The History of the Sewing Machine

People have been sewing for thousands of years, but sewing machines are a more recent invention, allowing quicker and more efficient work. They continue to be an essential piece of equipment for many crafters.

When you first start learning sewing and the other textile arts, you only need to buy some needles, thread and maybe some super chunky yarn. Before you decide whether to add a sewing machine, perhaps you should know more about its history.

18th Century

The first record of a sewing machine-type device is from 1755 when a German inventor named Charles Weisenthal was awarded a patent for his “needle that is designed for a machine”. The first sewing machine proper was designed in 1790 by Thomas Saint, but there is no record of him actually building a working model. It was not until 1874 that William Newton Wilson found his designs and created a functional prototype.

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19th Century

Throughout the early 19th Century, inventors from Austria to America tried to create their own sewing machines, with limited success. It was in 1830 that Barthelemy Thimonnier produced his own machine and used it to launch the first-ever machine-based clothing company, despite attempts from rival tailors to burn down his factory. Walter Hunt was responsible for the first, but unpatented, American sewing machine in 1834.

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The Sewing Machine Wars

Another American design, the lockstitch, arrived in 1845, courtesy of Elias Howe. He was followed by Isaac Merritt Singer, who took inspiration from the lockstitch, as well as Hunt and Thimonnier. He also pioneered the up-and-down needle, plus the foot pedal, in his 1951 model. Howe sued him, but eventually both men made millions.

Today, you may knit with needles and super chunky yarn, or sew with fine thread, but sewing machines are available in larger and faster models than ever to allow for production on an industrial scale.

Sewing machines did not just spring into existence. They were the result of over a century of trial and error, with a series of clever inventors constantly refining their ideas until they produced the most efficient version.

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