Treadle sewing machines created those impressive Victorian gowns for decades before electric sewing machines appeared in the Sears and Roebucks Catalog. You may be surprised to know that you can still buy treadle machines brand new. Why would anyone want a treadle?
That was my question. After all, sewing with an electric is fast; you can buzz along at the speed of light and knock out a couple of dresses in a day. Quilts go together fast. Our foremothers happily gave up treadle sewing machines for electrics when they had the chance. Could a treadle really be a superior choice?
Treadle Sewing Machines: Membership Has Its Benefits
One of the first things that you may realize when you begin learning to sew on a treadle is that you have much more control over your seams that you had with the electric. The stitches are precise and easy and as soon as you stop pumping the treadle the needle stops. It does not stitch five more stitches with the leftover energy it has in its wiring.
Another benefit of the treadle sewing machine is that it is relaxing. There is a steady, almost hypnotic rhythm that happens when you are sewing and it brings on the same feeling as spinning or rocking a baby. Your muscles relax, your mind goes on autopilot, and you just begin to enjoy what you are doing. You are going to be burning more calories and building muscles in your legs as well.
Of course, the biggest benefit of all is that you will not need one kilowatt of electricity to power your new sewing machine. You can power it with oatmeal cookies, apples, and bacon or what ever sounds good that day.
How to Sew with a Treadle Machine
Learning to sew with a treadle may take you a few days. It is a little different and can take some time to get the movements of your legs synchronized. Practice makes perfect; have some patience with yourself. This is a skill you will have for a long time to come once you have perfected it.
The basic steps to sewing with a treadle are:
1. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair, preferably one that has a padded seat
2. Feed your fabric under the needle and lower the presser foot carefully.
3. With the palm of your hand slowly turn the balance wheel toward you. The needle will move down.
4. Here's where it gets a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. Put the ball of your right foot on the top, right hand corner of the treadle. Now, put the heel of your left foot on the lower left corner. You alternate your heel and your toe to pump the treadle and cause the needle to move smoothly.
Since the treadle machine doesn't have a reverse stitch, when you want to secure your seam you just turn the fabric and sew a short ways along the seam you just sewed.
Buying, Maintaining, and Repairing Treadle Sewing Machines
A treadle sewing machine is a rather simple machine that you can easily fix yourself. If you buy a new one you should receive a pamphlet with it explaining how it works. If, however, you have your heart set on an antique (and there is not reason not to; the machines last forever.) try to get a Singer. The reason for this is that the Singer Company has numerous booklets from historic machines to download on their site for free. This gives you a head start. You can also find parts and some instruction books at Bizland.
Maintenance on your new machine is simple. A few squirts of 3 in 1 Oil every month or so will keep your new old machine humming along as fast as your legs can go. You will want to change your needles after every project or two just like with an electric machine, and of course always use high quality thread.
Keep your machine clean and ready to go and watch as your legs become leaner and shapelier as you create more projects.