The story of history and evolution of the sewing machine makes an interesting read. This article presents a chronicle of the evolution story of this technological marvel – from one of its earliest designs to its modern-day avatar.  

 Who invented the sewing machine?

 

Who invented this appliance that liberated the womenfolk from the drudgery of manual labour and transformed their lives? Prior to the discovery of sewing machine, women spent hours at a stretch stitching clothes manually for the entire family, by hand using a needle and thread.

 

Though all machinery invented is a result of the combined efforts of many people who had been previously working on developing it for many years, the credit for inventing and patenting the first-ever design of a working sewing machine can be given to the London-based English cabinetmaker Thomas Saint. Yes, Thomas Saint can be called the inventor of the first-ever real sewing machine. His machine made straight seams using the simple chain stitch, a type of stitch made with a single thread.

Although his 1790 sewing machine model was designed for stitching only leather and canvas using a notched needle and an awl, and looked nothing like the modern-day sewing machine, this machine can be said to have laid the foundation for the next generation of sewing machines.

However, the credit for inventing the first practical and popular sewing machine goes to a French tailor, Barthélemy Thimonier, in the year 1829. Like Saint's machine, his machine too sewed straight seams using the chain stitch.

 

Who invented the modern sewing machine?  

The first-ever sewing machine that incorporated some essential features of the modern-day sewing machine was invented by the Englishman John Fisher in 1844. Though he had designed it for the production of lace, it was actually a working sewing machine. Perhaps due to misfiling at the patent office, his invention was overlooked for many years and he was not given the due credit for it. Moreover, he himself too lost interest and didn’t pursue his invention further.

Most Americans would consider, and perhaps rightly, Elias Howe, a farmer from Massachusetts, to be the real inventor of the modern sewing machine. He devised a lockstitch sewing machine in 1844 and patented his design in 1845, a year later than Fisher. The lockstitch stitch was formed using a single needle but two threads, one passing through the needle and the other picked up from a bobbin. However, his machine could sew only short straight lengths.

But he must be given due credit because his machine incorporated for the first time three key features that are still used in the modern machines. These are: 

  • A needle with an eye at the pointed end, rather than at the blunt end as in a manual sewing needle.

  • The use of a shuttle underneath the fabric that facilitated the formation of a lockstitch.

  • An automatic feed.

No overview on the invention of sewing machine will be complete without the mention of another American from Massachusetts – Issac Merritt Singer, an actor, a mechanist, an inventor, and above all, an ambitious and smart entrepreneur and an aggressive marketer who used revolutionary concepts like hire–purchase and installment schemes for selling sewing machines to the ordinary folk.

He may not be called the inventor of the sewing machine in the true sense unlike Fisher and Howe, but he is the one who made available to the common household the first-ever small and efficient sewing machine for home use – a machine that actually worked and could continuously sew significant lengths of fabric at the rate of 900 stitches per minute..

What Singer did was adopt Howe’s design and use his own machinist skills to make significant improvement to Howe’s machine by further adding two important modern-day sewing machine features: 

  • A presser foot.

  • A tension system.

 It was for this reason that he was sued by Howe for patent infringement when he patented his improved design in 1851. Though Howe won the legal battle, Singer was allowed to mass-produce the machine by paying royalties to Howe for every machine manufactured by his company.

Who made available the first-ever sewing machine for home use and when?

The first practical sewing machine for home use was made by Issac Merritt Singer. It was introduced to the common household in the year 1851.

When was the first electric sewing machine developed?

The first electric sewing machine was developed by Singer Sewing Co. in the year 1889.

Concluding remarks

Once the domestic model of sewing machine was introduced into the market, owning a sewing machine became a status symbol for the middle class. It drastically changed the world for the womenfolk, who could utilize more of their time pursuing their interests rather than working on needle and thread the whole day. This also marked the beginning of the fashion clothing era. Prior to that people would own just two or three sets of clothing – dressing primarily for need rather than for fashion or showing off.

After the emergence of the first electric sewing machine in 1889, there has been no looking back. The 1900s were the years that saw the development of all kinds of modern sewing machines – particularly the eighties, when computerized sewing machines made an entry, which made possible the automation of a whole range of complex sewing-related functions.

Today there are sewing machines dedicated to carrying out a whole range of sewing and craft activities, be it embroidery, monogramming, quilling, embellishing, or anything else. One can easily do buttonholing, button-fixing, zipper fixing and all such things even on a domestic sewing machine. Then there are speciality sewing machines like overlockers and cover hem machines that can give factory-manufactured finish even to home-stitched garments.

Hope you enjoyed reading this blog on the history and evolution of the sewing machine.