Sewing Machine Day takes place annually on 13 June. It commemorates the date of 13 June 1790 when cabinet-maker and inventor Thomas Saint received a patent for the design of the worlds first Sewing Machine to sew fabric and other materials together with thread.
The origins of the sewing machine date back to 1755 when Charles Fredrick Weisenthal, a German-born engineer working in England was awarded the first British patent for a mechanical device to aid the art of sewing, increase efficiency and decrease the amount of manual sewing work performed in clothing companies.
Weisenthal’s device consisted of a double pointed needle with an eye at one end.
In 1790 cabinet-maker and inventor Thomas Saint received a patent for his improved design which was designed for leather work and canvas material and featured An awl in front of the eye pointed needle to make a hole in preparation for the thread. It is likely that Saint had a working model but there is no evidence of one; he was a skilled cabinet maker and his device included many practically functional features: an overhanging arm, a feed mechanism (adequate for short lengths of leather), a vertical needle bar, and a looper.
Thomas Saint’s sewing machine used the chain stitch method, in which the machine uses a single thread to make simple stitches in the fabric. A stitching awl would pierce the material and a forked point rod would carry the thread through the hole where it would be hooked underneath and moved to the next stitching place, where the cycle would be repeated, locking the stitch. Saint’s machine was designed to aid the manufacture of various leather goods, including saddles and bridles, but it was also capable of working with canvas, and was used for sewing ship sails. Although his machine was very advanced for the era, the concept would need steady improvement over the coming decades before it could become a practical proposition.
In 1874, a sewing machine manufacturer, William Newton Wilson, found Saint’s drawings in the London Patent Office, made adjustments to the looper, and built a working machine, currently owned by the London Science Museum. In 1804, a sewing machine was built by the Englishmen Thomas Stone and James Henderson, and a machine for embroidering was constructed by John Duncan in Scotland. An Austrian tailor, Josef Madersperger, began developing his first sewing machine in 1807 and presented his first working machine in 1814. Having received financial support from his government, the Austrian tailor worked on the development of his machine until 1839, when he built a machine imitating the weaving process using the chain stitch.
The first practical and widely used sewing machine was invented by Barthélemy Thimonnier, a French tailor, in 1829. His machine sewed straight seams using chain stitch like Saint’s model, and in 1830, he signed a contract with Auguste Ferrand, a mining engineer, who made the requisite drawings and submitted a patent application. The patent for his machine was issued on 17 July 1830, and in the same year, he opened (with partners) the first machine-based clothing manufacturing company in the world to create army uniforms for the French Army. However, the factory was burned down, reportedly by workers fearful of losing their livelihood following the issuing of the patent.
His machine was made of wood and uses a barbed needle which passes downward through the cloth to grab the thread and pull it up to form a loop to be locked by the next loop. The first American lockstitch sewing machine was invented by Walter Hunt in 1832. His machine used an eye-pointed needle (with the eye and the point on the same end) carrying the upper thread and a falling shuttle carrying the lower thread. The curved needle moved through the fabric horizontally, leaving the loop as it withdrew. The shuttle passed through the loop, interlocking the thread. The feed let the machine down, requiring the machine to be stopped frequently and reset up. Hunt eventually lost interest in his machine and sold individual machines without bothering to patent his invention, and only patenting it at a late date of 1854. In 1842, John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in the United States. The British partners Newton and Archibold introduced the eye-pointed needle and the use of two pressing surfaces to keep the pieces of fabric in position, in 1841.
The first machine to combine all the disparate elements of the previous half-century of innovation into the modern sewing machine was the device built by English inventor John Fisher in 1844, thus a little earlier than the very similar machines built by Isaac Merritt Singer in 1851, and the lesser known Elias Howe, in 1845. However, due to the botched filing of Fisher’s patent at the Patent Office, he did not receive due recognition for the modern sewing machine in the legal disputations of priority with Singer, and it was Singer who won the benefits of the patent. Since then the sewing machine has greatly improved the efficiency and productivity of the clothing industry.
Now modern Home sewing machines are designed for one person to sew individual items while using a single stitch type. In a modern sewing machine the fabric easily glides in and out of the machine without the inconvenience of needles and thimbles and other such tools used in hand sewing, automating the process of stitching and saving time. Industrial sewing machines, by contrast to domestic machines, are larger, faster, and more varied in their size, cost, appearance, and task.