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Sew, How Was Sewing Modernized?

C. Carlson
On June 13, 2022

History:

Have you ever wondered how the clothes you wear, curtains, blankets, or anything made of cloth is made? They were all primarily sewn by hand but, ever since 1846, the invention of the sewing machine has made it easier to create these items. One of the first sewing machines was operated by turning the wheel by hand, a hand-cranked machine. The design made it easier and faster to sew, but it still was several steps behind the modern machines we have today. Can you imagine how hard it would be to guide the fabric you are sewing with one hand while having to crank the machine with the other hand just to sew something?

Tension Between Brands:

Elias Howe Jr. was one of the first to make a functioning overlock stitching sewing machine in 1846. It helped with the mass production of sewing clothes and supplies by easing the time and process mostly needed for women to complete the task. In 1851, the Howe brand had the idea to improve their sewing machines by adding a foot treadle, a reciprocating shuttle, and adjusting tension, to again increase productivity and ease for the seamstress. The idea was patented. Eleven days after that idea was formed by Elias Howe Jr., Singer made the patent model for the treadle sewing machine. Howe then proceeded to sue Singer for trying to take Howe’s copyrighted idea. Their machines were quite different, but the one thing that stayed the same was the eye-pointed needle which is why Singer lost the lawsuit. Howe proceeded to win the lawsuit in 1854 and made it so that there was a $25 royalty on each machine made. That royalty was then later reduced to $5 per machine made. Despite Singer having to pay that royalty on every sewing machine they made, they still went on to become a very successful brand in the sewing industry. Singer teamed up with a lot of the brands who had lost to Howe’s lawsuits and were about to go under. These companies shared patents and became successful in the sewing business. Elias Howe Jr. died a rich man with all his royalties and is known for his patented idea of the hand-cranked sewing machine.

Pioneer Village’s Machines:

Harold Warp’s sister, Clara, and her husband traveled around the nation finding exhibits for Pioneer Village. In her book, she wrote about how and when she found each item. In the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Museum, they have an old Howe Sewing Machine that was bought for $10 and a Wheeler and Wilson Sewing machine that have both been refinished by Sister Clara herself. They got those machines between the years 1951 and 1952 when coming up with the idea to make a museum of all the old buildings and items from their youth that Harold and Clara had obtained throughout the years. From 1955 to 1966, a few more sewing machines were added to the bunch. Those machines were a Hand Cranked Sewing Machine for $2, a Howe Hand Cranked Machine, and lastly a Jewel Machine which was bought during that time as well. Stop by Pioneer Village to see these sewing machines from the past as well as hundreds of other historical items!

References:

Sister Clara’s Letters. Clara Warp Jensen and Harold Warp’s daily letters as compiled by Harold Warp. 1950-1962. Page(s) 47, 68, 84, 86,144.

500 Fascinating Facts. A True Record of DISCOVERIES, INVENTIONS, DEVELOPMENTS in These United States AND PERSONS RESPONSIBLE. Written and compiled by Harold Warp. Page(s) 217, 218.

Smithsonianmag.com. The Many, Many Designs of the Sewing Machine. Jimmy Stamp. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-many-many-designs-of-the-sewing-machine-2142740/

C. Carlson
A Student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as part of Heather Nelson’s Service Learning Academy class.

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