This Singer treadle sewing machine was manufactured in 1912. I learned to sew on one just like this one when I was six years old. The first thing I sewed was my index finger!
In my early years I thought that Elias Howe invented the sewing machine; however, later I learned that this was not accurate. This is the history I soon learned about the sewing machine:
- 1804: Thomas Stone and James Henderson receive French patents.
- 1804: Scott John Duncan receives a British patent.
- 1810: Balthasar Krems of Germany invents a cap-sewing machine.
- 1814: Josef Madersperger, a tailor, awarded an Austrian patent.
- 1818: John Doge and John Knowles invent the first American sewing machine.
Then, in 1830, a French tailor named Barthelemy Thimonnier invented a machine that used a hooked needle and only one thread. His machine made a chain stitch similar to that used in embroidery. The machine was powered by a treadle and it worked! He quickly moved forward and secured a manufacturing contract for army uniforms from the French government. His enterprise was short-lived, however, because tailors saw him as a threat to their livelihood and they joined together and destroyed Mr. Thimonnier’s uniform factory and his 80 sewing machines.
Elias Howe secured a patent in 1846 for an American-made sewing machine. His machine created a lock stitch that utilized thread from two different sources. Mr. Howe had difficulty marketing his invention and defending his patent. One of those who adopted his mechanism was a man who would make the treadle sewing machine a necessary household item – Isaac Singer. It was portable, after all, and could be carried out on the porch or in a truck. Sewing could be done anywhere. I have a faded photo of my grandmother mending long cotton-picking bags with her treadle machine in a cotton field when she was in her early 20’s.
Cottage industries were birthed as women began sewing and mending for neighbors and friends. Shortly thereafter, electric machines came about. Many treadle machines were converted with a small motor attached.
A youthful customer came in the shop the other day. She uses her treadle machine every day and even rebuilds these antique machines for others. I keep my tiny Singer Featherweight (see above – these machines have a very interesting history as well) set up in the shop. These Featherweights are still popular with quilters due to their portability – they fold up and fit into a compact case. I use it often when I just want quiet security, and I offer students the chance to learn to sew on this machine. The stitches are very pretty and dainty, yet strong.
There’s beauty in simplicity. There’s something sweetly endearing about sewing on these old machines, the quiet click, click and hum. If you use one of these, what draws you to them?