At one time, hand sewing was the only to create clothing but then came the Industrial Revolution, and the face of sewing changed forever. Making clothes moved from small shops employing armies of sewers laboring for days to complete just one dress or uniform, to a factory setting where machines took over the monotonous task of pushing a needle and thread through fabric to create a firm join with uniform stitches.
Clothing was faster and easier to make and the sewing process much less labor intensive, but the size of the average industrial sewing machine kept it firmly in the factory. Who it was that created the first practical sewing machine for home use remains murky. There were lawsuits and counter-claims galore in the mid-1800’s when inventor Elias Howe patented the first practical sewing machine for home use.
Home sewers rejoiced to have a machine that accomplished in a fraction of time what they used to labor over for hours. Sewing clothes and mending became much easier, most people today when they think of sewing, and visualize themselves working on some type of sewing machine to produce their project.
All sewing machines use the same principle as hand sewing. Something — thread — is put through a small hole in a thin, pointed object, otherwise known as a needle, and then the needle is used to push through two pieces of fabric, pulling the thread through behind it. Early sewing machines were powered by a hand crank or a treadle that ran a simple pulley system, pushing the needle up and down while other parts of the machine moved the fabric past the needle. Industrial sewing machines today have kept features like moving sewing heads for completing large projects, but the core design of those early sewing machines for home sewers remains.
In hand sewing, stitches are made one or two at a time, and it may be necessary to back up and go over the same section to make sure that make the stitches hold more firmly. Early sewing machines were designed to make a chain stitch using two separate threads, but initially, there was no way to finish off the stitches resulting in a beautiful looking line of stitching that came apart easily when one of the threads was pulled unless the two thread ends were tied off. While the sewing machine proved to be time-saving, more work was needed on the stitches it produced for it to be practical for home users.
It wasn’t long before designers found new ways to hold stitches together firmly and sewing machines became a standard of modern households along with refrigerators and stoves. A treadle sewing machine was the foundation of many homes and is still coveted by sewers who live in areas where the electrical grid is unpredictable.
The range of sewing machines available today is truly staggering. There are basic sewing machines that handle 20 or more different stitches with ease. Threads and fabric are cut by the machine as you sew using some machines, and today a well-sewn seam is often the strongest part of the project, especially if the thread is stronger than the fabric.
There are even specialty machines that have been developed for specialized types of hand sewing. The addition of a computer chip to modern sewing machines has allowed many home sewers to turn out beautiful embroidery projects, minus the blood-stains and infected fingers that are a component of learning to embroider by hand. The same goes for quilting, another hand sewing project that takes years of practice to perfect. A specialty machine saves time and effort even for those just beginning to sew.
Now that we’ve had a brief look at the start of sewing, you’re probably eager to get busy and start creating something. There are still lots of decisions you’ll need to make about the basics you require but understanding how sewing got started gives you a good foundation for moving on to sewing something of your own.
Your Sewing Machine
No discussion of the basics that you need for sewing would be complete without looking at sewing machines. If you don't have a machine and are looking for the best, check out our sewing machine reviews. Hand sewing is unavoidable for certain projects, but for someone who is just taking their first steps in any type of sewing, it is wise to become familiar with modern sewing machines and how sewing projects can be created easily and quickly with a basic sewing machine.
The idea behind a sewing machine is simple. A needle-like one used for hand sewing moves evenly in and out of the fabric, pushing the thread through all the layers to be joined together. Another thread comes from the bobbin located under the main sewing surface and thread from the needle loops around it creating a firm stitch. Repeating this basic straight stitch 6 — 10 times per inch quickly creates a strong join and gives first-time sewers a feeling of satisfaction at what they have accomplished.
Modern sewing machines come with incredible functionality that quickly lifts a beginner’s sewing projects out of the ordinary. Fancy stitches and more are now available on even basic machines at the touch of a button. Here are some of the basic stitches that you will frequently be using when you use a sewing machine:
- Running stitch: This is the primary stitch utilized by all sewing machines for seams, hems, topstitching, and basting. It is the stitch that made a sewing machine the useful tool it is today.
- Zigzag stitch: This stitch is exactly what it sounds like, a back and forth stitch that moves from side to side, one stitch on the zig (right) and the next stitch a little bit forward on the left (the zag). It is used to keep edges from fraying and make a neat finish to a seam, to sew on patches or applique and to attach buttons quickly.
- Buttonhole stitch: This is the basic zigzag stitch done very close together to form the buttonhole. Specialty feet and computerization have made sewing buttonholes quick and easy for beginners and experienced seamstresses.
- Blind hemming stitch: This interesting stitch takes a bit of practice to perfect for beginners, but with a little bit of practice you will be able to sew hems on clothing using your sewing machine with virtually no sign of the stitches showing on the front. This is truly a time-saver when it comes to hemming large items like curtains or fancy ball gowns.
- Overlock stitch: Similar to a zigzag stitch, this stitch is also useful for covering raw edges on applique or seams, providing a clean edge with a minimum of effort.
Maria Greer loves to sew. She created Stitchandsew.net to provide sewing tips, review the latest products, and most importantly built a community to express her love of sewing. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.