Sunday, April 14, 2013

HMTATM?* Wheeler & Wilson's No. 8. And two videos!

*How Many Treadles Are Too Many?  Post #3 on this topic.

After a long cozy chat about this machine, you will find videos showing how to thread the upper thread and the bobbin.  Read on down or just scroll down to the familiar YouTube windows.

Best guess on the date: 1878 or 1879, based on interpolating from other people's serial numbers with known sales dates. 

I look at lots of sewing machines online, just as eye candy mostly.  CraigsList and coffee in the mornings.  Sometimes eBay.  I rarely look at treadles anywhere other than CL, but one day I clicked on this machine on shopgoodwill.  It was in a nearby town, the auction was ending that day, and no one had bid.  I got it for $40 without knowing much about it other than it looked older than anything else I had.  I felt sorry for it and wanted to rescue it.

The badge on the bed and the raised No. 8 on the pillar told me that this was Wheeler and Wilson's No. 8.  I shared my score with the folks on treadleon and over the next week an amazing amount of information poured in.

Riley told me that this was the third time it had been listed on  We have a strict no-mention-of-auctions policy on treadleon, so he couldn't give a shout-out on it.  So maybe I really did save it from the dump.

Bill offered some of the rare needles (but it came with 2 dozen!)

Kevin and Miller provided amazingly detailed technical information about the needles, including advice about what modern industrial needles can be persuaded to work with it.  I have saved every scrap of this information just in case I ever do exhaust my supply of needles.

Phyllis explained the two belt slots in the balance wheel (handwheel) and the flywheel:  one set for speed and the other for slower sewing with more power (for heavy fabrics). She also relayed a statement from a vintage sewing machine guru that this machine was the "Rolls Royce of sewing machines before there was a Rolls Royce."

Shown here with the belt in the outer groove of the flywheel.  Can you see the inner groove?

I used a coil spring steel belt so that I could easily shift the treadle belt back and forth between the wheel slots.

Jennifer and Miller had a conversation about the single rotation hook.  I have read about the different types of hook rotation and have even observed some of them, but confess I have no idea of the significance---yet.  There is always more to learn and I am in no hurry.  Just floating down the stream of sewing machine lore.

color added so that you can see where the take up lever is

Kelly gave me a useful tip about sewing on this machine.  The take up lever, which is on the right rather than the left, is pulled to the left if you remove the material in that direction.  Then when it is free (when you cut the threads) it swings back to the right, taking your thread right along with it---and right out of the needle.    Hold onto those thread tails.

Miller (who has recently helped to found a Wheeler and Wilson yahoo group) provided lots of information.  He told me where to find the serial number.  It had been on a cover plate, now missing, but is also engraved on one of the ledges that holds that plate.  He described the two different bobbin case possibilities and I found that I have the older one.  He gave me a vital tip about the bobbin (thread comes off the bottom towards you). 

The bobbin mechanism was filthy and completely gummed up to the point of being frozen.  No repairs were needed, but I did have to disassemble the bobbin mechanism in order to clean it.  Its always SO satisfying to bring a machine back from the dead. 

I saved all the emails from my treadlon friends in a document, which is why I can remember who said what in such detail.  Sadly I don't remember who pointed me to the link to the pdf of the manual, or where I found it.  This was almost a year ago.

bobbin winder bracket
I also don't remember who explained the bobbin winder to me.  If you go back and look at the pictures above, you will see it with the other goodies.  And if you look at the machine head you will see that there is no place for the bobbin winder to go.  That's because it sits in a bracket on the treadle frame and rides on the flywheel.  It has to have a tire, and the largest one I have will fit but is really not quite big enough and tends to pop off.  But it works well enough to wind a bobbin.

Bobbin winder in bracket, shown without the necessary tire.

 Bobbin winder rests on the flywheel.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped me, those mentioned above and anyone else I forgot to mention.  The unfolding of the story of the machine's characteristics was a lot of fun.

It has glass presser feet, wonderful for sewing visibility.  And an idea that did not come around again until clear plastic presser feet were developed---when?  1970's?  1980's?  Let me know if you know.

and it came with a whole set---every foot mentioned in the manual, although one of them is chipped.

and here is the whole set of goodies.  It would be fabulous is that were a dated receipt, but it isn't.

The machine is fascinating because all of the workings, which on later machines were encased in cast iron, are all out in the open and you can watch it all moving.

I would never have figured out the threading of this machine without the manual.  Even with it, it took me a while.  Couldn't find a YouTube video of the threading of this machine, so I made one myself.  These are my FIRST YouTube videos (cue the horns, bells, flutes and crashing cymbals).

On more modern machines, the tensioner has two discs that move freely, with a spring holding them together.  The more tightly wound the spring, the more pressure on the discs, and the tighter the tension. 

On this machine there are also two discs, but they are fixed together as one piece.  They spin around as the thread feed through. The manual refers to this as the "tension pulley".  There is a leaf spring in front of them.  So how does increasing the tightness of the spring increase the tension on the thread?  My best guess is that increasing the tension slows down the speed at which the tension pulley spins around.

You wrap the thread around the tensioner one and a half times, btw.  That's just one of the things that I could never have figured out for myself.

There is a removeable panel to the right of the machine head.

Removing the panel gives you access to the bobbin area.

Lifting off the panel reveals a shallow box underneath.  This serves as a drawer.

I took this treadle out to an event with my quilt guild.

Lots of machine and hand quilting going on

Saturday, March 16 was National Quilt-In Day, and the Alamance Piecemakers Quilt Guild sponsored an event at Brookwood Retirement Home in Burlington, NC.  And I can't remember ever typing a sentence with that many capital letters before.  It was co-sponsored by another local guild, a recently created one and I apologize for forgetting their name.

Kathy, cutting fabrics for charity quilts

Guild members came and went throughout the day, doing a variety of quilty tasks.  Lots of plastic sewing machines, two Featherweights, and my treadle.

Residents of the retirement community were invited to stop in and see what we were doing.

look at the flywheel spinning!

Compared to a Singer treadle, the Wheeler and Wilson No. 8 is nice and petite.  I threw a piece of plywood down on a mechanics creeper and made a platform for a traveling treadle.  Borrowed the DH's van with a wheelchair lift.  Took the head out of the machine and laid the treadle down flat in the back of the van, and took it over to Brookwood.

All of that worked well enough, although the creeper/plywood platform thing can be vastly improved, and will be.

The cover plate next to the needle plate is missing.  A piece of the outer wrapper of a bar of Lindt chocolate covers the moving parts beneath.  Until I come up with something better.

The machine called forth lots of memories from the people who stopped by.  A Singer would have been even better for the nostalgia factor, but managing one by myself would not be fun. 

How about your treadles?  Do you ever take them anywhere?  How do you move them around if you do? Where do they go?


  1. What a neat find! I usually just take my hand crank since it is easier to carry around.

  2. What a breathtaking find. I am so happy you rescued it! I make odd cover plates out of black plastic from TAP Plastics- they are a chain, but if you look in the phone book you can find a plastic place. In fact, if I make them a cardboard pattern, they cut it for me for a few dollars. I usually have to sand a little. I have a couple of machines that have clear plastic cover plates, made from plastic from a picture frame store. It can be amusing to watch the shuttle/bobbin. Onions choice! Laura

  3. Thank you sooo much for making those videos! Really clear and well done.
    I just saw one of those machines...It was definitely a model 8, but it had not the super cool glass feet nor the stitch length feature that yours does. Yay, you got the good one!
    I love the size for portability too.
    Have you checked out Michael Swaine's set up? Pretty sweet!

  4. Thinking more on yours, what if you took 4 big locking casters and bolted them to hinges then bolt those to the bottoms of the legs...Then you could roll it easily and when you arrived somewhere, simply lock the wheels, and then hinge them up out of the way to set the legs on the floor again putting the treadle at the right height to use.
    A tea cart type handle on the flywheel side would work great too.

    1. The problem would be securing the wheels already bolted to the bottom of the sewing machine iron.

  5. Congratulations! What a beautiful machine, and a very lucky one too. Isn't it wonderful when these pieces of history are united with people who truly appreciate and preserve them? I love the videos, very well done!

  6. Great machine. Not sure you can ever have too many machines. I have a folding hand cart that works great for moving treadles. I just place a larger square of wood across the top, lift the treadle on top, then roll it wherever I want it to go.

  7. I'm almost as happy to find your blog posts on WW8 as I am to find my 8 treadle two days ago. Only 1 foot, but one is better than none. :) Cathey in AZ

  8. I was recently gifted with a W&W 8. Having trouble dating her, so this is helpful info. Also rec'd glass feet and other goodies with her. In need of a spool pin, needles and bobbin winder tire. Ideas for sources?

  9. I revisit your W&W#8 posts from time to time. Still looking for the elusive 1" #8 bobbins. It occurred to me just now that it might have been interesting to have a piece of glass cut to fit the missing slide plate and the bobbin cover slide plate too.

  10. I recently purchased a W&W model 3, and am wondering if anyone has source for or an alternative for the glass feet that will fit the #3. I have had no success in finding them and do understand that they are as scarce as hen's teeth,but thought maybe other's with more experience may have some answers they can share. Thanks

  11. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share this wonderful information! Much appreciated!

  12. Cheryl -- you wrote, "I saved all the emails from my treadlon friends in a document". Do you still have that document? I'm a treadleon subscriber, but the archives don't seem to go back to 2013, or earlier, which is when the messages you refer to would have been posted, I guess. I just got an early W&W No.8, and I'd love to see some of the discussion from back then, before pestering folks to rehash it all. :-)


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