During our IMLS grant work, our Collection Facilitator, Libby Rea, gathered sewing machines from our collection and chronicled the change in design through the early years of sewing machines.
While personal sewing machines didn’t gain popularity until the second half of the 19th century, there were a few different brands and styles to choose from through the years. Two popular designs were the treadle and hand crank.
The treadle machine was a sewing machine set into a wooden table, often with drawers for storage. It features a large metal foot pedal that would be pushed up and down to get the sewing machine running. The one pictured above is a Singer brand from 1910. These were popular until sewing machines were made electric. Electric sewing machines were available as early as the 1920s but didn’t become widely popular until later.
The hand crank sewing machine is rarer, and only enjoyed brief popularity in the late 19th century. The one featured above is a Grimme, Natalis, & Co design made in Germany in 1891. These were smaller, sat on a desk rather than in it, and were operated by a hand crank on the side. While the user would have one less hand free, the hand crank allowed for a more controlled speed of sewing.
Thanks for reading!
– Libby Rea