Wednesday, March 4, 2020

History of the Sewing Machine By: Julie lence

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I think it’s true what some folks say—authors sometimes incorporate a bit of themselves into their stories. For me, I tend to turn some of my fears or lack of skills into character strengths. One such talent I don’t possess is the ability to sew. In high school, I took a Home Ec. class where we had to make a dress. That was the last time I attempted that, though I can sew a button on a shirt. Most of my heroines can sew, and in one particular scene from No Luck At All, it was the hero who brought up my topic for today’s blog. Creel spent weeks crafting a surprise for his wife, but before he could give it to her, he had to go to Denver for an item the surprise needed. He couldn’t tell her his reason for making the trip without her, so he brought along his father and gave the excuse his father needed to go to Denver to purchase a sewing machine, which made me wonder when the sewing machine was invented.

Saint's Machine Courtesy of Wikipedia 
In 1755, German engineer Charles Fredrick Wisenthal received the first patent for a needle from the British. His design featured a double pointed needle with an eye at one end. In 1790, Englishman Thomas Saint invented the first sewing. His machine used a chain stitch, with a stitching awl piercing the fabric and a forked point rod to carry the thread through the hole where it would hook underneath and move on to the next stitch. Featuring an overhanging arm, a feed mechanism, a vertical needle bar, and a looper, the machine was only meant for canvas and leather to aid in the manufacturing of saddles and bridles, but was also used in the manufacturing of a ship’s sails. Though advanced for the era, Saint’s machine required steady improvement in the decades to follow. William Newton Wilson found Saint’s drawings in 1874 and went on to make adjustments to the looper, building a better machine which is currently owned by the London Science Museum.
Thimonnier's machine courtesy of
Before Wilson, several others designed their own sewing machines. Englishmen Thomas Stone and James Henderson created their own version in 1804. Austrian Josef Madersperger presented his first working sewing machine in 1814, received financial support from his government and unveiled a sewing machine that imitated the weaving process by use of a chain stitch in 1839, but it was Barthelemy Thimonnier who created the first practical and widely used sewing machine in 1829. A French tailor, Thimonnier’s machine sewed straight seams with a chain stitch. He went on to contract Auguste Ferrand to help with the drawings of his machine, which was made of wood and used a barbed needle, and earned a patent in 1830. That same year, he went into partnership with others and opened the first machine based clothing manufacturing company, sewing uniforms for the French Army.   
The first American sewing machine was invented in 1832 by Walter Hunt. His machine was equipped with an eye-point needle. The curved needle went through the fabric horizontally, leaving the loop as it withdrew. The shuttle passed through the loop and the feed let the machine down, requiring the sewing machine to be stopped frequently and reset. Hunt lost interest in his invention and sold individual machines without securing a patent. It was John Greenough who secured the first American patent for a sewing machine in 1842.  
Howe's Machine courtesy of
The first sewing machine to incorporate all of the elements from past inventors was built by Englishman John Fisher in 1844. American Elias Howe came next in 1845. His machine was similar to Fisher’s, only his fabric was held vertically and not horizontally. Howe traveled to England to gain interest in his invention and later returned to the states to find some folks had infringed on his patent, one of whom was Isaac Merritt Singer.
Singer's invention courtesy of Wikipedia
Singer’s machine, which featured elements of Hunt’s and Howe’s machines, was awarded an American patent in 1851. He’d seen a rotary sewing machine in a Boston repair shop and elaborated a better design. Instead of a rotary shuttle, his had falling shuttle. The needle was mounted vertically and included a presser foot to hold the fabric in place, and since Fisher botched the filing for his patent, he didn’t receive recognition for the modern sewing machine. That honor went to Singer. However, Howe sued Singer for using his ideas and won the case. Later, Singer took out a license under Howe’s patent, paid Howe for each of his machines then partnered with Edward Clark to create the first hire-purchase agreement, which allowed people to buy a sewing machine and pay for it in timely installments.
In 1856, Singer, Howe and a few others formed the Sewing Machine Combination; four companies pooling their patents, with a result that all other manufacturers had to obtain a license and pay $15 per machine. This lasted until 1877 when the last patent expired. In 1885, Singer patented the Singer Vibrating Shuttle sewing machine, which some suggest was the first practical sewing machine for domestic use worldwide. Millions of these machines were made until the rotary shuffle came along in the early 20th century. Singer Sewing Co. developed the first electric sewing machine in 1889, and by the end of World War I, these machines were being sold to the public.
Currently, Singer is still one of the top selling sewing machines. 


kathleen Lawless said...

Very informative post. Thank you for sharing. I have a scene in Blake's Bride where the hero modifies a machine so the heroine can use it more easily as she is left handed. Not sure how reality-based that would have been in the 1880's, but it's fiction. It made a very touching scene.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Very interesting how the improvements evolved. Can you imagine what a time saver this was when before people had to sew by hand? I'm a disaster on the sewing machine, by the way. I never learned the finer skills and every time I drag out my sewing machine, trying to get it threaded is like re-inventing the wheel each time!

Shanna Hatfield said...

Love the history you shared, Julie. Makes me think I need to dust the cobwebs off my sewing machine and make something!

Julie Lence said...

Hi Ladies. Glad you enjoyed the post. I must confess, I do not sew. A button on a shirt and that's it, but I did enjoy learning about the machines. Hugs!