Just like many of the world’s most useful devices, the sewing machine grew from one idea to another through a tapestry of inventors. Each saw the potential for a machine capable of sewing threads for clothing, bedding, and household decorations, and each pushed the idea and the machine a little bit forwards until the earliest versions of the sewing machines we use today appeared.
In the same way that any garment is stitched together with threads, the story of the sewing machine has been threaded together over time by a series of notable people.
From Sketch to Stitch
The invention of the sewing machine was a gradual evolution of ideas, with mechanical, electrical, and electronic components slowly automating the simple process of joining materials together. Throughout the long history of the sewing machine, several important figures played roles in its development.
The first sewing machine was patented by Elias Howe in 1846. His machine was complex and expensive and sold for around £400. This would be tens of thousands in today’s money. Howe’s machine was able to use two independent threads and a single needle while relying on a hand crank to power the sewing action. Though practical, it was far too costly for the average person to afford. It did create the basic shape and functions of a sewing machine, and you can see today’s machines follow a similar design. Howe created the basic blueprint for a sewing machine, a pattern for other inventors to perfect.
Singing the Song of Sewing
From Howe’s idea came many imitators trying to design a machine that shared its practicality without the costs. Many tried and failed, but one man persisted. Who invented the sewing machine? Well, the name of the most influential of all the inventors may well be on the side of your sewing machine today: Singer.
In 1851, Isaac Singer developed the first affordable sewing machine. Singer’s machine was granted a patent and he introduced what was the real breakthrough in sewing at the time; a hire-purchase plan, and a ‘buy now, pay later’ payment scheme. These made the machine accessible to many more people, and a sewing machine became a potential business opportunity. More than the machine itself, these payment plans made Singer very wealthy.
The Stitching Never Stopped
With the design of a sewing machine finalised, and finally affordable to the masses, it was time to develop the machines further. Helen Blanchard invented the ‘zigzag’ stitch in 1873, and later Joseph Merrow invented overlocking as well as the crochet stitch in 1877. Both of these two stitches and the overlocking feature would eventually become common on sewing machines of all makes.
The Singer Manufacturing Company developed the first-ever sewing machine that was portable in 1933, and by that point it was one of the largest and most successful companies in the world. They continued the development of their machines and eventually were able to lower the costs considerably, making them a household name and the sewing machine a household item.
The invention of the sewing machine was a collective effort of many inventors over time, each contributing to its evolution and improvement. The sewing machine, as we know it today, is a product of centuries of innovation and development. Though the name Singer can be found on many of the world’s sewing machines today, many names helped stitch the sewing machine together over many decades.