Is sewing a dying skill?


Clothing was once made from animal skin sewn together with bone, deer antler and ivory using sinew (animal tendon) as “thread”. For millennia, sewing was done entirely by hand.

With the advent of the sewing machine, clothing production experienced a boom, which led to the mass production and fast fashion we know today. Today, many types of sewing machines and accessories have made making clothes faster and cheaper than sewing by hand.

Between the 1930s and 1950s, the home sewing industry – dominated by women – flourished. But, after World War II and into the 1980s, the home sewing market began to decline as women found that buying clothes, instead of making them, satisfied their needs.

In Britain, sewing machines were invented during the first industrial revolution to reduce the amount of manual sewing work in garment factories. In 1755, Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal, a German-born engineer working in England, obtained the first British patent for a mechanical device to aid in the art of sewing. The invention of the first sewing machine, however, was generally considered to be the work of Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790, when the sewing machine had dramatically improved the efficiency of the garment industry.

In the 1860s consumers started buying them and owning a machine became very common. Homeowners were much more likely to spend free time with their machines making and repairing clothes for their families, with many women’s magazines and household guides offering clothing patterns and instructions. A sewing machine could produce a man’s shirt in about an hour, compared to more than 14 hours by hand.

In America, it was Elias Howe who created the original concept of the sewing machine and patented it in 1846, charging exorbitant licensing fees to anyone trying to build and sell something similar. But Isaac Merritt Singer – an eccentric entrepreneur, actor and father of about two dozen children from different partners – found a few ways to improve on Howe’s model, such as a yarn checker and the combination of a vertical needle with a horizontal sewing surface.

Singer patented his version of the machine in 1851 and formed IM Singer & Co., but by then a handful of other inventors had made their own patented improvements to Howe’s original concept. Together, all these innovations have created what lawyers call a “patent thicket”, in which a number of parties can claim key elements of an invention. This started the Sewing Machine Wars.

People were chasing each other and fighting rather than developing the machine itself! It was then that Orlando Brunson Potter, attorney and president of rival manufacturer Grover and Baker Sewing Machine Company, came up with the idea of ​​merging their business interests. Since a powerful, cost-effective machine required parts covered by several different patents, he proposed an agreement that would levy a single, reduced license fee which would then be divided proportionately among the patent holders. Eventually, they all accepted the wisdom of the idea, and together they created the first “patent pool”, which merged nine patents into the sewing machine combination, with each of the stakeholders receiving a percentage of the revenue from each sewing machine, depending on what they contributed to the final design.

Sewing used to be done out of necessity, but with the rapid rise of fast fashion, it no longer seems necessary to make clothes at home. However, tailoring has always been about making things that fit your needs, and the customization that tailoring offers is now appealing to younger generations. These new designers want to make their homes and clothes unique and special to them, and want to do it for less than retail value. Thanks to the internet, they are no longer at the mercy of a fashion house to make money from their designs – they can easily design, sell and earn an income.

Sewing is the fundamental process that underlies a variety of arts and crafts, including embroidery, tapestry, quilting, appliqué, patchwork, and needlework techniques. Sewing is also one of the oldest art forms in the world, but now they have the sewing machine to make it easier!


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