While preparing for Monday's sewing workshop with the women, I came across the history of the sewing machine. I was surprised to discover that the treadle model the women are using has changed very little, if at all, from the first Singer two-thread sewing machine.
From my sewing guide, (Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp):
For centuries, people tried to figure out how to sew automatically or mechanically. Can you blame them when sewing a shirt by hand took about fourteen hours?
The first man to patent the type of sewing machine we use today was Elias Howe. Some historians argue that Howe's wife, Elizabeth Ames Howe, invented the machine and put the patent in his name. She would have had the motivation, since she was a seamstress and would have welcomed greater speed for greater profit. The Howe machine had top and bottom threads that linked together to form stitches. A breakthrough! To showcase this miracle, Howe set up a John Henry-type contest between his machine and five ladies sewing by hand in a Massachusetts public hall in 1845. The machine trounced the seamstresses, sewing five seams before they could sew one.
Interestingly (for Nest), Singer let the housewives take a machine home and pay over time, making him a pioneer of the credit plan as well. Even though today's state of the art Singers, Kenmores, Janomes, and Husqvarna-Vikings have computer chips and forty-seven stitch options, the basic, manual pedal machine is still manufactured and has remained the same for the last 150 years.