Some History About Sewing

  Shortly after man began to drape himself in the skins of animals, sewing was invented. At first, needles were craved from bone and threaded with strips of leather so that the skins could be sewn together into more practical shapes. The invention of spinning and weaving techniques made sewing and even greater necessity. At first garment shapes were simple and so was the sewing. However, by the Middles Ages in Europe and somewhat eariler in the Far East, clothing was elaborate in both style and decoration. Every stitch and bit of embroidery  was done by hand. The hours of labor on each garment became long and arduous.

  When the Industrial Revolution began and ways of spining and weaving by machine became practical, inventors saw a need for a machine which could sew garments together. The first known sewing machine patent was issued in England in 1790 to Thomas Saint. Nothing came of this first machine except perhaps that spurred the imagination of other inventors.

  In 1830,  a patent was issued in France to Barthelemy Thimonnier for a sewing machine made entirely of wood. He created eighty of these machines which worked well enough to be used for the manufacture of uniforms for the French Army. Hand craftsmen were alarmed about their futures and in a typical gesture of the times, a group of tailors destroyed the machines. Thimonnier worked undaunted to make an improved model and succeeded in getting an American patent for  metal sewing machine in 1850. He met with no further success and died in poverty in 1857.

Wooden Sewing machineCredit: Google images

  In the interim, Elias Howe had patented his machine in 1846. He had no success with it in America and so attempted to collaborate with an Englishman named William Thomas to manufacture the machine in that country. The two men did not work well together and Howe returned to the United States.

  By this time there were many other names competing in the field. Wheeler and Wilson and Singer were among the manufacturers of sewing machines in the decade before the Civil War. In 1854, Howe won a number of law suits against these men for infringing on his patents, thus, his years of hard work were rewarded.

  Women continued to sew by hand, but tailors and manufacturers of clothing soon saw the sewing machine as a way to more rapid manufacture and so, more money. After the Civil War, the home sewing machine became a standard piece of equipment in many homes. Of course, electricity made the machine even more desirable, the invention of buttonhole and embroidery stitches made it fun to sew.

  Inventors through the ages realized that people needed and wanted all types of sewing aids and accessories. Cabinet makers, silver smiths, artists and artisans of all kinds, to say nothing of the seamstresses themselves, invented and embellished a variety of attractive useful tools. Needles were of primary importance and were valued possessions prior to the time when they could be mass produced. Thimbles have not only been considered useful in most cultures, but in some cases, they have reached a stage of ornamentation much like jewerly. There are people who collect thimbles and many companies design and produce the especially to please collectors.

  At one time during the 18th and 19th century, hemming clamps were popular and became extremely decorative. They were used to hold one end of a hem while the seamstress held the fabric and worked rapidly along the taut edge. Scissors, shears and clippers have been made and decorated, from the tiniest embroidery scissors in the shape of a bird to the large steel shears used by tailors.

  Once ladies began to acquire this variety of equipment, they needed storage areas. The variety of boxes, needle cases, needle books, pin cushions and reticules that have been created through the ages are charming works of art. Many of them have found their way into private collections and museums. These have been made of wood, metal, ivory and fine fabrics and decorated with jewels, mother-of-pearl, scrimshaw and embroidery. They have been painted, padded and lined, made with secret compartments and fine locks. In the Middle Ages, ladies wore their sewing equipment on chatelaines suspended from the waist to prevent theft. In the 18th century, chatelaines again became popular and extremely elaborate, sometimes made of silver and gold, engraved and set with stones.