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Sewing machine

A machine sews in a different manner from a hand-sewer. The latter passes the needle and thread through the material and pierces it again from the other side. It is difficult to design a machine which will imitate this process and, indeed, this was not achieved until the 1930s. In machine sewing the successful rnethod, followed from the early designs onwards, has been to use an eye- pointed needle which will convey the thread through the cloth without having itself to pass through completely. There are three types of stitch: the simple chain or tambour stitch, the double chain and the lock stitch. In the first of these a single thread is used which is held by a looper as the needle rises and falls so that each stitch is secured by the one before. In the other two systems two threads are employed and the lock stitch has proved an excellent method especially for smaller and domestic machines. In this there is a needle thread above the material and a bobbin thread under it and these two are locked together at each stitch by the upper thread being passed round the lower and tightening it in position. In the double chain stitch method more thread is used but it was for many years more suited to large-scale industrial use and, from the beginning, many different types of machine have been designed for industrial sewing, for varied materials and purposes. Both stitch systems are still in use in modern machines.

The double-pointed needle with central eye was patented in 1755 by Charles Weisenthal but the earliest sewing machine was patented by the Englishman Thornas Saint in 1790. This machine was intended to sew, quilt and stitch but was chiefly designed for leatherwork and was fitted with an awl to pierce the material for the thread to follow. It was a single-thread, chain-stitch design which had a forked not eye-pointed needle. Although Saint in- vented the first sewing machine, patented it and made drawings and descriptions of how it worked, it is thought unlikely that he actually made the machine. His patent was forgotten for many years until found by Newton Wilson, a sewing machine manufacturer, in 1874. Wilson made a model from the drawings but had to alter parts of it to get it to work.

The first satisfactorily functioning single- thread, chain-stitch machine was invented in 1830 by the Frenchinan Barthdlerny Thirnmonier, a tailor who lived near Lyons. Soon about 80 of his machines were in operation in Paris making army uniforms but opposition to this new mechanical threat to their employment made hand- workers so violent that they destroyed the machines and nearly murdered the inventor. The set-back was only temporary and Thimmonier developed his machine further from a clumsy wood one to an improved metal design which could work faster on a greater variety of fabrics. He obtained further patents for improvements in England and America as well as France.

The development of the double-thread, lock-stitch system with eye-pointed needle came chiefly from inventors in America, by Walter Hunt, 1832-4, I, 1846, Allan B. Wilson, 1849-51 and Isaac Merrit Singer, 1851. Howe's invention had an under-thread shuttle but his needle had to be curved and the material held vertically. These drawbacks were countered by Singer, who developed a system using a straight needle and the material was supported on a horizontal table. Allan B. Wilson devised the rotary hook and bobbin construction which reduced the excessive noise made by the shuttle and later invented the four- motion feed which moved the work on after every stitch. Meanwhile William O. Grover with William F. Baker patented a double-chain stitch machine and James E.A. Gibbs and J. Willcox developed a design using a rotary hook to make a twisted single-chain stitch.

Since the 1850s many improvements have been made to the sewing machine, such as the introduction of positive take-up in 1872, the reversible feed of 1919, the introduction of varied and decorative stitches and, of course, the powering by electric motor; thousands of patents have been issued in the usA and Europe for such improvements. The machines have become easier to use and more efficient as a result of all these improvements and added accessories but the underlying principles of operation remain unchanged.

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2005 January 28