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Sewing a thread of commonality through time

Have you ever popped a stitch, or lost a button? In the event this happened, could you sew it back on or stitch it up? For many in our region, the answer would be yes.

For generations, families have passed down the art of sewing or mending as a way of life. Clothing and other garments were bought using hard-earned money or crafted with valuable resources. Often these pieces could not be replaced, due to either accessibility or monetary constraints. You didn’t throw pants or a dress out due to a small tear… you fixed it!

The art of taking material and creating a cohesive object is one of the oldest textile arts in existence. Everything from leather animal hides to the most painstakingly created lace is bound together in some of the same ways to create wearable or usable items. Most sources suggest that sewing began with native populations very early on, Paleolithic early. Leather was tied together through holes punctured through the hides. As technologies progressed our ancestors used sharp bones with holes to spread sinew (animal product) and fibrous plant materials to sew garments.

Through the Middle Ages sewing changed even more with practices advancing as more time could be devoted to the art. Tailors and seamstresses began to pop up in towns, allowing the wealthy to purchase ready-made clothes, while the majority of the masses still crafted everything with their own hands, the craft would primarily stay that way until the Industrial Revolution took the world by storm.

In 1790, or 1780 depending on your source, a man by the name of Thomas Saint received the very first patent for a leather sewing machine. This English inventor’s machine used the chain stitch method with a single thread creating a simple stitch. By the 1840s others had taken Saint’s plans and added and adjusted things to create the “Sewing Machine.” The advent of these machines caused riots in many places, angry tailors protested the use of such machinery, believing it would put them out of work!

The first American Patent was granted to Elias Howe in 1846, his machine utilized thread from two different sources. This design would be picked up by Isaac Singer who created the treadle sewing machine that became a household must!

Singer sewing machines started out with a pully system and soon advanced to electric power by 1889 and by 1905 many homes had made the switch. Sewing machines progressed, becoming more accurate and easier to use. By the 1940s the zig-zag stitch was introduced with many other new components to follow.

Today sewing machines are tiny computers! Everything from embroidery to simple sewing can be done on the same machine. I talked with Timmesa Wishart at Creative Sewing Machines in Downtown Mount Airy. She showed me some amazing machines that go from simple to complex; the shop sells Bernina and Brother machines with no treadles in sight! If you are looking to learn how to sew the Groovy Gallery on West Lebanon offers beginner sewing classes with Marie Nicholson. Happy Sewing!



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