The British Press and Early Sewing Machines

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The British Press and the Sewing Machine

Researched and Collated by Dave King


The earliest mention of "Sewing Machine". Probably not sewing machines as we know them, but an insight to industry standards at the time.

8th October 1830 London Gazette

The Truck System

This injurious practice has extended into Worcester, and made a severe and unjustifiable tax upon the female working glovers, and whose scanty earnings of 5s, 9s, or 7s, a week at most, can ill afford the exorbitant addition of 20 to 30 per cent upon the necessaries of life, bread, butter, cheese, bacon, or whatever else it is known these poor women must generally require in the way of subsistence.

The most shameless imposition, however, is a charge upon them of 3d. per week for the use of a sewing machine, which they are compelled to hire, as they are refused employment if they procure one for themselves.

This is a levy from them of 13s per annum for the hire of a machine which originally cost about 12s., and the yearly wear and tear of which scarcely amounts to 8d. Should any frugal individual get a machine of her own, she is always informed there is no work for her.

It may be doubted whether, as the law at present exists, the magistry can remedy this indefensible species of oppression; but at all events it is within their power to expose and discountenance it. The general frown of authority amounts to something, and that at least can and ought to be afforded.


May 31st 1834 Preston Chronicle

An ingenious mechanic is making a machine for the purpose of sewing. It is to be upon the stocking-frame principle, and he has so far succeeded as to form a straight seam, which, when pressed down, looks equally neat and strong as if done by the needle.

Should the plan succeed generally, a suit of clothes, after they are cut out, may be put together in one hour by one man, with the exception of working the button-holes, and putting the buttons on!


June 23rd 1846 London Gazette

The Devil Among The Tailors

A sewing machine, thus nicknamed, has been invented by Elias Howe Jun, of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. It is said to perform accurately and rapidly.


June 24th 1846 The Blackburn Standard

Tailoring Machine

The Boston correspondent of the Worcester Spy (American paper) writes as follows:

I have been examining a new machine for sewing, which has recently been invented and constructed by an ingenious mechanic of Cambridge. So far as I am informed on the subject, this is the first attempt to construct a machine of the kind, and it appears to me to be an eminently successful one.

The machine is very compact, not occupying a space of six inches each way. It runs with so much ease, that I should suppose that one person might easily operate twenty or 30 of them, and the work is done in a most thorough and perfect manner.

Both sides of the seam look alike, appearing to be beautifully stitched, and the seam is closer and more uniform than when sewed by hand.

It will sew straight or curved seams with equal facility, and so rapidly, that it takes but two minutes to sew the whole length of the outside seam of men's pantaloons.

It sets 400 stitches a minute with perfect ease, and the proprietor thinks there is no difficulty in setting 700 in a minute.

The thread is less worn by this process than by hand sewing, and, consequently, retains more of its strength.

The simplicity of the construction of the machine, and the accuracy, rapidity, and perfection of its operation, will place it in the same rank with the card-machine, the straw-braider, the pin-machine and the coach lace loom, machines which never fail to command the admiration of every intelligent beholder.


March 16th 1847. The Morning Post

A Sewing Machine

The American papers mention a machine, invented by one Elias Howe, which sews "Beautiful and strong seams in cloth as rapid as nine tailors!"


February 14th 1848. The Morning Post

Royal Institution

The beautiful theatre of this noble institution had a narrow escape from being destroyed on Friday evening, shortly before the commencement of the usual lecture. Mr. Apsley Pellatt had intended to illustrate the history of glass-making, and for this purpose had constructed a furnace, which became so heated as to set fire to the large beams.

Fortunately the accident was discovered in time, and all possibility of fire was soon prevented, but professor Faraday was obliged to announce publicly that the lecture must be indefinitely postponed.

The members and visitors were in some degree recompensed for the loss of the glass lecture by the exhibition of the sewing machine invented by the Messrs. Thimonnier and Magnin, of Villefranche (Rhone), which excited great interest, and detained the company until ten o'clock.

The principles if the invention were explained by Mr. Schmidt, of 28 Sutton Street, Waterloo-bridge, and the machine was worked by Monsieur Magnin.

Three hundred stitches a minute can be made with ease, and their size increased or diminished on the instant by turning a screw.

It is impossible that human labour can approach the nicety and precision of this machine, which will sew, stitch, and make edgings with the same movement. The patent is quite recent, having been signed only last week, and The Royal Institution is the first place where anybody has seen it. As Arkwright's invention did away with the distaff and hand spinning, so will this one of the sewing machines entirely supersede (for good or evil, we do not stop to enquire) Hand Labour.

Pro- and anti-sewing machine articles...

The anti-machine articles

The Era, March 5th 1848 Issue 493

"A Sewing Machine."- This invention has been recently exhibited at the Royal Institution. The stitches, larger or smaller, are made by "turning a screw." Is there anything new in this? On the contrary; have not English shirt-makers - sewing machines of flesh and blood - been made to work for farthings, and only by "turning a screw?" (Punch)

The Morning Chronicle February 25th 1852. Issue 26573

Some excitement has been caused in Toronto by a strike of the tailors against the introduction of patent sewing machines. The knights of the thimble triumphed, and the clothiers who had imported the obnoxious machine were forced to abandon it. The victory was celebrated by a procession, in which the tailors carried a flag, inscribed "Knowledge is power!"


The pro machine articles...

The Blackburn Standard January 31st 1849

A Sewing Machine (from the Manchester Examiner)

We had on Friday the pleasure of inspecting an exceedingly neat little apparatus, which has been constructed for the purpose of sewing.

It is a machine which has been in use some time in the south of France (Where it is patented), and is the invention of M. B. Thimonnier, a native of a small town near Lyons. A patent has been obtained in this country by M. Magnin, an advocate of France, and a number of machines have recently been constructed in this town by Messrs. Wren and Bennett, machine makers.


The machine takes up no more than a small work table, nor is there anything unsightly in its appearance. The Linen, or work to be operated upon, is passed across an aperture on a small table, under which is an apperatus for fixing the bobbin of thread, and above which is a peculiarly constructed needle nolder, supplied with a needle of the description commonly used in crochet work.


Upon the pressure of a small foot board, under the table, the needle, only the point of which is seen projecting from the case, passes through the cloth, down the aperture in the table, and hooks up the thread thus commencing the stitch.


By successive pressures on the foot board, the needle is thus lowered and raised, and each succeeding stitch is bought up within the former one, thus forming what is known by ladies as "backstitch."


The work produced is of the most elegant description; and the machine is applicable for all kinds of work, fine or coarse. We saw a pair of trousers which had been sewn by it, and certainly the work appeared remarkably good. The inventor is in town, superintending the erection of the machines.. - Manchester Examiner.


Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, February 14th 1853

Sewing Machines. - Messrs. Spackman, merchant tailors, of Belfast, have now in operation a machine which sews all sorts of fabric in curved or straight lines or angularly, with a precision not attainable by the manual operatives, and with a rapidity to the average power of ten men. At the shirt factory, established by Colonel Peck, in New Orleans, the stitching is done with a precision and neatness which sets handiwork at a defiance. More and better stitching is done in a day than fifty seamstresses could accomplish, while the space it occupies is no greater than would suffice for the occupancy of a lady's workstand.

The Ipswich Journal. June 25th 1853. Issue 5595

American Sewing Machines (from The Scotsman)

A machine of American invention has been introduced into this country by Mr. Darling, of Edinburgh, at whose manufactory numerous examples of it are in operation, which carries the mechanical principle into a fresh department of human labour - namely that of common hand sewing.

The machine is very simple; its framework is cast metal, and it occupies little more space than two cubic feet, and might stand on top of a lady's work-table. The right hand of the worker turns a small wheel, which puts in operation two needles, one an upright needle, the other a sort of semicircular one; and on a strong tabular surface, at the left extremity of which these two needles work - the upright above and the circular under - the cloth is laid with the left hand, and propelled between the needles as the machine proceeds with its stitching till the two bobbins which supply the thread to the double needle machinery be wound off.

Delicate in some respects as the machinery is, it is little liable to entanglement or derangement of any kind, and any breakage of thread that may occasionally occur is rectified with very little loss of time.

Again, the machine can be readily adapted to being driven by the foot of the worker after the fashion of a turning lathe, and in sewing other than simple straight lines, for the machine can stitch in circles, or zig-zag, or any other way that may be desired; this leaves both hands of the worker free to manage the cloth.

This mode of working also secures a much higher rate of speed - by the hand the machine may be driven at the rate of 500 stitches per minute, by the foot at nearly twice that rate.

The work is strong close sewing, beautifully regular, and such as would require a very firm and well practised hand to equal.


To the editor of The Times. June 30 1853

Sir. - In the extract from the Galsgow (sic) Chronicle which you made in your paper of yesterday, I notice that a Mr. Darling has the merit of having introduced the sewing machine in to this country.


I would here take occasion to remark that these machines were introduced and put to practical work by myself some 12 months since, under my patents, which are taken out for England, Ireland, and Scotland, and are now being successfully used in some of the largest clothing, staymaking, furniture, and sackmaking establishments in London, and can be seen in operation any day at either of my depots, 35, Corporation Street, Manchester; or 2, Lawrence Lane, Cheapside, London.


The machine introduced by Mr. Darling is evidently an infringement, and will be treated accordingly.

I remain, Sir, your obedient servent,

Charles T. Judkins

2 Lawrence Lane, Cheapside, London

June 30.


And the humorous :)

The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald. June 11th 1851. Issue 3598

The Great Exhibition

Judkins (52, Class 6) exhibits a sewing machine capable of setting 500 stitches in a minute; and in the French department sewing machines appear a favourite idea with the machinists; they have (373) a hemming machine suitable for the sewing of coarse linen cloths. This in action seems to require a man's power to work it, and to hem about half as fast as a tolerable needlewoman! No.545 is a double sewing machine. No. 1654, a cousobrodeur, a sewing, embroidery, and cord making machine is shewn, with samples of the sewing in different stuffs. America exhibits (64) a netting, and (338) a knitting machine.


(The Ipswich Journal machine sounds very similar to the West and Wilson arrangement. Might be what spurred George Whight in to action with the Excelsior!

In 1847 the Worcester Chamber of Commerce purchased 20 sewing machines for training in the glove trade at £8 17s.

The first British company seen so far is the Lancashire Sewing Machine Company by Judkin, under the patent of E.J. Hughes in The Glasgow Herald, October 10th 1853. On March 23rd 1854 The Lancashire SMC successfully sued someone just for using a Grover and Baker machine that infringed their patent!)