Treadles may be different shapes but they all work the same, right? Nope. Compare these two:
On the left, the treadle of my Hamilton wheel. Its front end is neatly rounded into the treadle bar. The spinner’s heel does no work at all while the front part of the foot pushes down on the centre/back of the treadle and then relaxes to let it come back up.
On the right, the treadle of my Gib Wilson wheel. This is an extreme example of a heel-toe treadle. After the downstroke with the front of the foot, the spinner can push down with their heel to help bring the treadle back up. The wheel can also be started in this way. This makes for good control of the wheel, but I still really love the relaxed feel of the smooth-spinning Hamilton.
Do you remember the rock-hard glue left behind on the Wilson treadle after I stripped off the ancient carpet tiles?
I tried removing it with turps – didn’t work. Then I tried acetone (a.k.a. nail polish remover, from the chemist) and after several applications the glue was soft enough to scrape off. After that it was just a matter of sandpaper followed by wax. Of course the remains of writing were lost too, but I really don’t think they were ever going to be legible, or significant. I think they were off the back of the carpet tiles, not written on the wood.
End of digression)
Authorities have different opinions about treadles. Eric Corran, for example, is scathing about ‘single-action’ treadles that don’t allow the use of the heel.* ‘This system involves ankle, knee and hip movements and is not recommended’ but if the heel is used to power the upstroke ‘Treadling is then just a rocking motion of the foot.’ I have to say that this is not my experience: if a wheel is in good order and spinning smoothly my body is just as comfortable using only the front of the foot. But we are all different in what our bodies will tolerate.
One thing we should be careful about is the angle of the treadle, whether single-action or heel-toe. At its lowest position, it should be approximately horizontal. If not, a spinner using it for long periods is likely to suffer real problems.
Some wheels are a compromise between double treadle and single treadle – both feet fit on the treadle(s) but move in unison. Grace wheels have a twin treadle, specifically designed for this: maker Mike Keeves says it seemed logical to share the load between both sides of the body, and the many users of his wheels seem to agree. Here is a back view of a Gypsy Grace.
There might be a little problem with terminology here. Which is the “front” and which is the “back” of a spinning wheel? I have seen them described as “spinner’s side” and “public side” – the public side being the side onlookers see when we demonstrate spinning. I like to keep things simple, so by “front” I mean the side facing me when I spin; “back” is the other side.
End of digression)
But don’t be fooled. Here’s one that looks like a double treadle, but isn’t – the A-line by Easycraft (back view again).
So even a simple single treadle isn’t all that simple. What about double treadles? We’ll look at them next month.
* Eric Corran Understanding the Spinning Wheel (Melbourne 1997) pp 120-121