History Of The Industrial Sewing Machine

Long ago, sewing took a much longer time. Seams that can now be stitched in under a minute had to be slowly done by hand. As you can imagine, this took a lot longer time than stitching seams with a machine. Because of this slow process, clothing was made by a professional tailor or seamstress. All pieces of clothing were specially made for the person who would finally wear them. While this might sound quite luxurious, the truth is that most people were unable to afford buying clothes often, and it wasn’t uncommon for a person to only own three or four sets of clothing.

Thanks to technological developments in both in the production of textiles and in sewing, it’s now possible to buy clothing at highly affordable prices in stores.

The First Sewing Machines

The English inventor, Thomas Saint (a cabinet maker by profession) was the inventor of the first sewing machine that was able to create chain stitches like modern machines do. He patented his idea in 1790, and while it was a pure stroke of genius for the time, his poor marketing led to his design being lost. Saint likely had a model of his machine made, but there’s no evidence to support this. The machine was meant to facilitate in the production of leather and canvas goods, such as saddles and bridles.

Saint possibly used his invention himself, but it went largely unnoticed until 1874 (that’s an entire century, mind you), when William Newton Wilson discovered Saint’s patent in the London Patent Office. By making a few adjustments, Wilson was able to create the first sewing machine that was used for industrial purposes, such as doing stitching for the manufacturing of sails for ships.

But these first sewing machines all still came with their own sets of limitations. They weren’t all that commonly used, and arguably only made working with tough materials like canvas and leather a bit easier.

The first sewing machine that was more widely used for working various materials, was built by French tailor Barthélemy Thimmonier. In 1830, Thimmonier patented his design and, together with business partners, opened the first clothing manufacturing company that would use sewing machines. The company was meant to create uniforms for the French Army.

Industrialisation Of The Sewing Machine

Up until this point, Sewing machines went through few other developments, and while they aided in the production of certain things a bit, machines were still rather slow and the costs involved weren’t necessarily worth the expense.

This soon changed, however. The industrial revolution was the start of many major changes in the production of a broad variety goods. Revolutionising the way things were produced, many things that were once made by family-owned businesses – such as tailors, spinsters and shoemakers – were now starting to be produced by large companies instead. Unfortunately, due to mechanization, the revolution caused many people lose their jobs, and it mostly isn’t remembered as a prosperous time in human history. Nevertheless, it was the birth of our current global culture of consumerism.

The first industrial sewing machines were made in America. An inventor named Elias Howe created a machine by improvising one that had already existed. He went off to England to market his idea, only to return to America and find that his patent being infringed by various people. Howe won a case against Isaac Merritt Singer for the infringement of his patent, he was awarded royalties for the use of his patent.

But Singer, an engineer, didn’t merely copy Howe’s machines. He incorporated ideas from Thimmonier, Howe and some other ideas by other inventors and created a machine that was better than any of the previous ones.

In the years that followed, patent infringement cases were made back and forth in what was known as the Sewing Machine War.

Sewing machines still had a long way to go, but the changes that were made to sewing machine design between the years 1830 and the late eighteen hundreds, delivered sewing machines that were bought by companies manufacturing clothes. Meaning that industrial sewing machines became popular at the time. These machines more than halved production times for clothing.

Modern Industrial Sewing Machines

Nowadays, sewing machines come in many different shapes and sizes. Many people take up sewing as a hobby and sewing machines can easily be bought for private use. But industrial sewing machines are still much faster than sewing machines used by those who take up sewing as a hobby and the machines tend to be far sturdier.

Modern industrial sewing machines, have cut back on production time by more than seven fold compared to making clothing by hand. The machines can work at least one thousand stitches per minute, but can even do as many as five thousand in a single minute. Many machines can work approximately seventeen yards of seam in a single minute.

Needless to say, domestic sewing machines simply can’t keep up that pace, and many hobby seamstresses would find themselves unable to keep up with the extremely high pace at which these machines can perform.

Industrial sewing machines are here to stay. Their contribution to the industrialized world has been immense, with everything from clothing and shoes, to kites and car seat covers being made by using industrial sewing machines.

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *