The History of the Sewing Machine and Contract Bedding

Mankind has been stitching clothing for thousands of years. The earliest bone needles date back more than 50,000 years, and it’s thought that early man was creating clothing from animal skins long before that.

The modern sewing machine on the other hand is a relatively recent invention, and one that had a revolutionary effect on society when it was first introduced. Sewing machines became ubiquitous in the 20th century, but they almost didn’t happen, as a whole host of hurdles hampered their early development.

A troubled start

The earliest patents for a mechanical sewing device were granted in the 18th century. Charles Weisenthal patented a needle for a sewing machine (though not the machine itself) in 1755, and Thomas Saint patented a full machine, based on drawings, in 1790 (although when this was built by historians, it didn’t actually work!). Neither of these patents led to a practical sewing machine, and many further attempts were hampered by problems, politics and patent battles.

Finances, technophobia and even church commitments got in the way of early developments. Reverend John Adams Dodge had to abandon his work to look after his three churches. Saint, and fellow inventors Balthasar Krems and Josef Madersperger, all failed to get the funds they needed to develop their concepts. Some inventors, such as Walter Hunt, simply abandoned their ideas for fear of putting tailors out of work.

In 1830, Bathelemy Thimmonnier was successful in creating a working sewing machine. He built a factory in Paris with over 200 workstations and won a contract to supply uniforms to the French army. But even his success was short lived, as in 1831, all his machines were destroyed by an angry mob of tailors who stormed his factory in fear for their jobs.

Sewing machine wars

In the mid-nineteenth century, the history of the sewing machine descended into a bitter legal battle between inventor Elias Howe and Isaac Singer – whose name went on to be synonymous with sewing machines.

Howe had patented the lockstitch mechanism, but Singer added other innovations, including the up and down movement and the mechanics required to operate the machine by foot rather than hand crank. After a long and lengthy legal battle, Howe was granted royalties on Singer’s machines. The fight was well worth it as both men died as multi-millionaires.

A shift in society

The first mechanical sewing machines were beyond the budget of most households, costing the equivalent of thousands of pounds in today’s money. However, they soon came down in price, making them accessible to all, which created something of a revolution in the home.

Women who had been constantly occupied making and repairing clothes for their family, now had much more free time. What’s more, the new sewing machines created lots of new jobs in factories, giving women the chance to earn money and independence. It’s no coincidence that the women’s suffrage movement began soon after.

Modern sewing machines

Today, Redwood relies on sewing machines to create a wide range of products, from contract bedding to mattress covers. Our 60,000sq ft factory in Skelmersdale has extensive sewing capabilities, with over fifty state of the art sewing machines, each worked by a skilled operator.

These machines ensure that orders like contract bedding are manufactured faster, more economically and more accurately than could ever be done by hand. Our expert teams are capable of creating over 15,000 products per week, with a range of stitching and finishes – an unthinkable number before the invention of the modern sewing machine.

In the end, history has proved that the tailors who stormed Thimonnier’s Paris factory in 1831 couldn’t have been more wrong. Far from taking away jobs, the invention of the humble sewing machine has led to more people being employed in the textiles and sewing industry across the world today than there has ever been.

To find out more about how Redwood’s state of the art sewing facilities can help to create your next contract bedding order quickly and cost effectively, to the highest standards, get in touch today.