As women bent over their sewing in the past by candlelight or gaslight, little did they imagine the sewing machine. Since it took so long to sew clothes, most poorer families only had two changes of clothes. One for everyday and one for ‘best’ to wear to church or on important occasions.
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The sewing machine had a very chequered career, even being set upon by enraged mobs a couple of times ! The earliest known record is an attempt to invent a machine for sewing leather by Thomas Saint in 1790. Although he took out a patent, this was forgotten and found again in the mid nineteenth century by a sewing machine manufacturer. However, the first machine to be produced commercially was constructed as an experiment by a poor French tailor, Thimmonier, in 1829. A year or two later he received a commission for 80 such machines from a Paris factory which made military uniforms. His fellow tailors saw the machine as a threat and incited a mob to destroy them. Only one model survived and poor Thimmonier took it back home and exhibited it as a curiosity to earn a little money.
During the next few years Thimmonier managed to sell handmade wooden machines, but in 1845 he received an offer for the production of metal machines. His success was short-lived as once again a mob intervened and the factory set on fire. Following this the sewing machine industry came more or less to a halt following the 1848 Revolution.
Sewing machine In the US
In the US, a domestic sewing machine was produced by Isaac Merritt Singer in Boston in 1851. Following this, in 1877 the sale of treadle machines was introduced. By 1889 the Singer Co. produced the first electric machine in New Jersey. By 1890 Singer were turning out ten million machines, some still usable today. Back in 1842 the first American patent was issued to John Greenough, who first named it the ‘sewing machine’. In the 1900s Sears Roebuck and Co. of Chicago listed them in their catalogues.
There were many attepts to design a machine to imitate hand sewing. Finally, an eye-pointed needle was invented which led to successful sewing, still used today in modern machines. However, it wasn’t until electricity became widespread in the 1920s that the demand for sewing machines became universal, thus also saving the eyesight of many seamstresses.
Sewing machine Collection
There are many beautifully decorated old sewing machines. However collectors are only interested in immaculate machines and must make sure that all parts are complete. Even better if there is a pamphlet of instructions. While prices online are not particularly high, a machine in good condition can fetch an asking price of around 200 dollars. Some rare models may even fetch over $1000. The machines are certainly very decorative and make attractive conversation pieces.