Saturday, June 2, 2012



When Grandmother Ina left us, she left behind her treadle sewing machine. Once I retired, I declared that I wanted to learn to use it, so Mike serviced it for me and we bought and installed a new belt. That was 2007. At that time I practiced treadling but didn't thread the machine.

Fast forward to 2012 and I still hadn’t committed to sewing with Ina’s “New Automatic” sewing machine. Since I didn’t have my Bernina with me, I decided the time had come.

I was going to make an apron, but this cute little jacket pattern started singing my song. I remembered some corduroy stashed away that I thought I just had to have some 20 years ago. “Perfect!” I said to myself because, of course, the investment is depreciated out and it won’t matter if all doesn’t go well. The pattern, “A Little Somethin’ Jacket,” comes from CNT Pattern Company out of Aspen, CO. 

So I carefully cut out the jacket. Then I was ready to start sewing, right? Wrong! I still had to learn to thread the old treadle machine. Luckily Ina left the manual in one of the drawers, so I commenced to read it. The first page reiterates at least four times that the first thing the new owner must do is “READ THIS BOOK CAREFULLY.”

“We give you this book, the most accurate, clear and complete instructions ever printed on, ‘How to operate and take care of the sewing machine.’ By carefully following the instructions YOUR MACHINE WILL ALWAYS GIVE PERFECT SATISFACTION.

But the admonishment I particularly love is this one: “WHEN DIFFICULTIES ARISE, REMEMBER that your machine is seldom at fault and does not require the aid of a repair man. You will find on close observation that your trouble is generally due to your oversight or neglect in following out these simple rules.” Ha! So blaming the operator for failure is evidently a concept as old as technology itself.

Here are the simple rules:
An imperfect or crooked needle.
Cheap, inferior quality threads.
Failure to have machine properly threaded.
Needle not large enough for the thread.
Tensions clogged or out of adjustment.
Lack of oil or the accumulation of dirt and lint around the feed, needle well or the shuttle.

I am not patient with the learning process – never have been -- but I made myself peruse the manual. I learned to wind the bobbin and then load the bobbin into the shuttle. But when I tried to sew with thread, I had the biggest mess of loops ever! I read and re-read the statement that “trouble is generally due to your oversight or neglect in following out these simple rules,” struggling to keep frustration at bay.

Well – long story short, the problem was my failure to correctly pull the thread through the tension discs. Now on my fiftieth re-thread and perhaps just a touch angry, I gave the thread a firm tug with two hands when I came to the discs and could tell immediately that this was the missing step.

Then I commenced to sew on the “Little Somethin’ Jacket,” bringing the five pieces together as one unit. Now I’ll finish it on the Bernina.

We drove to the town house early yesterday morning. The day turned hot. Mike took a bike ride while I ran errands in town. The traffic was horrendous on Bridge Street, backing up for blocks. Note to self: Do not shop on Friday afternoons! KW


Chris said...

So many things to comment on!! First, I love the jacket pattern! Can't wait to hear how it turns out and what you think of the pattern overall. I also love your reasoning that the fabric is depreciated out and so the stress is removed. :-)

The treadle is gorgeous! Was it hard to get the rhythm? Did you feel a kinship with Ina as you sewed? And virtuous for having conquered this huge "buffalo"? Sometimes a little anger is just the needed response.

And my shopping motto? Don't! I'm such a non-shopper. I love me my internet. The traffic here is so nice now that the students have left. And even in the worst traffic hours, it's nothing like the valley for which I am truly grateful.

Chris said...

And I just have to say I love the section of the manual referring to repairs where it says NOT to use an agent for some other brand or the handy man about town! They were quite adamant about it. :-)

Kathy said...

I can relate to so few fashion patterns these days, but that one spoke to me. I bought it through Nancy's Notions.

Ina's treadle is well worn so in that sense it isn't gorgeous. The rhythm is still a little difficult at times but I was able to keep the machine moving forward. And it does feel like a buffalo conquered.

I had some trepidation when Mike said he would service the sewing machine. I could have taken it to "Mr. Oily" but decided Mike probably could handle it. It's not like we can find a certified "New Automatic" tech or that Mike's working on it would void the warranty.

Well, I did have to get out for some groceries, but it could have waited. Do you mean that you shop online? Mike and I both love to shop online, but I have not been successful with clothes.

Leah said...

I'm with Chris...had to laugh at the book admonishing the user not to use "the handy man about town" if repairs were needed. Reading manuals & advertising copy from long ago is such fun!

Now, remember, I'm not a seamstress, but wouldn't corduroy be harder to work with than just plain cotton? Then again, maybe the heavier fabric would be easier to feed under the needle than something thin.

What year was the machine made? It's really a treasure!

Leah said...

OMG. Did you know that You Tube has videos about how to use treadle machines? One woman who calls herself The Treadle Lady posted one called "Installing a Long Shuttle." She has other videos and even has a 40 page booklet about cleaning & using treadle machines.

Kathy said...

Leah,you find so many helpful things online. I consider myself pretty good when it comes to research, but you're the best! With the help of the manual, I had figured out how to remove the long shuttle. The piece of felt is mentioned in the manual but missing and I wasn't sure where it should go. Now I can fix it.

Originally I had planned to piece a small quilt as my first treadle project, but this corduroy isn't very heavy and it worked fine.

The last patent pending date listed on the plate is 1913. In her story, Ina says that this machine was not her first, but she doesn't say how she came by it. I couldn't help but wonder if they bought it at auction when some neighbor sold out.

What little info I've found about the "New Automatic" company online has come from other owners who are seeking more info.

Leah said...

Guess I'm a good Googler because of the time spent researching (anything & everything). I've got carpal tunnel to prove it. When you put words in the search box, think like you're putting words on a movie marquee. Just think nouns. No pronouns. Very few verbs. Sprinkle in some prepositions. Less is more.

A new trick I've learned is to go to Google images first. The regular search can be daunting. When you know what the "thing" looks like, just put the name of your "thing" in the search box. Your results will be photos of your "thing." Every single image you see is from a web page. You click on the "thumbnail" of your "thing" and then you'll see the image (by itself) overlaying the web page. If you only wanted an image of your "thing," pay close attention to the pixel size. 450 x 320 & up is good. 100 x 88 is tiny...not good.

If you want to read the web page which the photo belongs to, click on the X at the upper right of the image & the image goes away (not really, it goes back to the web page). Now you can read the web page.

ALERT: If you choose to download a photo from any webpage, be aware of copyrighted photos.

This is going way off your vintage treadle sewing machine subject, but this is how I look for & often find exactly what I want on the Internet.

Chris said...

Yup, I do order clothes and shoes online. Usually I know certain sizes from say, Eddie Bauer or LLBean, so I'm safe. Most of the time. Same with shoes, and Zappos has free shipping as does Bean, and sometimes even EB.

I can shop whenever I choose, no driving, no crowds, and frankly, the stores around here have nothing that appeals to me. Macy's is a joke anymore, and the rest of the local stores are geared toward the college and high school crowd, of which I'm definitely not a member.

Kathy said...

Online sites feed our specialized interests. And we really enjoy getting packages. I have yet to hit my stride with the clothes, though, and I hate to send things back. I should look into L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer. It's amazing what's available online compared to what we can no longer find in town.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge of searching, Leah. I'll hone my approach.