sewing machine, device that stitches cloth and other materials. An attempt at mechanical sewing was made in England (1790) with a machine having a forked, automatic needle that made a single-thread chain. In 1830, B. Thimonnier, a French tailor, patented a wooden device with a hooked needle. In 1841 he used 80 of these machines to make uniforms for the French army. His factory was wrecked by a mob, but in 1848 he placed another machine on the market. A needle with an eye at its point that made a chain stitch was tried about the same time for glove making. Inventor Walter Hunt of New York City is said to have devised in 1832 a machine using an eye-pointed needle but failed to patent it. American inventor Elias Howe made the first successful machine (1846) using an eye-pointed needle and an intermittent feed. After perfecting various features and defending his patents, he made a fortune from his machine. Before 1850 all machines were operated by hand and the cloth was fed by various clumsy devices, such as a separately moved belt with projecting steel spikes. American inventor A. B. Wilson devised in 1850 an automatic feed and later perfected the four-motion feed, an essential feature of later machines. He also invented the rotary bobbin and hook. American inventor Isaac M. Singer, who is credited with the invention of the foot treadle and the yielding presser foot, finally coordinated previous attempts into the modern machine, gave it a commercial status, and began large-scale manufacturing. Two types of machines, the lockstitch and the chain-stitch, operate on the same principle; an eye-pointed needle, raised and lowered at great speed, pierces the material lying on a steel plate, casting a loop of thread on the underside of the seam. In the lockstitch machine a second thread, fed from a shuttle under the plate, passes through the loop and is interlocked with the upper thread as it is drawn tightly up by the rising needle. In the chain-stitch machine, which uses a single thread, the loop is held under the seam while the needle rises, the cloth is fed forward, and the needle descends again, engaging the loop and drawing it flat under the cloth. Both lockstitch and chain-stitch machines are made in two classes, domestic and industrial. Most domestic machines are the lockstitch type. Electrification and attachments for hemming, tucking, quilting, embroidering, making buttonholes, and similar operations have widened the applications of the household machine; the incorporation of microprocessor controls has allowed domestic machines to perform the kind of highly specialized jobs previously only available on large industrial machines. The sale of patterns and fabrics for domestic sewing remains a significant business. Power-driven, highly specialized machines for industrial use include many used in clothing manufacture, such as those for buttonholing and button sewing, seam finishing, and embroidery. Shoes, gloves, hats, books, upholstery, hosiery, tents, awnings, flags, and sails are sewn on specially devised machines.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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