It is astonishing how, in a few years, the sewing machine has made such strides in popular favor, [going from] a mechanical wonder [to] a household necessity ...
- Scientific American 1859
Women's Diaries ---
Learning to Sew ---
The daily routine of New England women changed dramatically during the first half of the 19th century. In 1800 women spent part of every day producing cloth. However, by 1850 few women produced cloth at home -- production had shifted to factories. During the same period, fashions became more complicated and women spent more time sewing.
Diaries and letters written in the 19th century reveal the amount of sewing and the variety of items created in the home.
Sarah Snell Bryant made clothes for at least 11 people. In 1804 her diary showed that she produced 12 shirts, seven short gowns, four "tyens" (aprons?), nine trousers, five jackets, and three frocks. In addition she made stockings, nightgowns, petticoats, pantaloons, overalls, breeches, handkerchiefs, and a short jacket. She also "spun a mop," "wove tape," altered her husband's great coat, and "made bags."
Other notations from her diary include the following:
spooled + warped a piece, mended, sewed,
hatched some sheep, sheep sheared and colored yellow
I have been busy, so busy, I could not write you. But now I can. I have sewed so much that I have cut my finger bad with the thread. I cannot sew so steady. We women folk took in all the sewing such as making overalls. We could make $10 per day in Sonoma... I took in washing and ironing and sewing to support my family.
- Mrs. Gregson, California mining community
During the Civil War raiders targeted sewing machines because soldiers knew that a damaged machine could no longer supply the enemy...
As Mother's [machine] was too heavy to move, they merely smashed the needles.
Kansan Elsie Duback upon receiving a machine noted that the machine was a sign the "pioneer days were over."
By this invention the needle woman is enabled to perform her labor in comfort; tasks that used to require the midnight watch - and drag through perhaps 20 hours, she can now complete in two or three.
- Godey's Lady's Book
I wish I was one of those sassy sorts that never gets in a fret over anything. Didn't this sewing machine help me along fast. I never mean to sew by hand any more if I can help it.
I think life would be so much more pleasant were it not for the trouble and bother of making clothes. Oh deliver me from the monotonous stitch, stitch from morning til night and rest for aching eyes, sore fingers, and the like.
- Georgia Long Shields of Georgia, 1853
Anyone could learn to operate a sewing machine; it could even be "thrilling" to use the new machine:
As a young lad, some seventy years ago, I learned to sew on the sewing machine. It was during a long convalescence from a serious accident one winter on the farm. My mother was always sewing when she was not cooking or keeping house, for she made most of the clothes for the younger members of our large family.
With my mother's patient teaching, I really became adept in a few weeks at the sewing machine, pedaling away at a good rhythm while guiding the cloth under the needle. I was flattered when my mother let me help make the squares for her "patchwork" that winter... It was fascinating, and together with the thrill of operating the machine, was a Godsend to a shut-in.
-Mr. R. E. Moody
You want to do away with the only thing that keeps women quiet - their sewing !
- Isaac Singer
"In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running.
- Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder
I have been busy, so busy, I could not write you. But now I can. I have sewed so much that I have cut my fingers bad with the thread. I cannot sew so steady.Intro - - - Technology - - - Machines - - - Impact - - - Quotes - - - Inventors
- Anon. letter
last updated: October 4, 2004
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