The Invention of the Sewing Machine

The Invention of the Sewing Machine

vintage sewing machineSewing machines were the first widely distributed mechanical home appliance, and they have proven to be a reliable and valuable machine to families throughout the years. 

Just as the modern sewing machine that we have come to recognise, historical models used a needle and shuttle to host thread. Throughout its development, machines have been powered by treadle, waterpower and electricity.

The question is, where did the idea for the sewing machine come from? Here is everything you'd want to know about the invention of the sewing machine we've come to know and love today.

The First Detailed Design

The concept of hand sewing had been around for thousands of years, and 1755 saw a German man named Charles Weisenthal issue a British patent for a 'needle that is designed for a machine'. Unfortunately, there was no mention of a mechanical machine alongside the patent, so the confirmed history of the sewing machine doesn't begin til 1790. 

Englishman Thomas Saint is credited for designing the very first sewing machine in 1790, with a patent for a machine with a hand crank to be used with leather and canvas. Nobody is entirely sure whether Saint built a prototype based on his plans, but the plans were so specific that a working machine was built following those instructions given in 1874.

The First Successful Machine

1830 saw the creation of the first functional sewing machine by a French tailor, 40 years after Thomas Saint's drawing and description of the concept. Barthelemy Thimmonier's machine used a hooked needle and one thread, creating a chain stitch. This new machine was reliable enough for Thimmonier to decide to open his own clothing manufacturing company.

The primary role of Barthelemy Thimmonier's new company was creating uniforms for the French army. This responsibility was short-lived, as other French tailors heard of Thimmonier's equipment and feared his advance would mean they'd lose their jobs! Thimmonier's new factory was set alight by other French tailors, and while he was still inside it.

A Lost Patent

In 1844, an English inventor named John Fisher updated the design of the sewing machine to run smoothly and without any disjointing between the parts. We can't fully understand the structure of Fisher's machine; however because the patent filed at the office was misplaced.

The Lockstitch Machine

Now that the sewing machine was a popularised concept, inventors were looking only to improve the design of the machine to make it more efficient. Elias Howe invented the lockstitch machine in America that employed a 'process that uses thread from 2 different sources'. The lockstitch was more secure than a simple chain stitch, meaning garments made with Howe's machine would be more durable.

Isaac Merritt Singer took elements of inspiration from Howe's, Fisher's and Thimmonier's machine designs to create the first version of our modern sewing machine. This design included a foot pedal and an up-and-down needle and was the basis for all variations of the sewing machine that we use today.

Modern Sewing Machines

Our advancements have spanned as far as computerised sewing machines now. Computerised sewing machines have a wide variety of stitch patterns to apply, and aren't restricted to mechanical settings since a computer controls the needle. Computerised sewing machines also boast more power than mechanical models because the motor is stronger. 

Another development is compact sewing machines, designed to provide powerful stitching but in a small frame that is ideal for travel. Early machines were big and bulky, but with our technological advances, we've been able to compress the functions of a sewing machine to make them as small as possible. Small machines are much more convenient to store!

If you have any further questions about sewing machines and what model would be best suited for your needs, feel free to contact us at Singer Outlet.

Back to blog