Treadle Sewing Lesson One

Remember that gorgeous Singer Treadle Machine I purchased last year at one of the Flea Markets?

Well, I finally had some time to start learning how to use it. The manual it comes with states it’s a model from between the years 1905-1920. But the seller thought it could possibly even be as new as 1926.

I have a sorted history with sewing. I took home-ec in middle school. We had a unit on sewing and a unit on cooking. I remember feeling very intimidated by the sewing machines. They were loud, they were fast. They were complicated. One kid even put the needle straight through his finger.

However, cooking and baking never intimidated me. I found the cooking part of home ec incredibly boring. We learned to use microwaves! Microwaves people! The most complicated thing we made was a chocolate cake in a 9×9 cake pan. We didn’t even remove said cake from the pan to frost it in a pretty way. Actually…I don’t even think we frosted it.

The difference in expectations from the sewing part of the class versus the cooking park was as wide as the Grand Canyon.

I was, immediately, intrigued by sewing. But there were a lot of rules and stitches and stuff that threw me off.

The pillow I made in that class? It fell apart by the time I took it home. I recall being stressed for EVERY project.

And that’s how I wound up wanting a treadle machine. I don’t know why, but removing electricity from the equation feels like it removes the danger somehow. Makes it less intimidating. (I think this is a false reality, but it works for me!)

My first goal was just to figure out how to make the machine I had purchased run. I discovered quickly that the bobbin winder wheel has a rubber gasket that is disintegrating. So I need to find a replacement for that piece.

I was able to use the old leather belt for about ten minutes before it snapped in two at a brittle section. I expected this to happen, so I wasn’t concerned when it snapped. I already had two more belts ready to try and replace the old one. But I liked that I could use the machine without having to replace the belt first.

I decided not to concern myself with threading. Or any thread at all. (Baby steps). I took out a piece of paper and tried to make a straight line going towards me and away from me. I tried turning corners. I watched how the presser foot helped feed the paper through the machine. At least until the paper got stuck on the hinge of the cabinet and caused my straight line to veer off its course.

I discovered that my needle was hitting the presser foot. Figured out how to remove the needle and discovered it was bent. So I replaced it with the only other needle I had, which also happened to be rusted. Again, no matter, as I was just making dots in paper.

No, I don’t fully understand the manual I keep re-reading. Yes, I’m nervous to replace the belt and try to thread the machine. (But first I need some oil to…uh…oil the machine I guess?) Yes, I have to find a bobbin gasket and more needles.

But the machine smelled like old library books. It went as slow as I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about fancy buttons or the damn needle moving so fast that I couldn’t keep up.

So I’ll keep practicing on my paper until I feel more confident and am ready to graduate to thread.

As this post was written pre-corona, I am happy to say that I’ve found some solace in spending time working with this machine. As the closings continue on and on, it’s heartbreaking to watch your business drop off and know that the future isn’t guaranteed. When I spend time working with the machine, my focus is all on what is in front of me so I don’t screw anything up; and it’s a lovely reprieve.

Especially now that schools are closed for the school year and summer activities are being cancelled as well.

I was happy to have purchased the machine last year, but I’m now even more grateful to have something else to focus on.

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