The Sewing Machine in History

Did you know that the first design for a sewing machine was made in 1790? An inventor named Thomas Saint first designed the machine, but his design never saw the public eye.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that sewing machines reached the public. Even then, women were hesitant to take up the machines even though they would drastically speed up the sewing process. Women were considered too delicate to use anything mechanical like the sewing machine.


Eias Howe’s design.

Elias Howe patented the first lock-stitch sewing machine in 1846. He got a $5-per-machine royalty, making him a rich man, but the sewing machine still did not reach the mainstream.

The clever marketing of Isaac Singer slowly won women over. He traveled from town to town and let women test out the machine for themselves, showing that the machines were much easier than rumors let on. In fact, these original sewing machines had the same basic features as sewing machines today.

At the time a new sewing machine cost as much as a car today. But Singer’s natural charm and business sense made it work. He explained the benefits of the mechanical sewing machine (should be obvious, I expect) and used an at-the-time innovative payment method of a down payment with subsequent payment over time.

Housewives still valued their hand sewing, but slowly and surely the sewing machine grew in popularity. Like many modern inventions, it greatly reduced the amount of time spent on housework. Where it took about 14 hours to make a dress shirt by hand, it took only an hour and 15 minutes to make on a machine. This allowed women more leisure time, or time spent working to increase family income.

Antique sewing machines make amazing home displays, making them fun to collect. Interested in the sewing machine in the top picture? Click here.



Antique Quilt Dating


History of Quilts

The Best Sewing Machine Cards from the 19th Century

Back when sewing was a way of domestic life for any woman with a family, sewing machines were a huge deal. The charismatic Isaac Singer sold the idea of sewing machines to women in the mid-19th century, and soon they became household staples.

Trade cards were the name of the game in the same century. They functioned as business cards, but people liked to trade them much like we trade baseball cards today. And sewing machines came with their own handy trading cards.

The art on such cards often surpasses any detail found on business cards today. (This isn’t the only time we’ve written about trading cards – see here for an article on 19th century pinup girl cards.) The cards had nice enough illustrations that they were kept and valued as art or scrapbook material. Business owners loved this, of course; along with art, the cards featured the name and information of the company. In the 1880’s and ’90’s, the availability of four-color lithography made cards especially popular for their added color and design.

Like many trade cards from that century, the illustrations look dated today. They feature scenes where the sewing machine sits in the center of the family, claiming a center spot in the parlor.

Here are some of the prettiest or just downright weirdest sewing machine cards that emerged from the 19th century:

The Tea Party sewing machine card vintage

“The Tea Party”

Vintage sewing card with a baby riding a sewing machine butterfly

Who knows what’s going on in this one? Not me.

Vintage sewing machine card showing kids playing around a sewing machine

Surely playing around the sewing machine is the time of their lives for some kids.

Vintage Portugal sewing machine trading card.


Sewing machine vintage advertising card

It’s the newfangled sewing machine bicycle!

Which card is your favorite?