Whether you’re curious about sewing machine facts or not, there are a lot of them that will interest and even amuse you, and some of them are surprising even for experienced seamstresses. For instance, did you know that the first sewing machine was invented in the year 1826? That’s a long time ago! Here are a few more facts:
- Singer Didn’t Invent the Sewing Machine
- Sewing Machines Got Their Start in the Late 1700s
- Early Sewing Machines Caused a Lot of Mayhem
- Sewing Machines Improved Women’s Social Lives
- Sewing Machines Created Some of the First Millionaires
They’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
Sewing machines have been around since the 1800s, but boy how they’ve changed. Whether you’re a seamstress or not, you can’t deny that sewing machines have enriched our lives and made them so much better than they were before. In fact, today’s sewing machines are so advanced that even non-seamstresses agree on how valuable they are.
Ever since Henry Lye patented a sewing machine that stitched together the ends of leather belting used in machinery, people have been fascinated with the idea of sewing things together and creating masterpieces without having to sew everything by hand. For sure, the first sewing machines made sewing much easier and faster, but they were still nowhere near what they are today. If you’re curious about some of the most interesting facts regarding sewing machines, keep reading because they will fascinate you.
1. Singer Didn’t Invent the Sewing Machine
Although Isaac M. Singer didn’t invent the sewing machine (that honor actually goes to several different people), he did take it to a whole new level. He took what had been developed up to that point and added to it, and in 1850 he invented a sewing machine that could sew 900 stitches per minute, an incredible feat at the time. In 1857, he and his partner Edward Clark formed I.M. Singer & Company, and by 1860 it was the largest manufacturer of sewing machines in the world.
Oddly enough, Isaac Singer started his career as an actor and a mechanic, and he had other inventions before he developed his first sewing machine. These included a rock-drilling machine that was used by the government and a wood- and metal-carving machine that he produced in his own factory, until the factory closed down due to an explosion. He was working as a repairman for a sewing machine company when he came up with the idea of a better sewing machine than what he was seeing around that company, and the rest is history.
2. Sewing Machines Got Their Start in the Late 18th Century
Many people think of sewing machines as an American invention, but that is hardly the case. They also believe the ideas for sewing machines weren’t around until the 1800s, but that is incorrect as well. In the late 1700s the United States, France, and Great Britain all had citizens who were working on versions of the sewing machine, and in 1790, an Englishman and cabinet-maker named Thomas Saint came up with the idea of a machine that would sew together leather and canvas.
No one knows if Saint ever came up with a working model of his invention, because all that’s left are his drawings. He never marketed or even advertised his sewing machine model and in fact, it was used mostly to help produce products such as saddles, bridles, ship sails, and various canvas items. But his designs were innovative at the time because they included a feed mechanism, vertical needle bar, overhanging arm, and a looper, most of which are used in some form in today’s sewing machines, making this a very interesting sewing machine fact.
3. Electric Sewing Machines Have Been Around a Lot Longer Than You Think
Naturally, the first few sewing machines were manual machines, but many people don’t realize that the very first electric sewing machine was invented in 1889. Considering that Thomas Edison’s first light bulb had only been around for 10 years at that point and electricity wasn’t as common as it is now, this is an incredible feat. It should also be noted that until the early 20th century, electric sewing machines were used mostly in the manufacturing of commercial machines, not as a device for individuals to sew their own clothes.
Indeed, although sewing machines in the late 1800s were used only by industries and factories because they were still big and bulky at that point, by the early 1900s they could be found in many homes across the country. Nearly every person either had a sewing machine at that point or knew someone who did.
4. Early Sewing Machine Needles Were Totally Different Than They Are Now
Today’s sewing machine needles are quite fancy and are perfectly designed to create all types of masterpieces, but this wasn’t always the case. When most people think of sewing machine needles, they think of needles made out of some type of metal, but in fact the first sewing needles were made out of – get ready – bones, ivory, or animal horns. In fact, although no one knows for sure when the very first sewing needle was created, we know they have been around for tens of thousands of years, which means they have advanced quite a bit over the past dozen millennia or so.
Some of the materials used to make prehistoric sewing needles include bone slivers, sharpened rocks, bird bones, copper, and iron. More recently, meaning the needle was used by Native Americans, needles were made out of the agave plant, which was used to make both the needle and the thread. Gold wire and bronze were also used to make needles until the early 1600s when they were made out of steel and other types of metal.
5. Early Sewing Machines Caused a Lot of Mayhem – Literally!
In France in 1830, a man named Barthelemy Thimonnier patented a sewing machine that was specifically designed to sew army uniforms for the French army. He and Auguste Ferrand, a mining engineer, received the patent in July of 1830 and created the sewing machine shortly thereafter. In fact, he and his partners opened the very first clothing manufacturing company in the world that was machine-based. His sewing machine was big and bulky and made of wood, but it worked like a charm. He even had a contract with the French government to sew military uniforms for the troops.
At first, everything was going great for Thimonnier. His factory was producing tons of army uniforms and even saved the army a lot of money, but then things started to go awry. In January of 1831, a crowd of angry – and drunk – tailors went to Thimonnier’s factory and burned it down to the ground. It seems they just didn’t want to be eliminated by the competition. Thimonnier barely escaped with his life, but he was alright in the end, although that was the end of his uniform-making career. This is one of the most interesting sewing machine facts on record!
6. Sewing Machines Improved Women’s Social Lives
Even before the electric sewing machine came on board, women formed social circles centered around the art of sewing. They would get together, sew quilts and numerous other items in bulk, then donate the pieces to charity. In fact, this was often these women’s favorite type of get-together and it increased their social livelihood by quite a bit. These sewing circles started in the 1860s, and by the early 1900s when more and more homes consisted of a sewing machine, they only grew in popularity.
Even today, there are sewing and quilting societies that are both very popular and valuable, but today there is one main difference in the get-togethers that didn’t apply in the 1800s: some of these sewing and quilting circles now include men!
7. Sewing Machines Created Some of the World’s First Millionaires
When sewing machines were first invented, barely anyone was a millionaire, unless your last name was Carnegie or Rockefeller. The invention of the sewing machine changed all that. In fact, since there were numerous inventors who contributed to the creation of the sewing machine as it is known today, some of the people who became millionaires because of this device may be unfamiliar to you. Walter Hunt created a type of sewing machine in 1834, but unfortunately it was never patented. Elias Howe did patent his own sewing machine in 1864, and it became a huge success.
In the 1860s, two things happened that contributed to the sewing machine being produced in mass numbers. The first was the Civil War, which required massive numbers of uniforms for the soldiers. The second was the immense popularity of the sewing machine, which grew by leaps and bounds during this period. Because of these things, both Singer and Howe became almost instant millionaires – back during a time that there were essentially no millionaires. In fact, it is thought by many that these two men were the first two millionaire inventors in the history of the world: yet another one of the many amazing sewing machine facts known to mankind! Although today millionaires aren’t as out-of-place as they were back then, it’s still interesting to note that sewing machine inventors were some of the first millionaires.