How the Singer Sewing Machine Clothed the Nation

Martha Stewart in Smithsonian:

SingerIsaac Merritt Singer’s Patent No. 8,294 was a vast improvement upon earlier versions, capable of 900 stitches a minute—at a time when the most nimble seamstress could sew about 40. Though the machine was originally designed for manufacturing, Singer saw its domestic potential and created a lighter weight version, which he hauled to country fairs, circuses and social gatherings, dazzling the womenfolk. The $50 price tag was steep, but Singer sold thousands on the installment plan. His machine revolutionized manufacturing and industry, transforming the lives of millions and making Singer a very rich man—a classic American story.

My mother inherited a Singer machine from her mother, and she was constantly sewing—her own clothes, clothes for her three daughters, Halloween costumes for all six of her children, and gifts for friends and family. She kept the machine in a corner of our kitchen in Nutley, New Jersey. My sisters and I started out with small projects like aprons and dishtowels, but we were mostly interested in clothes. I took sewing courses in the Nutley public schools and learned to make a blouse with set-in sleeves and a yoke and collar; a pair of cuffed shorts with a zippered-fly front; and a circle skirt. Mother taught me tailoring, interfacing, bias cutting and how to make bound and handmade buttonholes. These were early lessons in diligence, attention to detail and self-reliance. I kept sewing throughout my college years and made all my fancy clothes from designer patterns I got from my friend’s glamorous aunt, who owned a dress shop called Chez Ninon. I made Balenciaga and Dior and Givenchy and fell in love with couture. I even sewed my own wedding dress with the help of my mother, who assisted with the extensive tailoring.

More here.