ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The History of the Sewing Machine

Updated on December 1, 2016

The sewing machine is a mechanical stitching device for sewing fabric and other materials. Thne sewing machine was the first home appliance and has become one of the most popular. Sewing machines are also widely used in clothing manufacturing and other industries.

The sewing machine is so much a piece of home equipment that we forget both its industrial and social importance, and also the degree to which it has delivered women from work in the home and from the endless, enervating drudgery of the sweat-shops. Spinning, which had occupied so much of women's time, was mechanized in the eighteenth century. Mechanization of sewing and of the making-up of clothes freed women still more for other occupations and interests, led to the mass production of cheap clothing; and was in several ways a factor of social revolution.

Thomas Saint in London in 1790 patented a machine for sewing leather - 'for stitching, quilting or sewing', to be worked 'by hand, by a Mill, Steam Engine or other power'. Nothing came of it, and the machine was forgotten until the patent was discovered accidentally in 1874, by which time the sewing-machine had been re-invented and established by others, chiefly in America. Ill fortune was also to attend the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimmonier, of Saint-Etienne, who invented a chain-stitch sewing-machine in 1829. A chain-stitch is formed from a single thread, the stitches being linked by passing each stitch through a loop in the previous stitch; it can very easily be pulled out, a property with advantages and disadvantages.

Thimmonier's machine was practical, though the barbed needle tended to tear the fabric. His Parisian clothing factory in which eighty machines made army clothing was wrecked by fearful and indignant tailors. Thimmonier persisted, improved his machine, but failed to impress it upon the world.

In 1832 or thereabouts the New Yorker William Hunt invented a more important machine, using a needle with an eye at the point. This carried an upper thread through the cloth, forming a loop. A second thread was carried through the loop by a shuttle, so that the two layers of cloth to be sewn together were securely united by an efficient lock-stitch. Hunt met with opposition, and his machine dropped out of sight. In 1845 - independently, so it appears, the New Englander Elias Howe devised another lock-stitching machine with a curved needle moving through the cloth at the end of a swinging arm; he demonstrated that his machine could work five times as fast as a skilled seamstress. It was rather complicated, though, and expensive, and it had one serious defect: the cloth was held on pins projecting from a metal strip, which moved along with each stitch. After a short length of seam had been sewn the operator had to remove the cloth and place the next length on the pins.

A more famous name now appeared - Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875), able mechanic and able business-man. This New Yorker in 1851 patented a machine which is recognizably the ancestor of the sewing-machine, whether hand-driven, treadle-driven or electric, which is so familiar today in every home. The needle moved up and down in a straight line; the cloth lay on a cloth plate, and was held by a presser foot from above against a wooden wheel which moved intermittently under a hole in the plate, so thrusting the cloth forward after each stitch. Howe promptly challenged Singer for infringing his patent on the shuttle and the eye-pointed needle. The defence that these inventions had been anticipated by William Hunt did not succeed, since Hunt had failed to protect them by patent.

Invention followed invention. Between 1849 and 1854 Allen Benjamin Wilson improved sewing-machines by a number of skilful devices, which are embodied in most of the modern lock-stitchers. He replaced the shuttle by the stationary disc bobbin which supplies the under thread. The upper thread, brought through the cloth by the needle, was carried by a rotary hook round the disc, interlocking the threads. Also he devised the four-motion feed, in which a claw rises through a hole in the cloth plate pushing the cloth along.

Wilson's machine was small, neat, and much lighter than the Singer. However, Singer, Howe, Wilson and others combined and exploited their patents with the greatest success until the patents expired in 1877. Between them, they had given women in the homes of the world one of the most valuable of all labour-saving instruments, and one which was quickly adopted and appreciated.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Tracy Monroy 

      8 years ago

      Nice look at the history of this extremely important invention! Where would we be today without it?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)