Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Sewing with Elias Howe and Isaac Singer

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

In July, I shared the third set of state name origins. I'm splitting them up into 5 groups in the name of brevity, to avoid bogging down a long post. You can read last month's post if you missed it.

I'll continue with sets 4 and 5 in September and November. Today, we're delving into the world of sewing.


Most popular Singer sewing machine

I don't know about you, but the sewing skill has effectively skipped a generation in my family. Me! My mother is phenomenal. Unfortunately, she never had the patience to teach me and quickly got frustrated I wasn't learning fast enough, so she did it all herself instead. My daughter does a better job than I can manage. I'm good to sew a button on a shirt and maybe a straight line hem on a set of curtains. And don't ask me to thread a sewing machine or even get it to work. :)

If I had been born 150 years ago, this wouldn't be an issue. I'd either be quite adept at sewing by hand or I'd have been using a new machine invention.

First patented sewing machine
Barthélemy Thimonnier designed and manufactured the first sewing machine in 1830, and the French government granted him a patent. They had a stipulation, though. The machine was to be used to mass-produce uniforms for the French army. When word spread about this new invention, tailors all over France were afraid it would ruin their businesses. So, they rioted and destroyed all the machines!

It really wasn't much of a loss, though, as the design merely took the hand-sewing process and converted it to a mechanical one.

Howe's modified machine

Now, when Walter Hunt tried his hand at the design in New York City two years later, he made some significant improvements. However, he never got them patented. This opened the door for Elias Howe to revolutionize the machine in Spencer, Massachusetts. Unlike Hunt, Howe did pursue a patent and was granted it in 1846.
The motivation for his design came from Howe's attempt to ease the burden for his wife, who took in hand-sewing jobs to earn money. Their family was pinched by poverty, and Elias wanted to do more. Being granted that patent turned the tide for him and his family forever!

Model of my mother's sewing machine table

A large number of copycats of Howe's widely successful design attempted to gain their own notoriety. This led to a patent pool that included the design of Isaac Singer, the man whose name has become a household word when it comes to the sewing machine.

175 years later, the design is still pretty much the same, although it might have some minor changes at the industrial level, and the power source is likely a motor instead of the foot-treadle.

My mother had a Singer that folded down into a cabinet with a hinged leaf that closed over the hole and converted it into a table. That's where the sewing pile sat. She still has it in her home.


* What was your first experience or introduction to sewing?

* Was there a Singer sewing machine in your home? Do you still have one?

* If you had to develop a new invention to make a task or process easier or more efficient, what might it be?

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Come back on the 9th next month to continue with me and my forays into historical tidbits to share.

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Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning, best-selling author and speaker who is also a professional copywriter/copyeditor. She loves to share life-changing products and ideas with others to help improve their lives in a variety of ways.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and four cats in southeastern Kentucky. In the 20 years she's been a professional writer, she has sold twenty-six (26) books so far and is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.


  1. Thank you for the post today. I took sewing in 4H as a teen and liked it well enough. I made my toddlers pajamas and simple dresses. I think we had a Singer in the house but I'm not positive. But somewhere after I started working full time my joy in sewing and hope to take up quilting flew away and now sitting in front of the machine to do anything makes me break out in a sweat!!! So much for quilting as a retirement hobby. I don't know what made it change for me but that machine is intimidating!!

  2. My mom had a machine. She knew how to sew but didn't care to make clothes. My my aunt could look at a dress in the store and then go home and make it. I never took formal sewing lessons. Being left handed my husband had to show me how to do a hem by sitting in front of me so I could mirror the movements.I've made simple costumes and curtains, sewn rips. But my husband is a far better than I. He learned a lot from his mother. We no longer have a sewing machine. If it can't be quickly repaired by hand the item is hrown out.

  3. I have been seeing since I was 12 years old. Did some tailoring and sewed for others for a number of years. My husband bought me my first sewing machine when we were dating. Before that I had used my mother’s machine. She had one that hid in the cabinet as well.

    1. Obviously I have been seeing much longer than that…lol. Sewing since I was 12.

  4. My mom also has a Singer sewing machine with the cabinet that sounds like your mother's. The machine does not work now, but she still has the cabinet. We both have portable Singer sewing machines, different models. My favorite sewing projects are turning my hand-embroidered pieces into decorative pillows.

  5. I learned to sew on my mother’s Singer Treadle machine when I was 9. I’m now 74. I started sewing doll clothes for my sister and then progressed to my own clothes. One of my favorite classes in school was sewing. I have sewn baby clothes, on up to adults including my husband’s shirts and many curtains. Now I mostly sew craft items to sell through our Church to raise money for charities. Aprons, potholders, pie takers, quarter keepers, kitchen towel toppers, stuffed toys.