Many traditional needlecrafts such as needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, sewing and crocheting are making a comeback. Today, these needlecrafts are pursued as hobbies, but a century ago women learned these skills as part of their education.
This was especially true before the advent of mass-produced, ready-to-wear fashions. Even after clothing could be purchased in stores, these skills were important for maintaining and repairing clothing.
Wealthy women could afford to hire a seamstress or purchased fashions overseas. They practiced needlecraft for leisure.
Many homes came equipped with sewing rooms. They were used by the lady of house or by a wealthy woman’s personal seamstress.
Sewing rooms stored needles, thread, fabric and other supplies. They also stored a machine that made women’s lives easier: the sewing machine.
The devices came into practical use in the 1850s when several companies competed against each other for the purpose of innovation and gaining customers.
The machines soon became popular with wives who could produce an article of clothing for a family member in a fraction of the time it took to make it by hand. Dress patterns began being featured in magazines.
The first machines were powered by pumping a foot pedal, with the first electric machine, introduced by Singer, debuting in 1889.
Sewing machines were sold by department stores and other retailers. They averaged between $10 and $20.
New models were constantly introduced in order to persuade customers to upgrade to the latest model. So many machines were manufactured that models from late 19th/early 20th century are still commonplace. Some sell at auction for as much as $4,000, but most models are so common they sell for their original purchase price.
Updated: 22 October 2020
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