Treadles part 2 – double

First, full disclosure: I dislike spinning on double treadle wheels. This is a purely personal opinion, and I think it’s because they insist that one sit up straight facing the wheel.

They remind me of an old book called How to Be a Lady, a book for girls ‘containing useful hints on the formation of character.’ It belonged to my great-great-grandmother – she wrote her name in it in 1856. Here is what it says about posture: ‘The human form, in its natural position, is a model of beauty. But, when bad habits turn it out of shape, it offends the eye. Avoid a stooping posture, or an inclination to either side. But sit and stand erect, with the small of the back curved in, the chest thrown forward, the shoulders back, and the head upright.’

I fear I’ll never be a lady. Depending on what and how I’m spinning, I like to lean quite far back, relax and even slouch a bit, and sometimes (specially for long draw) sit somewhat sideways. Bad ergonomics I know, but for me, comfortable. I would never tell anyone else that they should do the same.

Having got that off my (not-thrown-forward) chest, I must admit that double treadles have ergonomic advantages, in terms of both effort and posture. The owner of this Ashford Traveller converted her wheel to double treadle (the new maidens and flyer were later replacements).

The kit arrived in a smaller box than you might expect, considering how much it contained. Thanks to Millie the cat for providing a scale.

There was a new treadle bar for between the front legs, with the two new treadles already attached to it. There were two new conrods (footmen) to be joined to them, and then the axle of the drive wheel had to be removed and a different one fitted and secured in place – that was tricky. The connection of the conrods is quite complex and all these parts had to be correctly fastened.

It took a lot of time and care, but she was able to do it all herself. She’s a much, much happier and more comfortable spinner now.

Double treadles can also make it easier to get past the ‘dead spot’ which can be quite pronounced in some wheels. When the treadle and the crank have risen nearly to the top of their movement the momentum needed for the last little lift is lost, and instead of the treadle beginning the next downward stroke the crank and drive wheel run backwards. If you are having this problem a double treadle wheel may be the answer. (Another possible answer is a small weight attached to the drive wheel in just the right place.)

Some true double treadle wheels also work fine with only one foot so you may have options. A few don’t, like the Majacraft Little Gem with its unusual treadling action.

Double treadles are not nearly as modern as you might think. Alpheus Webster of New York State is credited with the invention: he patented two versions in 1810 and 1812. The axle crank was slightly different in each. The idea became popular in America, and was used in the ‘Connecticut chair wheels’ like this one. They weren’t normally made out of chairs (though a few may be) – they just look like chairs.

Photo credit: Krysten Morganti (“Hypercycloid”)

And here is one that astonished me outside an antique shop in Montreal, a lot of years ago. At least two Québec makers in the late 1800s were making this style of wheel; one identical to this one is marked M.R.

John Arlott, founder of Majacraft, introduced the idea to New Zealand in the late 1980s. There was some experimenting: the first Saxonies he made had the treadles attached like this:

Photo credit: Lorraine Cross

Apparently the mechanism proved fragile, though this one’s owner finds it very comfortable and easy to use. It was soon changed to something more like we now expect from Majacraft and other makers..

Spinners vary widely in their needs and preferences. We are lucky that ingenious makers have provided a treadle type to suit pretty much everyone.

Buxon-Keenlyside, Judith Selected Canadian spinning wheels in perspective (1980), 177-8)
Feldman-Wood, Florence “Vertical Two-Wheel Spinning Wheels,” The Spinning Wheel Sleuth 15, (January 1997) 8-10
Pennington, David A. and Taylor, Michael B. Spinning Wheels and Accessories (2004), 60-63

1 thought on “Treadles part 2 – double

  1. Pingback: Some early Majacraft memories and memorabilia | New Zealand Spinning Wheels and their makers

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