Memphis Sphinx Treadle

Treadle Sewing Machine
Delighted to announce that I have been successful with my applications for funding for the development of my Memphis Sphinx Treadle Sewing Machine project that I began to explore earlier in the year. Huge thanks to Arts Council England and Coventry City Council for their support and to the individual officers who listened and encouraged me to apply. The project’s timeline is from late October through to March 2015 and I am currently engaging various creative partners who will assist me in the projects development and will announce these fantastic people soon.

I will be posting on here my discoveries about linking up the treadle sewing machine with interactive technology and creating a new live craft performance piece but in the meantime I would be very grateful if readers to this blog could share the following information with as many people as possible:

I am working with a 1919 Singer Treadle Sewing Machine – called a Memphis Sphinx due to the decal designs on the machine of a Sphinx. I am looking for stories remembered from people’s families/childhood/work etc of using a treadle machine – and as I have already found with my own family, the machines were used for a lot of things as well as domestic sewing eg: my uncle would use the treadle area beneath as goal mouth practice! I’m interested in hearing the description of noise it made, the rhythm and feel too – in fact anything connected with the treadle machine. I can be contacted – thank you for your time.


Finally I would like to thank Dom and Ash from Ludic Rooms who gave me the opportunity to begin to explore this project idea on their Random Strings residency – I am truly grateful. J x

Memphis Sphinx was prototyped during Random String, a Ludic Rooms project in partnership with Warwick Arts Centre and supported by Arts Council England.

Decal 2

Talks & workshop & a drop-in too at the War Memorial park, Coventry!

Artist Talk
Julia O’Connell is an artist from Coventry whose work is based around textile processes, memory and story. She has recently been appointed artist in residence at the War Memorial Park Coventry and she will be giving a talk about her work on Friday 29th August at 11.00am ‐ 12.30pm in the Visitor’s Centre at the park. The talk is FREE, please contact the reception on 024 76786280 to book a place. For more information about Julia’s work please view her website:

Park and Stitch
Julia will be having a ‘stitch-in’ on Friday 26th September. This is a free event where you can pop along to have an informal chat about craft and making, and also stitch along with Julia at the same time! Please bring any ongoing sewing or craft projects (including knit or crochet) and set aside time for yourself to spend with other makers, sharing skills and stories. If you would like to attend but are a new maker, Julia will have some work to share and do! It would be lovely to see you. This is a free activity for adults and takes place at The Visitor Centre in The Education Room – 10.00am until 12.00pm.

Textile Workshop
As part of Julia’s residency she will be creating memory quilts about stories from the park. On Thursday 30th October, Julia will be holding a patchwork workshop. The workshop is suitable for ages 10 and upward and is an ideal opportunity for everyone to learn a new skill, have fun and be together. Workshop takes place at The Visitor Centre in The Education Room – 1.30pm until 3.30pm. The workshop is FREE, please contact the reception on 024 76786280 to book a place.


Nearly there

This vid I know is awful but I’m trying to show you all that I did it…I linked up the FSR to the treadle and now can treadle and once the coding gets to a certain number it then triggers an action that means a bit of memory text or imagery will be projected onto a screen…the big thing is that its doing what I envisaged from the start and to ‘reveal’ a memory you have to really labour to get it…ie: by physically working the treadle lots with your feet.

I have not shown the projected text bit yet or imagery as I’d like to show that end bit on Friday at the Random Strings symposium but will post soon after with a longer explanation. SO EXCITED RIGHT NOW!!!


Today I’ve focused on trying to get the treadle on my machine working properly…I was worried about any broken parts after the machine has been left for some time but as I inspected each area I soon realised just how amazingly robust these are. I suppose with the action of physical motion being the only way to create a line of sewing the machine had to be pretty durable. I have used a ton of WD40 on anything that looked like it needed it and I carefully waxed polished the wooden table area as the wood has been badly damaged by sun and water…its not perfect but its like I’ve fed it to nurture it back to health a little.


I dug around and under the machine I located the bobbin case and there was still a bobbin of white/rusty cotton inside the bobbin holder. Its poignant to know that I am handling something that my Nannar had previously set up…I think she would be amazed to see me marvel in something that was a practical and much need necessity for her and her large family.


I found a couple of You Tube Vids of other people making a treadle run and that was a great insight for me as I was originally trying to get the machine wheel to turn clockwise but actually you set it off anti-clockwise and then treadle…I have no instruction booklet so I love that there are people the same as me thinking it would be good to record their experience in case another person needs to know.

I started to stitch without cotton on paper to see the line of ‘stitches’ and finally get into a rhythm of motion with my feet and the machine….Huge lump in my throat time as the machine gradually chugged, creaked, moved slowly, then faster and then faster til I was sewing! What is that word where you remember the exact movement of something after a while? Muscle memory! I felt like it was all coming back to me – that movement, that motion, hard work! I have a vid of it…I will upload…I look like a daft old bat getting it going in my socks and rolled up trousers but who cares…

Now to add the tech stuff for my ‘output’ bit of the project…but that’ll be a whole lot of sweary stuff and another post!




So I kind of hit a bit of a wall last week…it was the ‘ideas are running away with me’ wall and although I had tried to tweak and play with my Arduino board and the Isadora software Ash had been showing me I seemed to have stumbled on a glitch and couldn’t resolve it…I also realised that I couldn’t resolve it as I did not know enough about each elements to be able to use the help section as I wasn’t sure which way to look first. HOWEVER good always comes from bad as I spent my time linking to Mark Coniglio’s You Tube tutorials and watched a few set-ups and scenarios. He’s the designer of Isadora – the software I’m using. I also got myself familiar with the actual layout and tools of the ‘scenes’ (the areas that I set up my codes and rules etc on).

BUT Today was a much better day! Before Ash came over I managed to link the band back on to the treadle wheel of my sewing machine and although its crusty and rusty I think I have almost got it working as I saw the needle rising up and down…the needle is still threaded from either my Nannar or Aunt’s last piece of work!

Also, over the last few weeks I posted a photo of the machine on Facebook and wrote a bit about it…gradually over a few days, members of my family began to add comments and reflect on the machine…I DID NOT EXPECT THIS – it has been wonderful to read what this machine meant to them as children growing up in my Nannar’s house…on my you tube film when I opened the draw for the first time, I found a little pixie and later my Aunt commented that it was hers and she had wondered where it had got too…a mystery solved…

There are lovely comments and so I decided to use these within my work…I’m writing some code that when you activate the treadle plate on the machine, memories and stories are revealed by a projector….I AM SO EXCITED by this that I have to type in CAPS as I am really shouting this! I have already in my head worked out a way to develop this further for live performance after the symposium next week…I still have a fair way to go and learn loads to realise it but after my brilliant session with Ash this morning I feel much more empowered…it feels that the nuts and bolts of this ‘interactive’ technology are beginning to click with me – which after last weekend’s frustration is great…you sometimes have to go through those moments to get to a better place!

This morning I drew a sketch for Ash (back of envelope – see top photo) and explained in images what I wanted to achieve with this new knowledge…we then began to create a ‘patch’ (love that its a quilting/sewing term!) with all my coding and triggers on. So basically when the sewing machine is in motion various ‘triggers’ will kick in to then display memories etc via a projector…but only after you have to labour on the machine…

Patch works

I’m going to play around with the exact text and imagery I want to use prior to the demo at Random String and I’ve also got to oil the treadle machine and if time allows read the beginners arduino book…who knew the weekends could be so thrilling! CANNOT WAIT!


Lovely Isadora & Arduino

I’ve had another coding session as part of my residency with Ludic Rooms. There is a symposium about the work and the collaboration with artists on March 7th at Warwick Arts Centre. I need to work on realising in some form some of the bits and pieces I have been playing with to demonstrate at the symposium. So today I looked at the arduino board and literally got to grips with where the wires go and their functions. Its basic electronics but for a stitcher just realising you need battery, earth and then another wire (with/for the info) is HUGE!!!

I’ve also been connecting my arduino to some software called Isadora via my MacBook, this basically helps you create code for an action to be performed ie: if I hold an FSR (force sensitive resistor – a round pad with wires) and squeeze it with a certain pressure – if I squeeze hard enough til 10, then at 10 I can make a word pop up on a monitor/projector etc…
for my practice I use a lot of text and this is such an exciting step forward. Ashley from Ludic Rooms was incredibly patient as he could see I was running away with lots of ideas and wanting to get to the bit at the end where I could literally see my found text in lights!

Couple of things I have learnt so far….I am now NOT afraid of wires and where they go…coding takes time and there’s a lot to remember…small steps/small stitches and I will get there.

arduino board

World War One – Embroidered Postcards

In 2013 I began a commission with Theatre Absolute The project is called 100 and is a cross arts project for the approaching World War One centenary. There are 4 elements to the project, a short film, two new plays and a textile response by myself. I looked at the embroidered postcards that were sent from the Front. Many were initally hand embriodered by French and Belgium women and sold to troops but gradually as the popularity of these increased they were made by machine in factories. There were millions made and I think the scale of production in making these cards that then held precious and personal messages to loved ones fascinated me. I have gradually purchased a few. I chose a couple of motifs from the cards and set about interpreting the designs, learning the flow of stitches and their patterning as I progressed. I stitched a motif 24 times onto 3 organdie screens. It was a way to reconnect back to the hand from the industrial machines. It takes incredible precision to try and stitch the same motif by hand again and again and I was struck by the psychological and physical changes within me as I stitched the work. I recorded the time it took me to stitch each one to see if I could get quicker as I repeated the design. My body began to tense and twist as I rushed to finish quicker against a previous recorded time. During the premiere in October of the initial commissions at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry, I displayed the completed screens. Viewers were invited to stitch a new screen with me and read my collection of postcards and their messages. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear personal stories from others about their families and connections to World War One. Here are a few images. The work will be exhibited again in June 2014.

Plane motif & original card
Birds original card

Sample bird

Close up completed screen

WW1 planes

Close up Bird

Completed bird screen

Close up Dear Wife screen

Dear Wife screen

Exhibition at Herbert Art Gallery

Stitch with meEmbroidered postcards

Memphis Sphinx – looking in the drawer for the first time

As part of my Random String residency with Ludic Rooms, I’m using my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine and I filmed on my phone the first time I opened and looked through the machine’s drawer – it was kind of like an ‘unveiling’ when you get a new bit of tech kit but with lots more surprises. See the phone film here Treadle Machine Drawer Tickets for the symposium can be booked via Ludic Rooms link above. Treadle Sewing Machine


I’m delighted to say that I have been selected as a resident artist for Random String – a project by Ludic Rooms which supports 6 artists as they discover interactive technology and work to incorporate it into their practice. I’m using the treadle sewing machine I inherited from my Grandmother as a starting point. It was made in 1919 in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland. The decal decoration on the machine is called the Memphis Sphinx.

Treadle Sewing Machine

Decal 1

Decal 2

Decal 3

Artist in Residence at Faculty for Engineering and Computing, Coventry University

Here’s a link to an interview about my work on site at the new Faculty of Engineering and Computing – a fabulous new building at Coventry University.
Paint Stitch