Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tour de...

...Treadling?

I am not a fan of spectator sports. Although I grew up playing sports (I lettered in five sports in high school and continued to play through college and grad school), I've never liked sitting around watching other people play. I am especially baffled by the concept of "professional sports", which to me seems a complete oxymoron. Sort of like "professional sleeping" or "professional reading". So I am only peripherally aware of major sporting events, and almost always because of their connection to knitting (the Knitting Olympics, the WIP Cup, and the Tour de Fleece come to mind). And so I am aware that the Tour de France is happening...somewhere. I am not participating in the Tour de Fleece, because my fondness for spinning doesn't quite extend to turning it into an endurance event. But there is pedaling--or, rather, treadling--happening around here anyway.

This is the beginning of Eliza's Quilt:

For those of you who may not have been around when this whole sewing machine obsession sprang full-grown into being a few months back, this is Eliza:

She is a 1922 Singer 66 "Redeye" treadle sewing machine (named Eliza after her birthplace of Elizabeth, New Jersey). After I purchased her (for the princely sum of $81), I carefully cleaned and polished the cabinet and cleaned, oiled, and adjusted the machine and treadle. And then I promptly leapt into sewing with my electric machines. But I've always wanted to learn to use her properly, and in the back of my mind I had this idea of an entirely treadle-made quilt.

Since my first quilt was so happily received and is so well used, another easy charm quilt for the sofa seemed appropriate. And when I found some charm packs on clearance for 60% off--in colors that match my family room, no less--I decided fate was telling me in no uncertain terms what I should attempt for my next sewing project. So, of course, I did.

It is oddly--oddly to me, at least--no more difficult than sewing with an electric machine. There is a learning curve with the treadle. Just like with a spinning wheel, you have to keep the wheel going the right direction. If you let it roll backward, you get a huge, tangled mess of thread that jams the needle and you have to stop, cut it loose, rethread the needle, pick out the seam, and start over. (Please don't ask me how I know. The less said the better. All ninety-three times.) But once the treadling aspect is mastered, it's very, very simple. Eliza is a straight stitch machine. She sews only in a straight line in one direction. No zigzag, no reverse. There's a certain minimalist satisfaction in that. She does only one thing, and she does it very, very well:

This is the best closeup I could get of her perfect, neat, even, straight stitches. As you can see from the grain of the fabric, these are pretty small stitches, but they're still beautifully formed. It didn't even take much messing with the tensions to get a perfect stitch--something I definitely can't say about my more modern machines, love them though I do.

I'm fairly confident I can get the top put together without any particular difficulty. I am a little less confident about the quilting part. I found that a bit tricky even with the aid of electricity. Still, other people manage to achieve stunning results quilting with treadle machines, so really...how hard could it be?

Yeah, I hear her laughing, too.

6 comments:

Steph said...

That's an awesome machine! I think my grandmother had a treadle sewing machine at one point, I wonder where it got to? Might be handy if I ever loose power!

aafke7 said...

How amazing this machine has become after your good care!

Thanks for your comment!
And my quotes are found in reading...books! :)The biography is mentioned (and in extension linked) below the quote in this blog post. And for me the intriguing thing was that the lady was born in the Indies (mind the colonial background of the Dutch) and became one of the specialists of ancient global textiles in our Tropen Museum (= museum of the tropics).

sophanne said...

I too like the idea of a sewing machine that does one thing and does it well. Seems like I could wrap my mind around that- how is it that when quilting you get the whole thing working in that little space? That's what I'm wondering. Maybe we could see what that looks like in action?

kmkat said...

As a long-time -- but currently lapsed -- sewing enthusiast, I am awed by the perfect stitched your treadle machine produces. Why can't they do that any more? (she whined)

pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

That is a very cool machine. I'm still kicking myself about the one I didn't buy for $70 in the 1980's.

Sabrina @ my little slice of pie said...

Love the red eye! Great deal too!