11 Jun 2015

Do You Sew? They Ask, Particularly on June 11th. Here’s Why.

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Did you grow up with a Singer in a corner of your home, where your mom would mend a rip, take in a dress, shorten a pant leg, darn a sock, or even be as bold as to add a ruffle to a sleeve end? Sewing machines have become necessities of life. If you don’t have one in your house, you likely had your favorite go-to seamstress or tailor for routine clothes mending. Like the dry cleaner, it’s an errand that needs to get done in order to maintain order on the wardrobe front.

The history of sewing machines sales success is not entirely clear. An article entitled A Brief History of the Sewing Machine, from the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society, tells it like this:

Singer, for one, “did not invent any notable sewing-machine advances, but he did pioneer the hire-purchase system and aggressive sales tactics.” Singer broke patent agreements secured by Massachusetts farmer Elias Howe, who invented the modern-day sewing machine in the 1840’s. Howe initiated sales efforts in US before it was ripe for want, so instead he tried his hand in England but with no success there either. But by the time Howe returned to the US, the tide had turned and several manufacturers, including Singer, had jumped on the bandwagon. In the end, both Howe and Singer died wealthy.

While the machine version began in the US, the sewing machine started out as a Frenchman, Barthelemy Thimonnier ‘s invention in the 1830’s. Initially intended for embroidery, the sewing advantages were so apparent that the French government granted Thimonnier a patent, and a contract to build 80 machines  to make French army uniforms. But, these were French Revolutionary times: Parisian tailors, fearing they would be replaced by machines, rose up against Thimonnier’s 80-machine factory, destroying the sewing machines and threatening Thimonnier’s life. Thimonnier came back with a stronger-model machine, only to be destroyed a second time by the petite bourgeoisie tailor craftsmen.  In the end, Thimonnier lost his entrepreneurship battle against the forces of the French Revolution, and died poor 1857. Despite the sad ending, Thimonnier is at least credited with the first practical sewing machine invention – others in Austria, German, England and the US tried their hands at it, but were not successful at en masse efficiency.

Today, obviously, we have electric sewing machines for the individual, and mass clothing production via factory. While much clothing production has been moved to China or other cheap-labor Asian countries, there’s no replacement for the need for a local stitch, no matter where you live. Sewing classes and shops abound, for hobbyists or those just looking to fix their own family’s clothing.

Apropo, June 11th is Sewing Machine Day.  Sewing is a skill, so take the time to appreciate your seamstress or tailor, or even yourself, if you were the family mender.  It addition, it’s a fun to discuss or write down a few vignettes about getting clothing repaired, or even made from scratch, in your own home or neighborhood. Share these stories with fellow Rockaway Care Center residents – you may find out you’re “sew” surprised!


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