A Century of Change (Part 1)
As the quality and speed of sewing machines improved, manufacturing changed. Initially, each garment was made one at a time, with an operator performing every operation until each garment was complete. Consequently, much of the sewing was handled in large bundles. Hence the phrase "bundle system."
It wasn't until sometime in the 1800s that manufacturers started to break down garments into individual sewing operations. Operators could get their work from a central bin and return the “bundle” to the bin. As machines became even more specialized and one machine was intended for one specific operation, the “piece work” evolved. NE
A Century of Change (Part 2)
"It had a curved, eye-pointed needle on the end of a lever. The shuttle carrying the lower, or bobbin, thread through the needle thread loop was driven in its race by means of two strikers carried on the ends of vibrating arms, operated by two cams. The cloth was suspended by pins from the edge of a thin, steel rib called a baster plate, which had holes engaged by teeth of a small, intermittently moving pinion. By this clumsy method, the material was fed the machine."
The first hundred years
That was a description of the first sewing machine, invented by Elias Howe, Jr. in 1845. It was the beginning of a major change in the way garments were manufactured and sold. Garments were not tailored to individuals, but mass-produced.
Soon after, a machine operated by a foot treadle was developed which reached 600 stitches per minute. Subsequent refinements were made in the form of a flat cloth plate, cam-operated needle lever, and shuttle; and a simple, though efficient, feed mechanism.
Independent of Howe, another inventor, Allan B. Wilson, working entirely without knowledge of previous efforts, devised the rotary hook and bobbin combination. The first practical single chain stitch machine was devised by James Gibbs of Virginia. Patented in 1856, it featured a rotary hook (looper), and a needle with a vertical motion only. Gibbs went into partnership with James Willcox of Philadelphia, forming the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. To Isaac Singer, father of the Singer Manufacturing Company, should go the credit for developing the sewing machine for domestic (home) use. Singer built various features into his first machine — such as the yielding vertical presser foot to hold the work on the table, and the wheel feed, forcing other manufacturers to adapt their rather cumbersome machines to more practical use.
In 1881, William S. North, Jasper W. Cory, and Lorenze Muther formed the Union Bag Machine Company (later Union Special Machine Company) to produce a bag seaming machine.
Recognizing the desirability of machines designed especially for given operations, they began introducing equipment into other fields, using a refinement of the Grover and Baker Stitch.
Union Special Machine Company developed several types of stitches now in common use and many variations of the seams produced with these stitches. They also gave the industry machine attachments and accessories which reduced the length of specific sewing operations from a day's work to a matter of minutes.
A transformation of production methods
As was typical of the period, engineers were driving the course of manufacturing. New products were introduced which brought about changes in how to sew garments. More and more, sewing machines were developed to specifically sew one part of the garment. As a result, clothing manufacturers changed the way they sewed garments.
Initially, each garment was sewn by a single operator from start to finish. As a consequence, much of the sewing of those days was handled in large bundles.
As sewing machine manufacturers produced more machines, home and community manufacturing gave way to factory production. However, the "tailor mentality" of manufacturing, making one garment at a time, persisted for years. NE