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Sew Many Machines, Sew Little Time

June 26, 2020

There’s a Keystone in every great invention.

Sewing machines have helped revolutionize the textile industry several times over. Sewing machines have also had a significant social impact. There are many different types of sewing machines, designed for specific materials, styles, speeds and more. The sewing machine allowed clothing to become a mass produced item, which increased the social acceptance of the sewing machine. In addition to the commercial sewing machine, the household machine became very popular after several technological innovations. The electric household version is as important as ever. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many people took to sewing their own face masks to increase the safety of themselves and others by reducing of the spread of germs and pathogens.

Social Effect

Before sewing machines, women spent a significant portion of their time making and maintaining clothing. Middle-class housewives, even with the aid of a hired seamstress, would devote several days of each month to sewing. It took an experienced seamstress at least 14 hours to make a men’s dress shirt, 10 hours for a dress, and three hours for pants. Only the upper class had more than two outfits. Most people only had a work outfit and a Sunday outfit. Sewing machines greatly reduced the labor required for clothing maintenance, allowing woman to explore other options with their time, including leisurely activities and employment outside the home.

Technology Advancements

The first sewing machine design is credited to British inventor Thomas Saint, who patented a chain stitch device in 1790 that punctured and stitched leather or canvas. In 1830, a French tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier patented a machine that used a barbed needle to produce a chain stitch. Unlike his predecessor, Thimonnier put his machine into production and was awarded a contract to produce uniforms for the French army. However, an angry group of workers destroyed his fleet of some 80 machines as the new technology would put them out of work.

As the industrial revolution pressed on, the sewing machine grew in functionality and popularity. Walter Hunt developed the first American lockstitch sewing machine in 1832. This machine was flawed and often broke down, leading Hunt to abandon the concept without patenting it. John Greenough picked up the needle in 1842 and patented the first American commercial sewing machine. Many other versions were developed, as inventors saw mass potential in the technology and its effect on many industries.

Clothing was undoubtably the first industry impacted by the commercial sewing machine. With the ability to mass produce identical clothing that was ready-to-wear. In the 1860’s, consumers began purchasing household sewing machines, and the next wave of innovation was afoot.

The first practical sewing machine for domestic use was launched in 1885 by Isaac Singer. The Singer Vibrating Shuttle sewing machine used Allen Wilson's idea for a vibrating shuttle. The machine offered better lock stitching than the oscillating shuttles previously used. Millions of these machines were sold until finally superseded by rotary shuttle machines in the 20th century.

The first electric machines were developed by Singer Sewing Co. in 1889. By the end of World War I, Singer was offering hand, treadle and electric machines for sale. At first, the electric machines were standard machines with a motor strapped on the side, but as more homes gained power, they became more popular and the motor was gradually introduced into the casing. Easier and faster than the hand powered models, electric sewing machines were popular for those that could afford the luxury.

Sewing Machines Make Masks

Face mask have been instrumental in limiting the spread of spread of COVID-19. This has led many state and municipal governments to enforce mandatory face mask rules in public spaces.  The worldwide shortage of face masks drove many citizens to break out the sewing machines and make their own. Videos popped up on news stations and YouTube advising people on how to make a proper face mask for form, fit and function. Businesses large and small, new and old have flourished by making decorative and innovative masks that offer protection from spreading COVID-19. The electric sewing machine has been an instrumental piece of equipment that has enabled the general public to take action and protect themselves when government and the medical supply chain could not.

Keystone Components in Sew Many Machines

A wide range of Keystone products can be found in commercial and consumer electronic sewing machines. This includes LED holders, spacers and lens caps; fuse clips and holdersPCB test points and terminals; spacers and standoffs; panel hardware and PCB plugs, pins, jacks, and sockets and more.


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