Hand sewing has been around the corner for almost 20,000 years. People, especially women still do it on a daily chore basis. A button got ripped off? No problem, she will put it back on. Is there a small hole in your cloth? She will quickly patch it up.
But when this comes to vigorous sewing, hand sewing is not the answer. It is not only time consuming but also frustrating. Moreover, such works are generally not very clean. This is where the sewing machines get to play their part.
As Mahatma Gandhi has said, a sewing machine is most probably of the best inventions by mankind. And there are supporting facts to it as well. However, in this article, we will see how sewing machines came to exist and emerge over times.
The first mechanical sewing machine
Photo credit http://www.singer.com.my/taxonomy/term/80/all?page=3
It is believed that the first patent for a mechanical sewing machine was issued to Charles Weisenthal, who hailed from Germany. He was given this in 1755 by the British. However, he was given the patent for a needle, and the patent did not contain any information about the rest of the machine. There is no knowledge if Charles’ design had a full machine or not.
Improvements and additions in the sewing machine
Thomas Saint, an English inventor, and a cabinet maker got the patent for the first complete sewing machine in 1790. However, what still remains a secret is whether he built a working prototype of his invention. Later, Balthasar Krems in 1810 invented an automatic sewing machine. However, he did not patent his invention, and it did not even work well.
In 1814, an Australian tailor by the name of Josef Madersperger tried to make a sewing machine and got a patent in the same year. However, all his efforts were considered futile.
In 1804, Thomas Stone and James Henderson was given a French patent for a mechanism that was similar to a hand swing. In the same year, Scott John Duncan got a patent for an embroidery machine that could run multiple needles. However, both of these failed and were soon buried under the sands of time.
In 1818, John Adams Doge and John Knowles made the first ever sewing machine. But again, even their machine stopped functioning in no time.
Barthelemy Thimonnier and the advent of the first functional machine
Photo credit http://www.sewalot.com/french%20sewing%20machine.htm
In 1830, a French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier came up with the first ever functional sewing machine. It used just one thread and a hooked needle that could produce chain stitches. However, this severely impacted the inventor as he was almost killed by an angry group of tailors who thought it would lead to their unemployment.
Walter Hunt and Elias Howe
In 1834, Hunt made a nearly working sewing machine. However, he did not patent it as he thought this would lead to unemployment. One thing to note is that this machine could sew only straight seams.
Next American patent was given to Elias Howe, who built a machine that could thread from two different sources. It had a needle with an eye. It could be pushed through the cloth and could make a lockstitch. However, he too faced issues in defending the patent and marketing his product.
Patent combat between Isaac Singer and Elias Howe
In the 1850s, Isaac Singer made the first commercial sewing machine. The needle was power-driven by a foot treadle and could move up-down. However, the stitch was the same that Howe had patented. So the latter sued him and won in 1854. Thus, he saw an upsurge in his income. He earned almost two million dollars between 1854 and 1867.
Hunt’s and Howe’s machines had a curved eye-pointed needle. A thread could be passed through the fabric when in an arc motion. The other side of the fabric used to have a loop created. It was then when a second thread that was carried by a shuttle going to and fro was passed through a loop, thereby creating a lockstitch.
This design was copied by Isaac Singer, and thus, it led to the huge battle. Isaac Singer in his defence said that Howe also copied Hunt’s model. But this argument was dismissed saying that Hunt never patented his idea.
Some other moments and milestones in the history of sewing machines
In 1857, June 2, James Gibbs went on to get a patent for the first chain stitch single thread sewing machine.
Then, in 1873, Helen Augusta Blanchard from Portland, got the patent for a zig zag stitch machine. This made seal the edges of the seam thus the stitches used to look more finished and made the cloth sturdier. Helen Blanchard then went on to patent 28 other inventions like a hat sewing machine, surgical needles and other improvements that made the sewing machine better.
Till 1889, the sewing machines were used in garment factory production lines only. The sewing machines had not made into the homes as of yet. Therefore, after 1889, a sewing machine for home was designed and put into the market. In 1905, they saw the advent of electrically powered sewing machines.
Since then, many companies have come up. Some focused on stitching a particular piece like hat, shoes and so on. On the other hand, many other companies produced sewing machines for industrial or household purposes. And today, with the development of sewing machines and emerging technology, the sewing machines have evolved more than anyone could ever have imagined.
Today the sewing machines are equipped with electronic controls like microprocessors. They come with memory. Thus, they can remember the pattern and stitches and replicated them without you having to put in any efforts.
The sewing machines have thus come quite a long way. From just one needle and a thread to providing multiple stitches and various options, sewing machines have indeed made the lives of a woman easier and more convenient. We hope the trend continues to evolve, and there comes a time when every single thing gets automatic.