How Do Sewing Machines Work?
Sewing machines today often work by electricity. But there are over 2,000 different types, with attachments for turning hems, tucking, frilling, piping, darning, and all kinds of decorative stitching. They can stitch leather, quilt bedspreads and sew on buttons. One type of seven needle machine can sew 20,000 stitches a minute. Sewing machines were invented during the first Industrial Revolution to decrease the amount of manual sewing work performed in clothing companies.
Since the invention of the first working sewing machine, generally considered to have been the work of Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790, the sewing machine has greatly improved the efficiency and productivity of the clothing industry. The first sewing machine in France seems to have been invented by a poor French tailor, Barthelemy Thimmonier, in 1830. An angry mob, afraid that the machines would put people out of work, smashed them and almost murdered Thimmonier. However, he persevered and one of his machines was in London’s Great Exhibition of 1851. But no one took it seriously.
In America Walter Hunt invented a machine with an eye-pointed needle that carried a loop of thread through the cloth. A shuttle working to and fro under the cloth carried a second thread through the loop, thus locking it. The principle had now been discovered, but it was left to another American, Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-75) to mass-market a machine. A patent for a lock stitch machine had been obtained in 1846 by Elias Howe, of Massachusetts. But singer and his astute lawyer, Edward Clark, fought the patent and pioneered the selling of his machines by hire-purchase.
The first singer machine dates from 1851 and was worked by a treadle. The eye-pointed needle was straight, and worked up and down. Singer added a table to hold the cloth, and an endless leather belt and circular feeding bar that allowed continuous sewing. By 1860 more than 111,000 machines were produced by 74 American companies. Although thousands of patents have been taken out since that date for improvements and attachments, the main principles have not changed.
Mahatma Gandhi learned to use a sewing machine in prison and said: “It is one of the few useful things ever invented.” 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. Once in operation the machine lowers the threaded needle through the cloth into the bobbin area, where a rotating hook (or other hooking mechanism) catches the upper thread at the point just after it goes through the needle. The hook mechanism carries the upper thread entirely around the bobbin case, so that it has made one wrap of the bobbin thread. Then the take-up arm pulls the excess upper thread (from the bobbin area) back to the top, forming the lockstitch. Then the feed dogs pull the material along one stitch length, and the cycle repeats.