Is Sewing a Dying Skill?
Do youngsters choose to throw away rather than 'make or mend'? Garments were once constructed out of animal skin sewn together with bone, antler, and ivory using sinew (animal tendon) as ‘thread’. For millennia, sewing was done completely by hand.
With the arrival of the sewing machine came a boom in garment production, which led to mass production and the fast fashion we see today. Now, many different types of sewing machines and attachments have made garment manufacturing faster and cheaper than sewing by hand.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, the home sewing industry - dominated by women - flourished. But, after World War II and into the 1980s, the home sewing market began to wane as women found that buying clothes, instead of making them, satisfied their needs.
In Britain, sewing machines were invented during the first Industrial Revolution to decrease the amount of manual sewing labor in clothing companies. In 1755, Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal, a German-born engineer working in England, was awarded the first British patent for a mechanical device to aid the art of sewing. The invention of the first sewing machine, however, was generally considered to have been the work of Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790, when the sewing machine greatly improved the efficiency of the clothing industry.
In the 1860s consumers began purchasing them, and possessing a machine became very common. Owners were much more likely to spend free time with their machines to make and mend clothing for their families, with many women's magazines and household guides offering dress patterns and instructions. A sewing machine could produce a man's shirt in about an hour, compared to over 14 hours by hand.
In America, it was Elias Howe who created the original sewing machine concept in 1945 and patented it in 1846, charging exorbitant licensing fees to anyone trying to build and sell anything similar. But Isaac Merritt Singer – an eccentric entrepreneur, actor, and father of about two dozen children from different partners— found a few ways to improve Howe’s model, such as a thread controller and combining a vertical needle with a horizontal sewing surface. Singer patented his version of the machine in 1851 and formed I.M. Singer & Co., but by then a handful of other inventors had made their own patented improvements to Howe's original concept.
People were suing and fighting each other rather than developing the machine itself! This was when Orlando Brunson Potter, a lawyer and the president of rival manufacturer Grover and Baker Sewing Machine Company proposed the idea that they could merge their business interests. Since a powerful and profitable machine required parts covered by several different patents, he proposed an agreement that would charge a single, reduced licensing fee that would then be divided proportionally among the patent holders. Eventually, they all agreed to the wisdom of the idea, and together they created the first ‘patent pool’, that merged nine patents into the Sewing Machine Combination, with each of the stakeholders given a percentage of the earnings on every sewing machine, depending on what they contributed to the final design.
Sewing was once done out of necessity, but with the rapid increase of fast fashion, there seems no longer a need to make clothes at home. However, sewing has always been a way to make things that fit your needs, and the personalization that sewing offers is now drawing in younger generations. These new sewists desire to make their homes and garments unique and special to them and want to do it for less than retail value. Thanks to the internet, they are no longer at the mercy of a fashion house to make money from their creations - they can create, sell, and receive an income from them easily.
Sewing is the fundamental process underlying a variety of arts and crafts, including embroidery, tapestry, quilting, appliqué, patchwork, and couture techniques. Sewing is also one of the world's oldest art forms, but they now have the sewing machine to make things easier!