Sewing by hand has been around for over 20,000 years. Starting with needles made of bones or animal horns these sewers used animal sinew for thread. The 14th century brought iron needles and the 15th century added the eye to the needle.
Patents for sewing machines that did not work were issued from 1755 to 1818 with seven different men trying to mechanize the process of sewing. Finally in 1830 the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier invented the first functional sewing machine and was almost killed in the riot from French tailors who torched his garment factory, burning it to the ground. They were afraid that his invention would put them out of work.
Walter Hunt created America’s first working machine in 1834. He did not patent the machine because he was afraid of causing unemployment with the machine. In 1846 Elias Howe became the first American to receive a patent. He later fought against Isaac Singer, and won, a patent war based on the lockstitch that he invented. Singer paid the patent royalties. For Howe it was a boon economically as the next 13 years saw him earn close to two million dollars from the lockstitch he patented, up from annual earnings of $300.
The first chain-stitch sewing machine using a single thread as invented by James Gibbs and patented in 1857. The first woman to patent a sewing machine was Helen Augusta Blanchard who patented a zig-zag stitch machine in 1873. She would eventually have a total of 29 patents for improvements including surgical needles and a hat sewing machine.
It is because of these sewing machine pioneers that we enjoy inexpensive, durable and well made clothing today. Without them we would still probably have just one or two drab outfits to wear.