The industrial sewing machine is an essential part of modern textile industries and is built upon an exceptionally versatile foundation, but it took a lot of time and countless iterations before it reached that level.
Whilst the first sewing machine was believed to have been invented in 1790 by Thomas Saint, the English inventor’s ambitious design was largely impractical as designed, reliant on the less strong chain stitching method typically used in modern sewing for surface-level embroidery.
After four decades of prototyping, iteration and development, the first sewing machine to see wide industrial use was invented in 1829 by French tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier with the assistance of mining engineer Auguste Ferrand.
Mr Thimonnier’s system used a hooked needle to grab the thread to produce a chain stitch as opposed to the more common lockstitch used today with single-needle sewing machines or alongside an overlock stitch with industrial machines.
Regardless, he not only had the machine but he also had considerable connections, enough to get the resources together to create the first machine-based clothing factory in the world that would be put to work quickly putting together army uniforms.
This is where Mr Thimonnier’s fortunes would start to turn sour, however. A group of as many as 200 tailors would head to the factory on rue de Sévres on 20th January 1931 inspired by the English Luddites several decades previously.
They managed to destroy all 80 of the machines that had been created in contrast to official reports of the time and burned the factory down, Mr Thimonnier escaping to pick up the pieces and build a better machine.
However, when protestors destroyed that machine as well, Mr Thimonnier retired and quietly developed his designs until he died in poverty in 1857.
The year after this incident, American Walter Hunt would invent the lockstitch sewing machine although it would take the work of John Fisher, Isaac Singer and Elias Howe to refine this concept into the modern sewing industry we know today.