Saturday, July 09, 2011

Uganda part 4 - the trouble with treadles

While we were in Uganda, we bought 2 sewing machines. Both of them are treadles. Since there is no electricity in the villages (and even it the cities it is very unreliable - more on that later) treadles are the best bet for sewing of any kind. You see them everywhere. Apparently, they still make new treadle sewing machines in China or someplace and send them to third world countries. The machines (with cabinets) ended up costing us about $100 apiece. There was no choice over make and model - you take whatever they have. The machines we got are singers and very pretty. Unfortunately, it seems they are pieces of you know what.

So, since we missed our shopping day in Kampala (lots of flight problems, delays, and cancellations) we ended up doing our shopping in Jinaja. This actually ended up working out better because we had to take BOTH machines back and get them replaced. Jinja is much closer to where we were than Kampala.

We struggled with one of the machines all day the first day of sewing, and discovered that there was a mechanical problem with it. Florence has some experience with machines, so she figured this out. We took that machine back and borrowed another machine from a tailor in the village. (The term tailor is loosely used - in Uganda, anyone who sews is a tailor.)

On the third day, we couldn't get either of the machines to work. We had a sewing machine mechanic come over and we worked on the machines all morning. The one we bought also had a mechanical problem (different than the first one) and had to be returned. The one we borrowed kept jamming.

If you've ever sewn on a treadle machine, here's the problem You have to get the machine going forward. I know this sounds simple, but when you are working that treadle, it can start off going backworkd. So, you spin the fly wheel toward you and start peddling. This makes the machine go forward. An experienced treadler can keep it going forward. I am not experienced. The ladies I work with are more experienced than I am in using this kind of machine, but still considered "learner." When learners are using the treadle, we tend to let our feet slow down or stop when coming to a curve, corner or end of a seam. Then, when we start sewing again, this makes the machine go backward. Of course, then we hit the flywheel to make it go forward, which it does - until it jams. This is hard on the machine and causes problems. I think we spend more time fixing the machines than productively using them. Also, you need to oil treadles frequently while using them. I'm not sure why this is.

The mechanic who came over was named Enos. He was very helpful and seemed to know what he was doing. If I had to spend all that time fixing my machine instead of using it, I don't know that I would really want to sew!


Kimberly said...

I was excited for them when you first wrote that they still make treadles, but I agree that I wouldn't want to sew much if I had to spend so much time fixing the sewing machine. It makes me appreciate the small issue of threading a serger now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nancy,

I sew everything in my treadle and I know what you mean about stopping when you reach the curves.

I just stop completely and keep the feet in such a way that the needle does not move. It takes practice, but I have to say that I find it relaxing and exciting to sew in my 200 year old machine :)

I have enjoyed reading your posts from Africa...thank you so much for sharing.

and Merry Christmas :)


Unknown said...

thanks this is most informative.
i am in canada and trying to help a lady in jinja to set herself up
with a sewing machine so that she can have a small business.
but oh what a challenge it all sounds.
not sure now what to do
any suggestions please and thanks

Nancy Winningham said...

Sheila, you can email me at nwinning at gmail dot com