The Treadle Battle

I have a confession. I am 37 years old and just finished reading the Little House on the Prairie Series for the first time ever. It’s tragic. I know. But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s about this picture that I found on page 242 of These Happy Golden Years.


That, my friends, is a treadle sewing machine. In 1880s they were a pretty big deal. When I was growing up in the 1980s, my mom had my great-grandma’s treadle setting out in our living room as part of the décor. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever have a reason to use one.

But we all know it isn’t always important to God what we think. What’s important to him is that we just do his will with what he provides.

Well, he provided me with an invite to serve for a week with some fantastic ladies (Esther Guinta, Paula Keiper and Heddy Cuthberton) as sewing teachers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And he provided us with some treadle sewing machines just like my great-grandma’s to use. 😉

The night before we started sewing classes, I was determined to figure out the treadle machine. It was a hard fought battle, but I lost decidely. Seriously, Brunel (a Haitian tailor) made it look so simple, but I could only get it to go backwards. Every now and then I would succeed in several inches of forward stitches and about the time I’d start feeling proud of myself, I’d be heading backward again. There is a definite rhythm involved in sewing on a treadle, and I was not blessed with the gift of rhythm.

I’m pretty confident that Brunel spent half of that evening trying not to laugh and the other half wondering how in the world I would be able to teach Haitian women anything.

I went to bed that night a little stressed out about my failure in Treadle Machine Sewing 101.  But Paula, (who is one of the kindest people in the world) encouraged me that I was not alone, and I realized the next day that because I knew how it was supposed to work, I could still teach it. I knew how to thread the machine. I knew what the hands were supposed to do. I knew what the feet were supposed to do. I could explain everything through our super-awesome interpreters. I just couldn’t do it myself.

And you know what? It was a great week. I spent more time with the ladies doing hand-sewing and cutting out patterns than I did working on them with the treadle machines, but I think each of us ladies would consider the classes a success.

And I am determined to figure out how to use a treadle so I can go back to Haiti and show Brunel my mad skills. (Anyone got a working treadle they want to loan me?)


(Paula working with Yvette and interpreter, Alix.)


(Interpreter Jocelyn and student Sonia. I think Jocelyn was a better teacher than me 😉 )


(Brunel and Gladys)

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