Friday, February 21, 2014

The Anniversary of the Sewing Machine in 7 Quick Takes


When I was a little girl, I liked asking for comparative data (“Daddy, if a tiger and a bear had a fight, which would win?”). I remember querying my mother as to which items she would rescue from our house first if the house was on fire and all the people were safe. In addition to photo albums, she was going to save her sewing machine. It is a Pfaff, and had been a significant investment when she was a young bride.

Sewing machines are fabulous things. Become fluent in the use of one, and you need no longer feel yourself at the mercy of wearing whatever this year’s fashion trends happen to provide, or of suffering with the fit of whatever trousers are closest to your size. 

Today, on the anniversary of the day that French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier patented the first functional sewing machine in 1830, let us rejoice.


Interestingly enough, Thimonnier’s contemporaries (that is, other tailors) were so far from being overjoyed that they rioted. Indeed, they burned down his garment factory and almost killed the poor inventor because they considered his machine a threat to their jobs.

There is no denying that clothes-making was on its way from this...

... to this.


The Americans (less inclined perhaps toward rioting, but just as handy with inventions) were not too far behind. America’s first successful sewing machine was constructed by Walter Hunt in 1834. Unlike Thimonnier, however, he never patented it because he feared it would cause unemployment. Fellow-inventor Elias Howe was not so hesitant. His patent was issued in 1846. Before long, men like Isaac Singer had turned their attention to the sewing machine and continued to improve its function.  


Allow me to share with you a pair of overalls that I sewed for my son. They are made from a re-purposed men’s shirt, using THIS free pattern from online.


I also made these (re-purposed, Goodwill polo shirts of two different colors).

"I look fabulous in anything, don't I?"

As you can see, the fit isn't perfect. Next time I would make the legs longer and the shoulder straps shorter/tighter. Many thanks to Grandma for faithfully sewing snaps onto these garments while the new mama sat nursing. 


I was trying to think of literary references to sewing machines. Elsie Dinsmore uses one (typically for her, though, her father makes a rule that she mustn't operate it for long at a time, lest her delicate little self become over-fatigued). Laura Ingalls' family acquires one and Laura changes the way that she sews sheets. Saffy loves hers in Kate Morton's The Distant Hours (which I am currently reading). I can't think of any others, but I'm sure I'm missing them. Ideas?


We've come a long way. All hail, the Sewing Machine!

Linking up with Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes.


  1. How could you miss Mrs. Beaver's sewing machine in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? :)

    1. Oh, goodness, yes! That's the best one of all.

  2. Oh my goodness- I love those coveralls! So cute! Maybe I can adjust the pattern so I can make myself some! ; )

    1. If you do, the world will want to see a picture. :-)

  3. Thanks for the link. Your striped ones are fabulous!


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