This section is from the book "Text-Book On Domestic Art", by Carrie Crane Ingalls. Also available from Amazon: Textbook On Domestic Art: With Illustrations And Drafts.
The first sewing machine was invented in 1755 in England by one Weisenthal. It was used wholly for embroidery and made a tambour or loop stitch, a name derived from the two-pointed needle with the eye in the middle. Thomas Saint, an Englishman, brought out the second invention. This was a machine for quilting and stitching. The third invention came from a Frenchman named Thimonnier, who endured many hardships in his efforts to introduce it into France. He made a large number of machines, the first of wood, only to have them twice destroyed by mobs of infuriated tailors and sewers who condemned him for depriving them of their trade. He died in poverty, still fighting his oppressors.
The first notable improvement came in 1846 with the invention of Elias Howe, a native of Massachusetts, poor in health and purse, and whose struggle for recognition was likewise embittered by those who plied the needle and refused to use his machine. The shuttle which he conceived formed a lock stitch, the Wheeler and Wilson machine being the outcome of his patents, and the first sewing machine manufactured. Grover and Baker followed with still another improvement; then came the Singer. Howe was paid a royalty on each machine made from his patent, so that, unlike his predecessors, he became wealthy.
In 1857 a new machine was invented by Wilcox and Gibbs. This machine did away with the bobbin, making instead a chain or loop stitch. In these days of machinery and progress, hundreds of machines are turned out of various makes, grades and quality, but sewing machines are divided into but two classes - the chain with its automatic tension and using but one spool of thread, and the lock stitch with its bobbin and sometimes a shuttle, using two threads. The sewing machine is run by power, foot or hand. It is poor economy to buy an inferior make, for it is impossible after a lapse of time to secure duplicate parts or new needles.
The instruction book accompanying each machine should be followed closely. Most machines thread differently, the wheel revolving in opposite directions and thread will break if started wrong. The machine is the servant of the hand and should be studied and mastered. To keep clean, well oiled (but not over much) and in good condition - covered when not in use - will keep the machine in easy running order. Learn each detail of its construction from stand to attachment.
The attachments save time and work. Directions for their use are in the instruction book and should be learned. The principal ones are the guide, hemmer, feller, gatherer, tucker and binder. On the lock stitch machine most of these attachments necessitate the removing of the plain presser foot used for ordinary stitching and using a special one; on the automatic the same presser foot is used for all.
Adjustment and Length of Stitch - The size of needle to be used and the relation of the thread to the stitch vary according to the thickness of material to be sewed. On the plate of the automatic machine the numbers and stitches are explained, the length of stitch being regulated by a sliding lever attached to the plate.
The tension should never be oiled or disturbed, as it adjusts itself automatically to the proper stitch.
On the lock stitch machine, the stitch is regulated by the turning of a thumb screw which is found near the bobbin winder.
Other makes have the regulating table for stitches on the plate with a screw sliding to right or left according to size desired.
On any machine this table of stitches indicates the number of stitches to an inch. Thus, 22 stitch means 22 stitches equal one inch.
In testing stitches use two or more thicknesses of cloth.
With the lock stitch machine the threads are fastened by drawing the top thread thru to the wrong side and tying to the under thread.
With the chain stitch machine the thread is fastened by raising the presser foot and moving the cloth back to the preceding stitch so the needle will enter this last hole a second time. This makes a double knot.
If sewing to the end of cloth, run off a few stitches beyond the cloth.
The chain stitch is similar to the plain crochet stitch and unravels easily from the end last stitched. When broken or cut, pull the end thru the last loop and fasten by threading and making a back stitch.
To take out the lock stitches, pull thread from end last sewed, first on right side of cloth and then on wrong side, or if a seam is to be taken out, hold cloth on wrong side and pull thread first from one side and then the opposite. For tailored work a sharp knife is used.