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Did the Invention of the Sewing Machine Backfire

Updated on September 28, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Society embraces new technologies that will make our lives easier. It has always been such. We all want to have more ease in our chores. The microwave was embraced to help us speed up cooking time and save on dirty dishes.

But once they become a part of our and we really think about it, our lives really aren’t that much easier. In fact, our lives seem to get harder. I think the same thing happened with the sewing machine.

Life Pre-Sewing Machine

None of us can remember the days before the sewing machine. While we might remember not using one, there has always been the technology in our days. It has always been there, but at one time there was nothing to speed up the making of an outfit. It was all done by hand.

How long would it take to make a dress by hand? It all depends on the dress. I’ve seen reports that a simple dress can be made in 4 hours. Other dresses can take weeks to work on my hand alone. Even with a sewing machine, you could be looking at weeks on a very detailed and sophisticated dress. One project could take up a lot of time for one woman.

The Invention of the Sewing Machine

Can you guess when the sewing machine was invented? According to a source, we can trace the invention all the way back to 1755. Records show that a man in London patented a mechanical sewing needle. This is curious as the first sewing machine wasn’t seen until 1789 by an entirely different man, Thomas Saint. (

Evidence of other models showing up across Europe was found. These models were short-lived, but the thoughts of creating a sewing machine seems to be a pretty old idea. It wasn’t until the early 1800s in America that two men created a machine that “although making a reasonable stitch, could only sew a very short length of material before laborious re-setting up was necessary” (ibid.)

Impact on Society

So, there is this really great invention that has saved the backs, hands, eyes, and minds of many seamstresses, right? It had to have made life so much easier. Or did it?

Most inventions are made with the idea of making life easier. Let me stress the idea part. I personally think these inventions did help but in the end made life a little harder. Were women really able to have more freetime? Idea was great. Reality not so great.

Sewing by itself did get easier. A garment could be constructed in a fraction of the time it had been done by hand. But that meant more could be made in that time. Now society shifted to make more which in turn changed the clothing industry and how people obtained their clothes.

The Pros and Cons Today

So what is the impact on today’s society? Well, like anything else, it has its pros and cons.

The sewing machine has given us a wide variety of clothes to choose from each day. Because of the sewing machine, more of one product can be produced at a time which means more clothing gets to reach more people. That also means more choices as large batches can be done and quickly put out on the market. Even working women have found the ability to sew easier to fit into their lifestyles.


HIgh demand means more work in the end. Sadly, the result is a large number of sweatshops around the world to meet demands. Seems it didn’t really help the hard work issue.


The sewing machine made the ability to make clothes easier and faster. Instead of taking days or weeks, clothes could be made in a matter of hours. That opened up new possibilities for the clothing industry. More choices have become available that don't have to be custom made, but...It has also caused a new type of slavery.

Now dozens of poor workers are crammed into tight and unsafe warehouses and told to sew and sew beyond the eight hour work day. It made more clothes possible while causing more unsafe conditions. Sweat shops have opened up around the world due to the sewing machine ability to make clothes faster. Did it hurt or help us?


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