If you are planning a wedding on a budget, there is a good chance that you will have dusted off your old sewing machine. Whether you are making alterations to your mother’s dress, custom designing an outfit from scratch, or having a go at making a veil, the sewing machine is an invaluable tool. It is highly likely that you have a modern electric machine, but have you ever wondered what your forbears used? Here is a brief history of the sewing machine.

A Saint for the Seam-worker

The industrial setups and sewing machine tables sold in huge numbers by companies like GST Online can trace their roots back to an invention by the English cabinet maker Thomas Saint. In 1790 the industrial revolution was in full swing. A great deal of England’s imperial-economic might rested upon the exchange of raw materials from the empire and domestic labor. New methods for mass producing items using these materials were being invented at a rapid pace. Saint invented and patented a design that he hoped could be used to speed up commercial leather and cotton garment production. His machine was revolutionary and included a looping arm, feeding mechanism, and many other features we now take for granted.

Clothing the French Army

Saint’s invention was improved upon by Barthelemy Thimonnier in 1829. Thimonnier’s design incorporated a barbed needle that helped lift the thread after it was looped. He was contracted to make uniforms for the vast French army. Interestingly, his factory was burnt down by workers who feared that this new way of making clothes would ultimately lead to mass unemployment and increased automation.

Singer, Fisher, and Howe

All of the basic elements of the sewing machine that we know today were combined at roughly the same time by three competing inventors: Elias Howe, Isaac Merritt Singer, and John Fisher. Singer was the inventor most savvy with copyright law, and therefore received the most favorable patent for his machine.

Two of the three men would join forces in 1856 by forming the Sewing Machine Corporation. Singer, Howe, and four other collaborators became the dominant force in domestic sewing machine production.


Sewing machines in the 19th Century were traditionally operated using a treadle – essentially pedals that are pushed to spin the mechanism – or a wheel, which was manually spun by hand.

Electrification changed the game. Singer introduced the first electric sewing machine in 1889. By 1918, the company was offering designs in electric, treadle, and wheel power formats. Electrification allowed for the far more efficient industrial production of clothing.

Computer-aided Design

Until the 1970s, sewing machines were entirely mechanical. Electricity was only used in the powering of mechanical elements instead of actually expanding the functionality of the machines.

Circuitry was first introduced in 1970, but it was not until the increased availability of home computers in the 1990s that true computer-aided sewing machines became available. Modern CAD sewing machines allow users to program in complex stitching patterns, making difficult designs far easier to create.