Weekend Project: Treadle Tune Up!

I have crafter ADD.

I am still working on the perfectly fitted yet moveable bodice/sleeve–I’m on attempt #6 in the last three weeks, I believe, and have used up all of my muslin hoard in various attempts, but will be launching into the next iteration tomorrow. I let myself do one attempt every 2-3 days lest the frustration reach throw-a-sewing-machine point. I think I’ve almost got it, though 🙂

As a respite from said frustration, and because I always visit my grandparents on the weekend, and because my grandparents aid and abet my showing machine addiction by sending me sewing machine porn pictures during their flea market outings AND allowing me to stash my overflow in their basement, I decided to finish rebelting my Singer treadle! Months ago, my grandpa and I went on an hours-long drive to pick up this Craigslist find in a very cantankerous ex-hippy older man’s basement. He became much friendlier when I made it obvious I was not out to haggle and did not want to dismantle the machine and sell it as a foo-foo shabby chic table. Nothing against shabby chic, but seeing whitewashed cast iron hurts my little bitter heart. Apparently his too. He said he had bought it decades ago and an ex girlfriend used to sew on it during the 70s, but he had never gotten around to refinishing it as he’d hoped. It was dusty and had some staining and damage to the wood surface, and the machine is varnished and the decals have some serious wear. But that’s part of its appeal. There’s an aesthetic ideal called wabi sabi in Japan that I think of with old machines and antiques–beauty in imperfection, beauty in the natural cycle of decay with time, wear from use. I’ll spare you that rant, mostly, but it’s a fascinating subject. For example:


So anyway, my treadle. It needed a belt, and a TON of oil, and some serious scrubbing and loosening of varnished parts. Replacing a treadle belt isn’t hard, exactly–you just buy a precut length of leather belting, or measure it with a string over its path through all the turns of the flywheel and balance wheel, and then you trim it to the point that it’s got enough tension against the wheels to turn the machine, but not too tight. According to the interwebz, a slightly loose belt works better, and some people even recommend violin bow rosin to help with the grip. (This and much more wisdom on treadle tips and tricks here.) It took some fiddling to get the length just right, and my grandpa used a very small drill bit to drill a hole on either end of the belt. The edges need to be trimmed so that the two ends of the belt butt up to one another, and then you crimp the staple that usually comes with the belting shut securely by squishing it just right with a pair of pliers. Grandpa has mad skills in this department. Tricky but nothing compared to the storm of swear words that I unleash on a vintage Husqvarna. I love the simplicity of these old machines so much. There is a very Zen pleasure that comes from playing around with them–and in the treadling action itself. It takes some getting used to, since the wheel will move in either direction when you initially start to pedal and it will break your thread if it moves away from you (for a Singer treadle–White and some other models move the opposite direction, though). But using a slight turn of the handwheel with my right hand to convince it to move the right direction really helps. So does using my hand to bring the wheel to a complete stop. I’m sure it gets easier with time and practice.


All cleaned up, cast iron cleaned with a rag and sewing machine oil, etc.

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Sphinx decals. So cool! Evidently the discovery of King Tut’s tomb led to Egyptomania in fashion during the 20s.


My grandpa shared a big chunk of the mancave for my machinery. I think he enjoys it, too.  The treadle to the right is table only, and was a gift from some friends who wanted it to go to a nice new obsessive’s home. It was missing the front drawer and the wooden pitman rod connecting the flywheel on the base to the treadle pedal part had been broken. So after months of scouring online, I found replacements for both. Evidently the pitman rods were made in metal as well as wood–I wish there were a contemporary source for these, although I suspect someone with woodworking skills would have no problem making a new wooden one. Alas, I do not.  My grandpa repainted the legs as he remembers them from his childhood. He did a wonderful job on them!


The woman who it originally belonged to apparently loved that distinctive 70s green that the drawers are painted in. I don’t, and I hope to use some Citristrip one day to remove it. My partner jokes that one day I’m going to get us haunted by messing with the wrong antique. Let’s hope it’s not by refurbishing this one.

And also…I’ve been working on the pattern for this!


It’s from a fashion magazine during the 1880s that came with a huge pattern insert. The pattern pieces are all printed on top of one another, so I have my work cut out for me. It’s quite a tangle. But–once I get my sloper perfected; fingers crossed for try #6–I’m looking forward to attempting it!

Anyone else have any treadle experiences? I’d love to hear about them!

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