It’s Sewing Machine Day, the day to dust off and celebrate the trusty sewing machine, unsung hero of the industrial revolution.
Tracking the invention of the sewing machine is like reading the script of a sensational TV drama – a juicy tale of betrayal and deceit, industrial sabotage, stolen ideas and legal battles. The first patented design dates back to Thomas Saint in 1790, followed by various iterative improvements, but the first commercially viable design came some 60 years later, courtesy of Isaac Merritt Singer who combined ideas from various previous designs. Unfortunately he borrowed a bit too heavily from a patent by Elias Howe, who promptly took him to court for patent infringement, winning the case and forcing Singer to pay him a fee for every sewing machine sold.
Despite its checkered past, the sewing machine quickly gained popularity, vastly improving efficiency in the clothing and fabric industries. As such it played a key role in the industrialisation of the manufacturing sector.
By the early 20th century, the household sewing machine was a common appliance in almost every home. Most families had one in the house – used to sew new clothes, do alterations, or to mend worn or damaged clothes. This golden era of home sewing lasted almost a century, but with the proliferation of mass produced, super cheap clothes from giant producers like China, the trusty home sewing machine seems to be facing extinction.
So, with today being Sewing Machine Day, perhaps it is high time to dig out the old sewing machine, give it a good dusting and reacquaint yourself with the possibilities it offers. Or if you don’t have one, check out the secondhand stores or online auction sites – perfectly functional machines are going for a song.
Not only is home-sewing an excellent outlet for your inner Chanel or Versace – it is also a positive step towards green living. Sure, it may be quicker and easier to go out an buy a new $5 t-shirt, $30 jacket or a pair of $20 jeans, but Mother Nature will be so much better off if you rather patch up the elbows and cuffs on your old jacket, mend those torn jeans, and wear them for a while longer. The environmental impact of a few minutes of home sewing is negligible compared to the impact of creating a new garment in some industrial sweat-shop.
Like 150 years ago, when the sewing machine became a key player in the industrial revolution, it now has the potential to become a surprise hit in the green revolution.