for the head and one for the case. Treadle owners will have to read on. If you are mailing a needle, please remove it from the machine, put a tiny dot of nail polish or model paint to indicate which side of the needle faces the machine. Put the needles in one of those little plastic cases needles are packed in. If you leave it on the machine and it breaks, you will have an inch long projectile loose in your box that is sharp at each end. This can cause incredible damage.
Pack your sewing machine as if it were worth its weight in gold, and fragile as a soapbubble, because it is! You will need a box with at least 4 inches extra space in all directions, including top and bottom. Consider your box. Double boxing is considered essential by many. I would also advise re-inforcing the corners by taping corners cut off other boxes to the inside of your box. Capt Dick likes to re-inforce the bottom of his boxes with a frame made of 2x2's. I think the lighter wooden strips used for baseboards and window sills are fine. I cut them to fit inside the bottom of the box, and nail them together to form a "picture frame" inside the bottom if the box. Not being a carpenter, I put the strips in the box and then nail them together with finishing nails. This makes sure it is square, and after 2 or 3 unsuccessful tries, this is easier for me.
Careful selection of padding is the next step. Styrofoam peanuts are the absolute worse. The sewing machine will settle to the bottom, and the peanuts will rise to the top, much like the toy in a box of cereal. Peanuts just aren't any good for something this heavy. Some good ideas are bubble wrap, upholstery foam, egg crates, pillows from thrown away furniture, empty fabric bolts(free at your favorite shop) and wadded newspaper. Just putting a neatly folded newspaper in won't help and only adds weight.
"I double bubble wrap the machine head and then fold the cardboard bolt holders in half and lay a couple on the floor of the shipping box. This gives the machine a thick cushion on the bottom. Then I pack as many of the folded bolt holders around the machine as I can, and place two or three more on the top before closing up the box. This gives the machine a very thick wall of non shifting cardboard protection. It really strengthens the box and is still lightweight. I have had many a compliment using this method of packing, and never a damaged machine. What's more a couple of my quilting customers have used the bolt holders for their stash of fabric afterwards. Now that's what I call recycling."
Georgina -- Athens, GA
OK, now let's take care of the treadle stand since we've gotten the head and the top taken care of. You will have to take it apart, and either you or someone who has never even seen it will have to put it together. Be prepared for the worse by taking lots of pictures. Take pictures of every conceivable angle. Take pictures during the process. label all those little things, because by the time you get home, you will not remember what they are! What could be worse than to get the machine of a life time and spend a lifetime putting it back together without instructions? You can get giant boxes from appliance stores. The boxes from a huge TV or a washing machine can be cut down short and the excess card board used to reinforce the box.
Box 1. In the first box I put the 2 legs, tied together with rags, with a pillow in-between. Make sure they don't touch each other or move when tied. These will be very heavy boxes. Be sure to pack them carefully.
Box 2. crossbar, footpedal, wheel, tighten wheel so it doesn't turn at all, pillow between brace and pedal, tied together, tons of foam, filled in spaces with bubble wrap. Wrap the wheel in foam.
Box 3. Table top. This was one solid piece of oak. triple wrapped in foam, then bubble wrapped, then more foam. Even the biggest 7 drawer cabinet can be sent this way. Make sure the wood is not all dried out. Dry wood is very brittle.
Box 4. Put the small stuff, drawers, attachments, etc., in a separate box. I simply put each bolt back in the hole it came from, and tighten it enough so that it can't move. I'd like to say I find the US Mail much more reliable than UPS. They pay without hassling you to death. OK, they are slower, but I think they are safer. I mailed this entire treadle with insurance for about $60. Also, figuring each box was vital, and all was lost without all five, I insured each box for the entire value, and estimated shipping costs. If all 5 boxes, had gone astray, I could have donated 4 sm's to charity, and still broke even. My DH has a theory that the mail is more careful of a $250 box, than a $50 box.
"Also wanted to add a comment with regard to Mailboxes, Etc. Supposedly since
they're independently owned (at least I think that's the case) you can't really generalize about them, but I do know their store in Delmar, NY did an EXCELLENT job with several machines I shipped to AZ! It didn't really cost that much extra for them to do the packing, and the person I was shipping to figured it was worth the additional cost - and I sure was glad NOT to be responsible for their safety in transit! All the machines arrived at her house in excellent condition, even one where she said the outer box was pretty badly damaged. She said the machine had been so well packed inside, that it was still fine. Again, only MY experience, but I'd sure choose that method if it were up to me!"
Suzy McClure in Castleton, NY
"The very best packing material in my view is the plastic bubble sheets. However, very expensive if you get lots. I use big boxes... the weight is going to put you into the high UPS rates anyway, so there is no sense in trying to stay under the 84" requirement for minimum rates. I generally use a box about 20" cube, and cut the top corners down by 4 or 5 inches, then fold the top in... main thing is, have enough box that some protection can be inserted on all sides. I like to save old boxes and use the cut up pieces cut to size to reinforce the sides of the boxes. I have also been know to stick pieces of 2 x 2 wood into the corners... keeps it from being crushed. Since Ann does marine upholstery, we have lots of foam rubber scraps around, and I use a lot of that. I also use the foam peanuts, but only because I get lots of them in stuff shipped to me. If I had my way, they would be illegal. Tightly crushed newspaper is also good, if you use enough of it. Have not had occasion to ship a bentwood top, but the advice to do so separately is sound.... I have gotten two with the handle driven through the top. Use lots of packing protection, and pack tight.... Remember, these things weigh a lot, and will work themselves some space if they are not in tight. Once they have some space and start moving around, look out. Do not be afraid to pay for shipping... it is expensive, but how else are we gonna move our babies? I figure an average shipping cost of $30, and often find that not quite enough. Re FW's. have shipped them and Sewhandy's in cases.. they fit so well and are light enough it has not been a problem, but I do put packing in the case with them to hold them in place. Hope that helps."
It has been pointed out that remailer service companies, such
as Mail Boxes Etc. and similar firms, are businesses and do charge for their
services. Don't be surprised if you end up paying more for your shipping through
these services than you would if you take your package to the Post Office or
UPS yourself, or had UPS pick up directly. On the other hand, many folks are
not used to packing stuff and the remailers have the materials and will do the
packing for you. You should be there to help or give them a copy of this document
since they don't know sewing machines and you do. Naturally, if they do the
packing and supply the materials, the cost of shipping is going to go up. These
outlets are franchises and are as good or bad as the owner wants them to be.
If you use them regularly, you can develop a personal relationship where the
owner or employees know you, know what you are shipping and provide great service.
I mail stuff almost daily. If I had to drive to the Post Office, find parking
and stand in line, I'd go nuts. I do my own packing, but I mail from a local
remailer who is right up the hill from my house, and I treasure their service.
Others have complained bitterly about tremendous cost markups and poor service.
Caveat Emptor· as always.
From Dick Wightman again· I was recently asked for packing instructions specifically for the old bentwood cased portables. There is some repeat here, but I thought it might prove helpful:
Now, on to better things... packing. Yes, I have always shipped the bentwoods as a unit, and have not lost one yet. (Praise God!) Could be blind luck, but here is what I do. First, I use a really grossly oversize box.. Hang on, I think I have one in the basement with the measurements on it...... Nope, I didn't...but I believe it is 24" x 24" x 20". You might post Carolyn Jones on the list... she just received a machine from me and most likely still has the box.
The first thing I do is use cloth strips to wrap around the base and over the deck, like a bandage. I wrap it tight. Don't wrap it so much you can't get the lid on and fastened. This is primarily a layer to protect the wood finish and the deck from the next step, which is reinforced strapping tape. This set-up keeps the machine from breaking away from the base, which is what usually does the damage. next, I take the handle off and package it in a plastic bag. Second source of damage is the handle being driven through the top. Likewise, if it is an electric and there is a foot control, I package it separately. These will be slipped into the shipping box, in whatever odd corner seems appropriate, but not in the bentwood case. Next, I wrap the head in as much bubble wrap as I can and still get the top on and locked. I wrap it around the pillar end, around the end plate end, and try to fill the area under the arm and the area over the arm. I either put a piece of styrofoam over the spool pin or remove it and pack it with the handle. I have used foam rubber rather than bubble wrap inside the case when needful, but I prefer the bubble wrap, and even more prefer the bubble wrap that has the small bubbles. When this is done, you can again wrap "bandage" around the whole case with cloth to protect the finish, and then use reinforced tape to insure the hold of the top on the base... to be honest, I don't always do this, but I think I would if it were an overseas shipment.
If I can, I use extra pieces of cut up cardboard to reinforce the bottom and sides of the box... this is really a big help. If you can round up used appliance boxes, they are great for cutting pieces the size you need.
My wife is in the boat upholstery business, so I have lots of very stiff grade expanded foam scraps from her making mattresses. This is not soft squishy foam, but pretty stiff stuff. I put a layer of really stiff foam in the bottom of the box, usually three inches or so, depends on whether we're long on 3" or 4" scrap. (this is not styrofoam, which actually has little give to it, but what most folks refer to as foam rubber, though it is purely a synthetic product used in mattresses and cushions). Then I set the machine (in it's case) in the box, centered on the foam, and cut foam pieces to pack around it... both sides and end. The side and end padding is cut to match the height of the top of the machine. (I'm not talking precise here, just roughly). There are usually some spaces in between the various pieces of side and end padding, since I am using scraps. I fill these with expanded styrofoam peanuts, to keep the pieces of foam from shifting. Also, of course, the bentwood top leaves spaces to be filled with peanuts. (Note: On ocassion, I have used really tightly wadded up newspaper as the side and end padding, and it did work, but I prefer what I described above) Finally, a layer of foam rubber over the top, then another reinforcing cardboard.
I tape the devil out of the whole box, label every side with a big arrow and This End Up and Fragile. Oh, yes, address and return address inside as well as out, but you know that.
I think that in the absence of the kind of foam I use, bubble pack would do as well. You might try establishing a connection with some upholsters and seeing if they would let you take scrap foam. I know Ann has a heck of a time getting rid of it.... or, alternatively, find some outfit that redoes cushions and see if you can get some old ones to cut up. Oh, yes, clever trick #256... use an old electric carving knife from the thrift store to cut foam... really works well!
OK, there it is. Now you can see why I whine about all the shipping I have been doing. Shipping just a head is soooo much easier... and cheaper because of the smaller size. The packing described generally costs me $45 to ship in the States. Payment is based on volume, with an assumed minimum weight of 30 pounds, which is usually exceeded anyway. To be honest, I am not sure about the cost of shipping in two boxes. Because we pay by volume, it just frosts me to pay the same rate to ship the top as to ship the base...
A few more thoughts on shipping sewing machines...
Prepare the machine for shipping: remove anything that is loose or can work itself loose, including needles, presser foot, attachments, bobbin or shuttle. It's helpful to put these items in a ziplock bag - but be sure to wrap them with tissue paper or some other padding. Also remove the machine head from its wooden base.
If possible, remove the hand crank and wrap it in padded material. If you have a small box to put it in, do so - and tape the box shut. If the hand crank is impossible to remove - pad it and pad it again! Depending on the situation, I may also remove the bobbin winder and wrap it.
Wrap the machine's vulnerable areas (hand wheel, bobbin winder, needle bar, spool pin)in padded material. Now wrap the machine in SEVERAL layers of padded material.
Check with your local SM dealer for empty SM shipping boxes - the styrofoam inserts work great for protecting vintage SMs as well. Pad the vulnerable areas, then pack the machine in the styrofoam "form", then wrap the entire thing in more padded material!
I like plastic bubble wrap for shipping machines - the kind with the larger, puffier bubbles. I have also used upholstery stuffing remnants for padding the machine head, and old batting, mattress pads and old foam pillows for padding.
Double-walled shipping boxes are good, two boxes inside of each other with styrofoam peanuts or newspaper in the "dead" space are even better. Styrofoam peanuts should only be used as box filler afer the machine is securely wrapped. Mash down the styrofoam peanuts to remove as much air space as possible. Crushed newspaper is also a good filler - after securely wrapping the machine. Rule of thumb - nothing should be moving in that box after the packing is finished.
Follow the same guidelines for wrapping the machine base & cover. Wrap each piece individually in padded material. If there's room, place the box containing the hand crank inside the wrapped case cover. Fill any remaining space in the box with packing material so nothing moves.
Be sure to use two separate boxes - one for the machine head, one for the wooden base and case cover. Tape all of the box openings securely - don't foget to securely tape the bottom of the box. I also tape in several directions around the girth of the box - kind of like straps around the box.
Insure, insure, insure! It's very helpful to have documentation to verify the amount for which you've insured the machine.
I came up with a wonderful discovery today re packing machines. I hate foam peanuts. They float all over. I tried putting them into plastic bags. WOW best packing I have found yet. You can mold the bag around and into openings and squish it and the peanuts stay put... this is a
really, really neat thing and I recommend it.
Virtual New Orleanian
Addendum by Capt. Dick: re Angie's packing note, she pretty much says it all, and in fact I am going to add her instruction to the several already on the packing page. I would add only that if you are using styrofoam peanuts, don't just use them loose in the box. They compress and shift like mad. Get a supply of plastic grocery bags, fill one about half or one third full of peanuts, then twist the top so that the bag is just tight enough to be "squishable", but not sloppy loose. Stuff it into the space you want to fill. Repeat with more bags until all the empty spaces are full and the machine is firmly held in place. The peanuts in the bags like this provide much better padding, and resist shifting much better.
Here's a great idea that I don't see mentioned much for sewing machines:
Wrap the head in bubble wrap and take it to one of those shipping services
that does foam-paks. I may not have spelled that right, but it's the stuff
that you see the more expensive computers, expecially big tower case ones,
shipped in. The packer gets a big box, puts in some kind of plastic bag,
and sprays foam into it. When this foam has hardened to the proper
consistency, he drops the bubble-wrapped item in, puts another plastic bag
thing in, and then foams in the machine the rest of the way. What you end
up with is a reusable 2-piece rigid foam block molded to fit whatever
you're shipping, inside a cardboard box.
I had a heavy Singer 15-91 head shipped to me this way, as well as a jumbo
sized tower computer, so I'll personally swear by this method. Both of
these items were only single boxed. If the sewing machine is very
valuable, you could box the foam-pak box. Cost of the foam-pak alone for
the 15-91 was in the ball park of $35-$40 single boxed, and there would be
the actual carrier's charges in addition to that. It is NOT inexpensive,
but the foam-pak IS quite reusable. (And, ten years from now I won't care
what it cost to ship, only that I've got that machine.) If I ever want to
ship or transport a full-size sewing machine head, I'll have the perfect
Thank you for reading my FAQ and I hope this has been of some
use to you. Please join us and please direct any further questions to the good
people at Treadle On. All of us together are smarter than any one of us.
Marie PintarThanks to:
Georgina - Athens, GA Dawn in PA, Connie in Ohio Suzy McClure in Castleton, NY, Capt Dick, BJ in Texas And all the good people at "Treadle On"
... and one more time...
We received a post to the TO list, saying that an Onion was being given her grandmother's treadle, but it was in Arizona and she needed advice on getting it shipped. It had been a few years since the above had been published, so I put together the following response and thought it couldn't hurt to add it to this page, so here it is:
Okay, Marie... settle back and let's discuss this.
First... get to Page, AZ and see what you are dealing with... what kind of a treadle is it and what condition is it in. Maybe it is not worth what will be involved. Only you can decide that. Find out what kind of arrangements you need to make to have internet service from where you will be in Page. This could be either a relative or friend who is online, or a local internet cafe if you have a lap top, or even something like Kinko's which often offers access from their machines. Or, phone me... My number is below. With access, you can post back to us, tell us what it is and get further advice as to its value and/or usefulness.
Now, let's assume you decide you do want it. OK... if you can't transport it yourself... can you arrange an AZ to CA pony express with anyone? It's worth a try. Remember that most treadles have been sitting for 25 to 50 years... another year while you wait to arrange for a trip for it won't hurt it.
Now, let's assume you can't arrange a pony ride, or don't want to... you decide really want to ship it. Here are some things you need to know:
Plan on roughly $100 to $150 shipping costs, plus or minus $25. I recommend shipping by Greyhound bus. Lately, that has been the most successful and easiest.
Now, for disassembly and packing. There are some instructions on our web site, but to recap based on current experience:
1. Take the head out and pack it separately. Use lots of bubble wrap, styrofoam insulation, and or plastic peanuts (BUT ONLY IF YOU PACK THE PEANUTS INTO PLASTIC BAGS... this turns them into firm, unshiftable packing). This box should cost about $25 plus or minus $10 to ship.
2. Take off the treadle top. This is usually held on by four screws. find a large, heavy box that will fit the whole thing. Washing machine or other appliance box will work, or go to U Haul and buy a box of suitable size. Pad and pack well and be prepared to pay about $35 to ship that box.
3. Obtain several large sheets of white, pink or blue styrofoam insulation and some very large, very heavy cardboard boxes. Disassemble the treadle, being careful to take notes and/or digital pictures. Keep all of the screws and nuts in little plastic zip bags and label them. Lay a large piece of very heavy cardboard on the ground. place one treadle leg on that. Measure the leg and cut a piece of styro somewhat larger that than. lay the piece of styro on the cardboard and lay the leg on the styro. Put another piece of styro on top of the leg. Put the second leg on that piece of styro, then another piece of styro, then the back brace. Repeat for the treadle pedal. Cut some styro as appropriate to fit the drive wheel and any other parts. Cover this whole sandwich with another piece of styro. A layer of bubble back in between each layer doesn't hurt, either. (Did I mention that there will be a substantial cost for packing materials?) OK... hopefully you started with a really large piece of cardboard, like an icebox box. You should now have a sandwich of treadle parts and styrofoam sitting on a piece of cardboard. Cut and fold the cardboard to provide sides for the sandwich and cut a second piece of cardboard the same to provide a top and a second thickness of sides. Finally, using about 47 miles of strapping tape, wrap the package in all directions as tightly as you can, so nothing shifts. Shipping this package may run as much as $75.
If you can take the box with the head back by plane with you, that will, of course, save on the shipping.
As to tools... you will need pliers, an adjustable wrench, a very large bladed flat head screwdriver, and a medium flat head screwdriver with a LONG shaft. You will need to go to Sears or a tool specialty store to get one of these... most places don't understand long... We're talking about a foot to 18" You need this to reach up alongside the drawer columns to undo the screws that hold the top on.
Going back to where i started... if you can wait and make the drive, or arrange a pony express... you are way ahead of the game! However, it can be done, and successfully. it's just a lot of work.Oh, yeah... if it is a parlor treadle... other instructions will apply... Parlors are a lot easier. Ship head separately as mentioned. Obtain a U Haul wardrobe box and the styrofoam. Brace, block or pad any moving mechanism inside the cabinet. Place layer of styro in bottom of wardrobe box, set parlor cabinet on same. Insert a sheet of styro on each side of the cabinet. Cover the top of the cabinet with another sheet of styro. Cut corners of box and fold down to appropriate height to enclose cabinet. Use 47 miles of strapping tape to seal box. Take box to Greyhound.
When packing treadles, cabinets and anything with drawers or
hinges, I have
found it MOST helpful to wrap the top shut, and drawers closed, and treadle
wheels immobile in layers of plastic wrap(which sticks to itself) -- THEN
tape over the plastic wrap. There's no "sticky" oozing out from the tape on
a delicate finish and it is very easy to remove.
Most important, movers and shippers do not anticipate the way sewing machine
cabinets hinge open, as I can attest from my Martha Washington cabinet
experience. I took the plastic off AFTER it was unloaded, but before the
movers left. Bad idea.
Valerie, now in Texas
Shipping Parlor Treadles, the ones in enclosed cabinets, is much easier than shipping a regular steel frame treadle, since you don't have the large amount of disassembly and the brittleness of cast iron legs to deal with. However, the job still has to be done right. Here is how I ship parlor treadles:
Go to U-Haul and buy one of their large Wardrobe cartons.
Go to a home supply store and buy a couple of sheets of the 1" white insulation.
Assemble the box, then cut an insulation piece (or two) and put in the bottom. At this point the box is much too high, but that's OK.
Remove the head from the machine, and pack it separately, as you would any other machine head.
Place a piece of insulation under the treadle pedal to keep it from moving during shipment. Wedge some pieces of insulation between the drive wheel and the side of the cabinet for the same reason. Crumple lots of newspaper up and fill the inside of the cabinet.
Tip the tall wardrobe box on its side and slide the cabinet in, then tip it up and center the cabinet on the insulation in the bottom of the box. Next, cut pieces of insulation and slip them into the side of the box around the cabinet until it is nicely centered, padded and wedged so it won't move around. The insulation should be even with the top of the cabinet.
Finally, cut one or two pieces of insulation to fit over the top of the cabinet and the side insulation.
At this point, the box is still way too tall. Carefully slice down the corner seams of the box to the height of the top insulation pieces. Fold one side down and, if it is long enough to project off of the other side, trim it so that it covers the top. Then fold the opposite side over and trim it. Next, do the same with the remaining two sides.
Tape the whole works up. Use the real strapping tape, with the fibers in it. This will hold much better than the clear tape or duct tape.
You should now have a nicely packed parlor treadle in a big box, and a nicely packed head in a smaller box.
Take the boxes to Greyhound and have them ship them. Their rate is reasonable and the boxes will experience far less automated handling than at either UPS or USPS.
Here is what happens when you don't follow the advice above:
It's pretty obvious what happened here. The biggest single error was leaving the head in the machine when shipped. However, a second problem is that while the machine was oabviously well crated, there is no packing cushion... any jar is instantly and completely transferred to the whole machine, and cast iron is notoriously brittle. You can see that the back brace has broken out of the end piece castings. The split in the left casting is obviousl, you can see the raw end of one of the cast iron breaks. You can't see the break on the right, but you can tell that the top of the brace isn't where it's supposed to be! I would bet that there are half a dozen other fine-line breaks in theirons and pedal.