Wednesday, February 20, 2013


by Daan van Leeuwen

History of the sewing machine:
The first sewing machine was invented by Walter Hunt in 1832. After a while he lost his interest in
the machine and sold it without patenting it. In 1842, John Greenough still patented it in the USA.
Elias Howe created also a sewing machine in England 1845, using a similar methot to Walter Hunt. He
went to America to find people who were interested in his patent. Among them was Isaac Merritt
Singer. He won a case against patent infringement in 1854 and was awarded the right to claim
royalties from the manufacturers using ideas of his patent.

As engineer, Singer improved the sewing machine a bit. The needle was mounted vertically and he
included a presser foot to hold the cloth in place. He developed a fixed arm to hold the needle and
included a basic tensioning system. The machine became a combination of Thimmonier’s, Hunt’s an
Howe’s machines. In 1851 he patented the new machine and also the foot pedal. However, it had
been in use for too long for a patent to be issued. When Howe learned of Singer’s machine he took
him to court. Howe won and Singer was forced to pay a lump sum for all machines already produced.
In 1856 the Sewing Machine Combination was formed. Consisting: Singer, Howe, Wheeler, Wilson,
Grover and Baker. These companies pooled their patents en protected them together. This lasted
until 1877 when the last patent expired.

The big clothing manufactures were the first sewing machine users. In the 1860s also the consumers
began to use the machines. They became very common in middle‐class homes. A sewing machine
could produce a t‐shirt in about one hour instead of 14,5 hours by hand.
The first electric sewing machines were developed by Singer Sewing Co. And were introduced in
1889. At first these were standard machines with a motor strapped on the side because not every
home was powered. When more homes were provided with electricity the motor was introduced
into the casing of the machine.

How does it work?
The sewing machine stitch is very different from ordinary hand‐sewing. In the simplest had stitch, a
length of thread is tied to a small eye at the end of a needle. The person passes the needle and the
attached thread all the way through two pieces of fabric, from bottom to top and back. In this way,
the needle runs through the fabric and binds them together.
This action is really easy to do by hand but it is extremely difficult to pull off with a machine. The
machine has to release the needle on one side of the fabric and also grabbed it again on the other
side. Then it has to pull the whole length of loose thread through the fabric, turn the needle and do
the whole thing upside down. This action is far too complicated for a machine.
Instead of the just named method the sewing machine passes the needle only half‐way through the
fabric and a second thread completes the stitch.
The most important elements of a lock‐stitch mechanism are the shuttle hook and the bobbin. The
bobbin is just a spool of thread. This spool is placed under the plastic cover where the fabric lays on.
It sits in the middle of the shuttle which is rotated by the machine’s motor in synch with the motion
of the needle.

The needle starts in rest position (1) then it pulls a loop of thread through the fabric. The shuttle
hook rotates and grabs the loop (2). The shuttle pulls the loop around the tread coming from the
bobbin (3). After one round the loop will be released by the shuttle and another stitch can be made.