Who invented the Sewing machine ? ; A walk through history

Why was the sewing machine invented?

The first patent for the sewing machine was worded  "An entire new method of making and completing shoes, boots, splatterdashes, clogs, and other articles, by means of tools and machines also invented by me for that purpose, and of certain compositions of the nature of Japan or varnish, which will be very advantageous in many useful appliances." This somewhat sums up why the sewing machine was invented.

The oldest known needle dates some 25000 years. But it took a long long time for man to invent a machine to replace hand sewing. Till then stitch upon stitch was labouriously hand worked by men and women. It took days to complete one garment this way. Sewing machine proved to be the remedy for this drudgery.

Like any machines, sewing machines saved time - lots and lots of it. Before its invention, seamstresses spend hours sewing up gowns and accessories. Each button and buttonhole and every single eyelet and everything was hand sewn. Young ladies in all houses (even affluent houses) were made to spend a significant amount of their time training to be good seamstresses; they had to, if they wanted to wear clothes. All the ladies spend their leisure time hand sewing. All this changed with the coming of sewing machine.

Only the people of means had enough clothes to wear. The tattered clothes of the common man were taken for granted. Even the rich got their elaborate gowns and suits handsewn after a long waiting. Their gowns were never washed frequently for fear of having to repair. One simple shirt took almost a day to finish. So you can imagine what this meant for the common man. Now they got enough clothes to wear, as clothes started to be made in shops with sewing machines on a large scale. 

With the invention of the sewing machine, Sewing moved from houses and small shops to large manufacturing units. The women who spend a lot of time sewing clothes for their own families found time for other activities - at a later date they even ventured out to work for others. The household chore which included sewing lessened leading to a great deal of freedom for the women. Hurray to the sewing machine.

But the tailors of the time didnot see this convenience, at first. They thought that the machine would replace them. They protested big time for a long time.

The first sewing machines were not made for the home user. Even if they were, the exorbitant price of those early machines made it impossible for individuals to buy them. It was only by the 1900s that affordable home-use machines started to sell. When that happened, women found they could sew up clothes for themselves and save money or for others and make money. Check out the post on sewing businesses for some 42 sewing related businesses you can start in your free time.

The invention of sewing machine lead to the rise of new industries mainly the ready-to-wear clothes. So, individuals and the society benefitted in many ways from the rise of sewing machines

Who invented the sewing machine?

The person credited to have invented the sewing machine with its modern practical operations is Barthelemy Thimonnier. He was a French tailor and he succeeded in creating a chain stitch sewing machine and got a patent for it in 1830.

But It is not like the Oscar award that you give it to that one person - you cannot rightly pinpoint one person for having invented this magnificent invention. The sewing machine was invented in its first avatar by Thomas Saint  in 1790 but it has evolved so much from that first machine. Another significant name in the sewing machine history is Elias  Howe .This page has some more details on how he bravely withstood hardships in life to bring forth a very worthy sewing machine. 

Early Sewing Machine History - Timeline

The first sewing machine was a very basic one - it had an awl, to punch a hole in the material. A blunt needle pushes a thread through the hole to form a loop on the under side of the material. Through this loop the needle passed a second loop to form a chain or crochet stitch.  From this to the current crop of highly sophisticated sewing machines is a long journey of many inventors who risked everything for its success. 




Chain Stitch Machine

Thomas Saint (UK) - The first sewing machine was patented 

Thomas Saint a british citizen obtained a patent for a machine that made stitches. The machine produced with his plans had horizontal cloth plate or table, an overhanging arm carrying a straight needle, and a continuous supply of thread from a spool; it had forked needle, pricker, hooked needle, chain stitch. But it was a difficult machine to operate.

Chain Stitch Machine

Balthasar Krems ( Germany )

This machine had a needle with eye at the tip and a controlled bobbin hook and made 300-350 stitches per minute

Double Stitch Machine

Joseph Madersperger ( Austria )

Two-pointed needle with eye and shuttle-like device for double-stitching

about 1830

Chain Stitch Machine

Barthelemy Thimonnier, France-  He made a sewing machine that produced a chain stitch with a needle, shaped like a hook.It was able to reach 200 chain stitches per minute.


Lock Stitch Sewing Machine

Walter Hunt, New york, USA 

IN 1832  Walter Hunt made a lock stitch machine that was an improvement on the earlier one -this one made a locking stitch, a completely different method from imitating the hand stitching with a table and foot treadle. His machine had a curved needle with an eye at the point. The needle pierced the goods, and at the moment when it started out, a loop was formed in the thread; at that very same instant, a shuttle carrying a second thread passed through the loop, making the lock stitch.


First Double Saddle stitch Sewing Machine

Elias Howe, Boston, United States. His machine had an eye-pointed needle in combination with a shuttle to form a stitch ( the second thread travels back and forth in the shuttle) with a sewing rail of 30-40 cms



Double Lock Sewing Machine with a central spool

AB Wilson, Watertown, Conneticut, United States. The first double lock sewing machine with a central spool, the technology used in household sewing machines


 Double Lock Sewing Machine

Isaak Merrit Singer New York, USA. The first double-line lockstitch sewing machine with a straight-line shuttle.In 1851 Isaac Merrit Singer patented a  rigid-arm sewing machine. 


 The first mobile sewing machine 

Grover & Baker


 The sewing machine with needle delivery

JE Gibbs & WH Johnson, USA. This low-priced chain-stitch sewing machine was mass produced and used by many 


Two thread Double lock sewing machine 

Plaz & Rexroth, France 


Hand sewing machine 

United Kingdom


Free arm lock sewing machine with a free arm that slides into the surrounding platform.

United Kingdom



 The invention of the zigzag sewing machine 

Helen Blanchard  United Kingdom

First hemstitch sewing machine

It sewed 1,000 stitches per minute

Reference : www.moah.org

Image attribution : Wikimedia Commons 

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