How to Treadle

We have had requests for "treadling instructions". That's kind of tough to do in narrative. At one point I started to write it up, then some other folks reviewed it and contributed, and here is the result:


Treadling is a very advanced and intricate procedure, when done properly.... here is a good, basic set of treadling instructions:

1. Place sewing machine on floor... it is best if back of machine is to the wall and front towards open space.
2. Place chair in front of machine.
3. Sit in chair and place feet on treadle (right one slightly ahead of left one)
4. Start hand wheel by turning with hand
5. Wiggle feet
6. Observe what happens... if it doesn't look right, wiggle feet differently.
7. Curse, rethread needle where thread broke, start hand wheel in opposite direction and try again
8. Try it with one foot
9. Get a kid to work the pedal while you sew :o)

OK... to get serious... I doubt if any of us "had lessons", unless it was from grandma. You aren't going to hurt the machine by using it. Frustrate yourself, maybe... but not ruin the machine. Treadling is a lot like roller skating or bicycling... you learn by getting the feel of it, and that can only be done by wading in and falling a few times.

Suggested exercise... remove the thread from the top and the bobbin from the machine. Start the hand wheel in the direction that would move the cloth forward. Do whatever you have to do with your feet, either one or two, to keep the machine going. Sew a bunch of imaginary seams in real pieces of cloth. Stop the machine, turn the work, etc., but without thread. Once you get used to that, thread it properly, but the bobbin back in and make sure the machine is threaded right and will make stitches. You can do that
by hand, just turning the wheel by hand.

Now, sew some seams... try back and forth, long seams... see how fast you can go. see how slowly you can go without losing the movement. Try some patterns, large squares gradually diminishing inwards... circles the same. See how tiny you can get in the middle and still keep the seams evenly spaced, corners square or curves smooth. Now, try some really complex shapes where you can only go one to three stitches in a direction without lifting the foot and turning the work. Hint... on this type of stuff, turn the wheel by hand and let the pressure of your foot act as a brake. (Another hint... you can turn the wheel by putting your finger in a spoke, but DON'T put it in too far... trust me... something will happen that hurts!) Seriously though, I just finished three days of doing intricate small applique on my 201K 54+ treadle, and I did an awful lot of it using the machine as a hand crank with my finger as the crank. It was so precise it was amazing.

I started this post quite facetiously, but it became serious, and I think I will be adding it to the Treadle On pages on the site. Eventually, they will be a virtual encyclopedia of treadling. If anyone sees errors in this, or thinks something substantial should be added, please post... I'll hold off a day or two on putting this up so I can get and consider other input.

OK, here is some more on treadling. Shirley in Utah reminded me of another training trick... draw lines on paper and sew them, no thread. You can see the holes and tell how you are doing following the lines, how even your stitches are, etc. It really works.

Someone else asked about "balancing the wheel"... This means that if your treadle is allowed to find it's own stopping point, it will usually do so with the crank down. Once it's done that, hold the belt so it won't move, and turn the hand wheel until the needle is up. The theory here is that this way, the treadle will have a natural tendency to stop with the needle up, rather than down. It works... if you run your treadle with a pretty tight belt. Now, I like to sew with a pretty loose belt. I use fiddler's rosin on the belt for a better grip, but I do get slippage, so making that clever adjustment doesn't do me a lot of good... I would just have to keep doing it. I run my machine so loose, that on the applique I've been doing, I could hand crank with one finger while holding the pedal still with my feet... I was hand cranking the hand wheel in "slip mode", i.e. the belt wasn't turning but the hand wheel was. Why run this loose? I find the machine treadles more easily and I like a really easy running machine.

I am also a nut about treadle pitman noise... I keep the machine and belt loose, but I tend to run the pitman very finely adjusted so there is little play, in order to avoid the clanking noise so many treadles make. That is not something you need to put up with (see the page on treadle maintenance). If you really want to understand about treadle noise, run a 201... they are so quiet that treadle noise becomes extremely noticeable.

Once you get used to treadling, and to your machine, you will develop your own preferences for belt tightness, treadle adjustment, etc.

Hope all that helps some folks.

Dick Wightman

This post was sent in and I thought it worth adding to this page:

Hi all!

Back when I was a new treadler lo so many moons ago (gee.. last year!) the absolute best advice I got was that when treadling and finishing a seam, to end with the treadle pedal down at the front. When starting up again you push the pedal forward and this *almost* always starts the wheel in the right direction. I can't remember the specific advisor but many people mentioned it. I have found it works extremely well for me, and I can even watch the wheel out of the corner of my eye and catch it if it does go backwards. Hope this helps!


Susan in L.A.