Sewing Machines - History of Sewing Machines

Sewing Machines

Sewing on a lost button, or repairing a small tear on a shirt stumps even the most capable individuals of today. However, sewing entire wardrobes used to be a common responsibility for every housewife. Taking nearly 14 hours to sew a man’s shirt, this activity required considerable time and effort for female members of a household. The invention of the sewing machine facilitated an economical and social movement that allowed freedom from the time consuming clothing creation required from each family.

In 1790 Thomas Saint developed the first device that assisted in the sewing process. Used mainly for leather and canvas, the device used a chain stitch method that penetrated the fabric, and hooked the thread through a rod, beneath the material. Repeats of this stitch would allow for the sewing together of two fabrics. Although efficient, Saint only created the machine for his use, and did not market the product or sell other machines.

In 1830, the French Tailor Bathelemy Thinmonnier, patented his own novel sewing machine design. It was the first truly successful sewing machine venture, and he was able to open a clothing manufacturing company to design and create uniforms for the French army. Although it burned soon after it opened, his machine is considered the first to be commercially available option that was used for mass clothing creation.

Isaac Singer was granted a patent in 1851 for his machine design that included a vertically mounted needle, and a pedal to hold the cloth in place. Shortly after its creation, Elias Howe, a sewing machine manufacturer from England, sued Singer for infringement on the design. Although he won the case, Singer and Howe eventually became close business partners sharing patents and profits from both of their lucrative designs.

By 1856, Howe and Singer formed the Sewing Machine Combination organization with a number of other top sewing machine manufacturers of the day. This allowed for uninhibited collaborations between the members, which led to further advancements of sewing machine design. By the 1860s, machines solely available for large clothing manufacturers became developed for common use. This allowed for common women to sew a new shirt in one hour, when it had previously taken fourteen!

This newfound freedom from the time consuming activity of clothing creation resulted in a large economic boom. Newly available jobs in clothing manufacturing and the construction of sewing machines provided more job opportunities for workers all over the nation. However, as these machines became more common, and clothing manufacturing became more affordable, the individual design of clothing decreased. Today, few people know enough about sewing to design their own wardrobe, and although sewing on a lost button may be necessary from time to time, the freedom provided by the sewing machine has greatly improved the quality of life for housewives everywhere.

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