Universal Treadles Revisited and 3/4 Treadles

I’ve done articles before on multi-top treadles, but it is a subject that keeps coming up. As it happens, Cathy Nelson had a nice little multi-top at the Portland TOGA (2010). It really did seem to fit everything we put on it, including my Featherweight! Cathy shared the pattern and approach with me and I promised to give making it a try, and to share my project via step by step pictures.

Somewhere along the way, a couple of things happened. I got committed to buying a very poor Singer treadle that I really didn’t want and I discovered a really bad off pre-1900 Singer 28 in the back of one of my storage closets. Simultaneously, some discussion broke out on TO regarding 3/4 size treadles and it was apparent that a lot of people wanted them. It happens that I have been fortunate enough to have had a couple of 3/4 treadles, and discovered that while there were truly some small scaled treadles (primarily for the Singer 24), most of the so-called 3/4 treadles were actually standard size treadles with smaller tops, one drawer on the left and no flip front. I had and sewed on one for a year before I realized that the treadle itself was standard!
OK, back to where we started... I had a treadle and a 28 and was committed to making a treadle top that would accept a variety of heads. Obviously, if I went about it right, I should end up with a new treadle with a multi-top.

I began by disassembling the cabinet of the Singer treadle, taking it down to the basic top with the large opening that is under the flip pieces. I then used the flip top as the new wood surface from which to cut Cathy’s pattern. This approach would be pretty straight forward for anyone who had a beat up treadle to dedicate to the multi-top cause.

Now, I did run into one problem as I went into this project. I should have expected it but I let it catch me unawares. If you’re going to set small heads on a hole that is also meant for larger heads, you have to place them carefully and keep an eye on them. I discovered, by dropping a 28 head on my foot (!) that the smaller head can find its way through the hole. This concerned me enough that I decided to also explore another approach to the multi-top, which is to “double top” the treadle, i.e. have a treadle with one top that has a large hole in it, larger than any head that will be used in it, then a series of secondary tops or templates, each one having a hole cut to firmly fit one specific machine. These tops are indexed in such a way that each one fits over the drive wheel exactly the same. Pop out the index pins, change the top template and drop in the new machine

It was my intention when I started to provide a nifty pattern, like the one that Cathy sent me, that everyone could use to duplicate her top, plus some templates for popular machines, such as I used for the treadle I made myself. However, here I ran into the second problem. I don’t think that can be made to work. The concept is great, but the reality involves putting down a set of measurement, or posting a pattern picture which has to be downloaded and printed out, then someone else transferring the pattern to paper, most probably using a pencil with a different size point than I did, then they cut out the pattern, probably not following the lines exactly the same as I did, or having different vision problems than I do. Then the pattern gets transferred to wood, which has grain and may not allow perfect drawing duplication. Then it gets cut out, with a different saw than I used. Minor differences pile upon minor differences until the end result is that no matter how carefully you think you proceeded, in the end, you are still going to have to fine tune and perfect your own individual pattern yourself.

All the above doesn’t even get to the fact that individual “identical” sewing machines... aren’t! Two same model Singer 15’s came from different casting molds in different factories at different times and will have different lumps and imperfections in the castings, even different amounts of curve at the underside edges that rest on the wood, which means they can rest in a wider or narrower hole. Singer got around this because they inlet the whole machine to its outside dimension. We’re avoiding the necessity of doing that by letting the bed rest upon, rather than in, the wood.

So, what’s the solution? Actually, it’s not that bad. I posted the actual work pictures of everything I did in the first two days I worked on this. I’ll put that link in at the bottom of this article, and it will show you pretty much how to proceed. The solution is simply to follow not the pattern, but the process, regardless of which approach... single top or multiple templates... you choose. All of the sewing machine heads I’ve ever seen are designed with a lip around most of the edge of the base. If you turn the machine over and study it, you will see that lip. There may be spots where the casting comes out to the edge, such as the hinge pin holes on the back edge, or there may be actual hinges welded to the back edge. There may also be some spots underneath where there are lumps and mechanical projections to be allowed for. The trick is to measure for the basic opening you will need to set the machine in, forgetting the projections or lumps. That will be your basic cutout. The machine has to be placed in such a way that it’s hand wheel groove is properly aligned with the drive wheel. My instructions show how to do that. Once you have the place marked on the machine top or template where the belt alignment will be, you can position your cutout hole and cut it out. The machine will not drop right in... remember those casting projectionss and lumps? OK, so you observe where the machine doesn’t fit and carefully cut out those spots, using a small saw or wood rasp. Work gradually and keep going until you’re satisfied that the machine sits in it’s custom fitted hole with the lip of the base resting on the surface, and that the belt is properly aligned.

Even though, as I observed above, it’s probably unreasonable to expect a perfect transfer of the pattern, Cathy’s pattern is a darn good beginning, especially since it provides a belt slot to begin from. Draw one out the best you can from the pictures and dimensions I provide, using it to at least get your belt alignment hole positioned well. When cutting a multiple hole, start with the smallest machine you want to use in it, then go to the next biggest one, set it in or on the hole, mark the wood that needs to be removed and remove it. Once you have that one in, go to the next biggest. As you move up, keep checking to be sure the small ones still fit in well and don’t fall through. I can see where you might end up with two tops... one for full size machines and one for smaller ones.

For my own treadle, I was interested in only three machines... the Singer 28 (pre-1900 with actual welded on hinges), the Singer 15, and the White Family Rotary. As mentioned above, I opted for the separate templates approach, and at the same time, I made some effort to duplicate the appearance and features of the old original 3/4 treadle that I used to have. I overhauled and used the old treadle base that I had, mounted a new basic top made of oak countertop or flooring with a large rectangular hole in it, then made three templates of nicely stained 1/2” plywood veneer. I made the basic dimension of my templates oversize to allow for both any larger machine I might choose in the future and for sitting a coffin top on the template.

Here are some pictures of Cathy’s multi-top, a simple “I want to use several heads with a minimum amount of work and expense” approach that was very effective, and of the finished 3/4 size treadle I put together, which was obviously a lot more work and would probably only be of interest if you really wanted to have a 3/4 size treadle. Study the pictures, then all the additional pictures and work notes provided on the linked pages. Don't forget the earlier material on the site on universal treadles and installing new tops on treadle frames. All of this material combined is a tremendous amount coverage on this topic, and should leave you pretty well prepared to undertake the project if you have just a little tool skill.



Cathy's Multi-Top Treadle



Here is Cathy's basic top. In the section on work notes and pictures there will be another pattern pic with dimensions noted. The most important single thing is that this provides a solid basis for a belt slot, on which every other measurement depends.


Here is Cathy's basic top. In the section on work notes and pictures there will be another pattern pic with dimensions noted. The most important single thing is that this provides a solid basis for a belt slot, on which every other measurement depends.


Here is Cathy's favorite White FR, a real beauty, in her muilti-top



Just for kicks, we put my Featherweight on the opening. We found that with the plastic aquarium hose belt, it treadled quite well, even though the belt did rub on the edge of the base. There is quite a bit of flexibility in that plastic hose and we never had to adjust the belt for any machine we tried on Cathy's treadle.


Dick's 3/4 Treadle



Here is my finished 3/4 treadle replica. Note the cut off right side and one drawer on the left. This is as on the original. I couldn't resist adding the flip out front since I had it on hand. That was not original.



If you look closely, you will see two boards leaning against the right hand treadle leg. These are the two other machine templates not in use, but ready to go.


Here is the 1892 Singer 28, sitting happily on its treadle. This is not the poor salvage machine I found and hope to restore, but another I had on hand.



Here the machine is removed and you can see the template sitton on the treadle top. If you look real closely, you can see the four pins (#8 bolts, actually, but without nuts) on the corners. Each template has the identical set of holes, so changing the templates is just a matter of pulling the pins out, positioning the new template and dropping the pins back in. The White FR template is on the window sill. You can see that the opening for its left side bobbin access plate helped to establish the need for the long template size. The template for a Signer 15 is standing upright to the right.



OK... That gives you a lot of information and background. The actual work involved in doing the work of constructing Cathy's muilti-top, Dick's template treadle and replica 3/4 treadle will be covered in two additional pages.


Second Page

Third Page