How to Treadle

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Lots of people see me working at my 1929 Singer 15k treadle and express a desire to join in. I have taught many people how, and detected many others who cannot - it is like riding a bicycle, if you have done it before you still can.. For the rest of you...

How To Treadle...

Man Sewing Start by setting up your space - make sure you can sit comfortably with your feet on the treadle plate and your back straight. You need a solid chair (no wheels!) and the machine should be on a firm base - thick rugs can get in the way of the plate's movement.
The chair should be at a comfortable height - ideally your arms should be parallel to the floor from the elbow to the wrist.

Take any thread out of the machine and remove the bobbin for now..
Disconnect the belt from the wheel and put your feet onto the treadle plate. I personally like one foot slightly further forward than the other, but this is a personal preference. Please try to use both feet, it makes for a smoother motion and is better ergonomically, but I know many people who treadle single-footed.
Swing the treadle plate smoothly with your feet, back and forth, until you can do it without looking at your feet. The movement should be very free, with no grinding, squeaks, or stiffness, and if you lift your feet the wheel should spin for a few turns before settling. If you have a stiff wheel you will work very hard - adjust, oil, and try again.
Now, re-connect the belt (see your manual) and undo the clutch on the handwheel (see your manual again) as though you were about to wind a bobbin. Put the palm of your right hand on top of the hand wheel and your feet ready on the treadle plate. Pull the hand-wheel towards you (see note below) and feel how the plate moves. Let your feet continue the movement and keep the hand-wheel spinning - at this point you can let go with your hand, but keep it handy.. Try to keep the handwheel moving smoothly in one direction without too many hiccups. If (when) you lose the rhythm, stop the wheel with the palm of your hand, pull towards you, and continue. You may find this is easy - if so enjoy the process for a bit. Or impossible. If you really can't do it after about 5 or 10 minutes, leave it for today and try again later. If you can't do it after 1/2 an hour of practice you may want to get a handcrank or a motor...

As soon as you can reliably make the wheel turn after starting it with your hand, tighten up the clutch again so that the needle goes up-and-down, and practice some more. Keep the presser foot raised so that you don't scratch the bottom of the foot and blunt the feed-dogs. Still no aren't ready for that yet..

At this point a cup of tea is essential....

And perhaps a biscuit (cookie)...

Now you may put a piece of paper or fabric under the presser foot, lower said foot and make the machine work once more... Don't thread it yet. You will find that the paper/fabric feeds nicely away from you as long as you keep treadling, and that you will lose the lose the direction frequently until you have done some more practice. Don't get discouraged, it will be worth it to see the admiring looks you will get from those who cannot do this particular party trick..

Until you can make the machine work smoothly in a forward direction, you are not ready to sew. The machine will break the thread and annoy you if you go backwards - no sewing machine reverses by turning the wheel the other way!!

When you have reached the end of the paper/fabric, stop with the needle in the work, lift the foot and swing the work around, and come back. Practice on a piece of paper and you can see how straight your lines are. If you use squared paper you can practice turns and following lines..

Finally, thread the machine, put in the bobbin (see your manual again) and try again; don't forget to put the foot down, and you will actually be sewing... Think in terms of 5 to 10 minutes of practice at each stage, and you will soon be proficient...

Notes:- All the above applies to Singer machines - some varieties have the handwheel motion away from the operator. Move accordingly.. Some machines have a "key" rather than a clutch (see the manual, folks...)

Addition Levels of Skill:- Work on these
1. Sewing without the hand-on-the-wheel
2. Sewing while drinking the tea
3. Sewing and talking at the same time...

Happy Sewing. Be warned, it's addictive...

My address is:-
Helen Howes
Helen Howes Sewing Machines
4, The Raveningham Centre, Beccles Road, Raveningham, Norfolk, NR14 6NU. United Kingdom
01508 548137
From outside the UK dial:- 0044 1508 548137
I'm open 11 till 5 every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays