The Sewing Machine is the Best Invention: A Look at the History of Sewing Machines

One of the most durable pieces of equipment a person can own is a sewing machine. They can last decades without having to be replaced and require very little maintenance. A sewing machine is a great investment because it can save countless amounts of money over a lifetime whether it is used regularly or not.

Many people have grown up using their mother’s sewing machine and then purchased their own when they got a job. Times have changed and sewing machines are now very affordable so they can be owned by children and young adults. A sewing machine is a great gift to give because a person can learn a skill that will be useful for life

Sewing is an Ancient Art

Sewing dates back at least 20,000 years. The earliest needles were made from bones, and fabric was hand-woven from various natural materials, like cotton and silk. People have always needed clothing, so sewing is one of the oldest trades around. The iron needle was invented in the 14th century, but the needle with an eye did not appear until the 15th century.

Since this time, there have been various improvements to the art of sewing, with a notable improvement after the Industrial Revolution.

Betsy Ross created the American flag and is probably the most famous American when referring to sewing. There have been references to people sewing in most family histories and in government as well. There is a legend that President Johnson, who was a tailor, made his own clothing, particularly shirts and suits.

Who Invented the Sewing Machine?

There is quite a bit of controversy when it comes to deciding who actually invented the sewing machine. Most sources are not exactly sure. There have been numerous fights over patent rights as a result.

The International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society say that the first recorded idea was from Charles Weisenthal, a German, who had the idea for a sewing machine in 1755. He did not patent the idea, but a British inventor,Thomas Saint, patented a sewing machine design in 1791. No working model was ever built. The first recorded working model of a sewing machine was made in 1814 by Josef Madersperger, an Australian.

History of the Sewing Machine

Barthelemy Thimonnier, from France, was granted a patent for a sewing machine in 1830. He might have been the first to use the machine for commercial reasons. He opened a factory that had 80 machines. Tailors in the area thought the factory posed a threat to their businesses and they broke in and destroyed the machines. At the time, the workers in the factory had been working on uniforms for the French Army.

In 1833, Walter Hunt, developed the first sewing machine to have a lock-stitch design, however, he never got a patent for the design. Many inventors have tried to improve the sewing machine since the first model. The first sewing machine patent and model in the United States was developed by John Greenough in 1842.

A new machine was developed in the United States by Elias Howe in 1845. He made a trip to England to find financial support, and then returned to the United States to find that many people had been infringing upon his patent rights. The person who really developed a good sewing machine was Isaac Merritt Singer, whose brand is still around today. He was the person who suggested a foot pedal be used to operate the machine.

He was taken to court by Howe for patent infringement and lost.

The sewing machine has undergone many improvements since it was first invented. Sewing still remains a very useful skill to have because it will always be cheaper to make something rather than buying it at a store. Invest in a sewing machine and there will be money saving results.

A Revival of Interest in Sewing and Sewing Machines

The sewing machine was invented by Thomas Saint in 1790. Elias Howe patented the first automatic machine in 1864, and the first portable machine was developed by Isaac Singer in 1851. Soon dress-making at home became easier, and indeed was the norm for many.

Remember though, that most of the ordinary population had far fewer outfits than we are used to having, and what they had was darned and mended – something which has for most people today slipped away into the annals of the past. Sewing was taught at school and every area had its share of dress-makers

Reasons for the Revival of Interest in Sewing

A few factors combined to put sewing firmly into the background for most people. Clothing became cheap and readily available. Sewing fell down the list of priorities in the school curriculum. It became unfashionable to teach or learn sewing. Sewing like any skill is passed on through the generations, and when it falls out of favour with one generation, the next very often does not have the opportunity to learn from their elders.

Of course there have always been exceptions; creative people of all ages, or art and design/fashion students who enjoyed creating and customising their own clothes. But for many of us sewing was relegated to the occupations of the past. Home-made clothing became associated with poverty and was considered old-fashioned. However, this seems to have changed

Many of us began to question the sources of our cheap High Street clothing. Investigative journalism exposed exploitative practices in the manufacture of this clothing, which made many of us feel uneasy. There may also have been a renewed interest in crafts,in general, particularly those associated with the home. Thrift and frugality have become popular themes, as the recession hits, and this also lends itself to a revival of interest in sewing at home

How do we Know About the Revival of Interest in Sewing?

Last year, Tesco reported that their sales of sewing machines had increased by 198% from the previous year. Argos reported a 500% increase in the sales of their cheapest model, which was priced at £69.99. Sales of Singer and Brother models were generally up by 50%.

The WI (Women’s Institute) has noticed an increase in demand for sewing teachers – who are also benefiting from this change in attitude to one of our oldest crafts.

Choosing a Sewing Machine for a Beginning Quilter

A multiplicity of sewing machines floods the market for every type of sewing project imaginable. Sewing machine retailers cater to quilters, embroiderers, and clothing designers, and each brand markets its own version of a beginner’s machine. Novice quilters may find the variety overwhelming when deciding which machine best suits their needs while initially learning the craft.

Learn the Brand Names

The top brand makers in sewing machines for quilters are Bernina, Janome, Viking, Singer, Pfaff, and Brother. These companies specialize in sewing machines that feature quilting attachments. They make machines for any level quilter, whether a beginner sewing on a table top machine or a professional stitching on a longarm machine.

Purchase the sewing machine from a licensed dealer to ensure the best quality product. Some manufacturers will feature their machines in big box stores for a supposed discounted price. These machines are typically not standard featured dealer items, but are designed by the manufacturer for the specific big box chain store advertising them.

Generally these machines are lower in quality than those sold by a dealer and will break easily.

Stay Light on Features

When learning to make a quilt for the first time, less is more. Basic quilt making involves two key principles which every crafter must follow: make quality stitches and stitch straight. These two points are applicable for quilters at every level.

Sewing machine dealers will typically allow customers to practice on the machines displayed within the store. The dealer will probably demonstrate the most expensive machine that he or she sells, often topping several thousand US Dollars (USD) in price. The savvy quilter, however, needs only to look at the brand name and practice with a basic stitch to learn all that she needs to know about the quality of the interlocking stitches.

Every machine manufactured by a particular brand will stitch the same when testing a basic straight stitch.

To piece a quilt together, only a basic sewing foot is required. This will come standard with all machines. Also purchase a straight quilting foot made by the manufacturer of the machine. This is done easily at the time of the initial purchase. Off brand quilting feet may not fit every type of machine and break some feed dogs, so do not attempt to save money by purchasing a cheap foot.

Purchase a hopper foot for future free hand quilting. The sewing machine dealer may attempt to market the latest automatic, stitch-regulated sewing foot available. This extremely expensive add-on is unnecessary when learning quilting basics. An affordable hopper foot, also known as a darning foot, will allow the quilter to create his or her own designs on a table-top machine. It is best to start with this type of foot when learning free-motion quilting as it builds strong quilting habits for the future.

Stay on the Straight and Narrow

The most valuable feature a beginning quilter can purchase is a stitch guide. Ask the dealer for a stitch guide at the time of purchasing the machine so that the brand names are the same. This guide will fit beside the needle and provides a small, thin bar against which the quilter may press the fabric edge.

All seams within a quilt should be no larger than a quarter inch. Attaching a stitch guide to the sewing machine ensures that the stitch never strays further than a quarter inch from the edge of the fabric. Accurate seams are a key foundation to creating a quality quilt.

Beginner quilters should purchase a recognized brand name sewing machine from a licensed dealer. Expensive, complicated additional features are to be avoided as they tend to create confusion and are unnecessary while learning quilt fundamentals. Invest in a stitch guide to create precise seams throughout the project. Following these simple instructions will save money and result in a quality machine that will last for many years and produce dozens of family treasures.

Easy Machine Quilting: Best Free-Motion Sewing Machine Settings

Free motion quilting is quite a different experience from other kinds of sewing you do on your sewing machine. The feed dogs that move the fabric under the needle during ordinary sewing are dropped down out of the way, so you can move the fabric freely with your hands and “draw” machine quilting designs with the needle as if you were doodling on a sketch pad.

Newer sewing machines have a number of special settings designed to help you produce smooth, even free-motion quilting or embroidery stitches.

Seven Sewing Machine Settings for Free Motion Machine Quilting

Here are seven items to check before you start free motion quilting:

  1. Drop the sewing machine’s feed dogs. If they can’t be dropped, you may be able to cover them with an index card or piece of cardboard.
  2. Use your machine’s walking foot, if you have one. Otherwise, put a darning or free-motion presser foot on the sewing machine. The ideal free-motion foot gives you a good view of the needle, so you can easily see the stitches as you make them.
  3. If you have a needle-up/needle-down setting, set it to needle down. This means the sewing machine drops the needle into the fabric whenever you stop sewing, so you can stop and take a break without losing your place.
  4. Set the stitch length to zero. When you free motion quilt, your hands and your sewing speed should control the length of the stitches. If your machine has a stitch regulator, though, turn it on. Stitch regulators keep the stitches at a constant length, no matter how fast or slowly you stitch and move the fabric.
  5. If the sewing machine has a speed control button, set it at medium speed. If that turns out to be too fast or too slow, you can readjust. A speed control makes the machine sew at a constant speed, so you don’t need to worry about maintaining a consistent pressure on the foot pedal.
  6. Test the thread tension by making a test run on a quilt sandwich scrap. Throw in a few curves to make sure your thread tension isn’t too loose or too tight. Free-motion quilting usually requires lowering the top thread tension. If little flecks of bobbin thread show up on the top of the fabric, the top thread tension is too high. Don’t be afraid to reduce it all the way to zero – you won’t hurt the machine.
  7. Put in a new sewing machine needle. It’s a good idea to do this at the beginning of every project. For free-motion quilting, a size 80/12, 90/14 or even 100/16 quilting, denim, or topstitch needle is usually strong enough to handle the added stress of going around curves without breaking or skipping stitches.

Optional (but Helpful) Preparations for Sewing Machine Quilting

I find that the weight of larger quilts or quilts backed with polar fleece really tends to make the quilt drag on the bed of my sewing machine. This can make free-motion quilting feel like a chore. Putting a Teflon-coated silicone sheet called Sew Slip II on the sewing machine bed makes the quilt sandwich slide much more freely over the quilting surface.

If you are quilting with the sewing machine set on a table top, a portable sewing extension table also helps support the weight of the quilt and keep it from dragging against the needle. Internet sewing machine suppliers such as offer portable extension tables for many different brands of sewing machines.

With your machine set properly and the right attachments and accessories, you are now ready to try your hand at free-motion machine quilting.

Ricky Metzger
There's something bizarre about him, perhaps it's his patience or perhaps it's simply his fortunate past. But nonetheless, people tend to salute him in the streets, while hoping to one day follow in his footsteps.

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