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History of Machine Sewing & Embroidery

Posted by Jenny Day on 18th Oct 2016

Everyone is often wondering what these wondrous inventions were like and how far back in history they go. 

Some of you might even have in your family a beautiful specimen of a sewing machine from your grandmother or even great grandmother, which would be a fantastic for you to hold onto for your children to see.

It’s amazing how much sewing we learnt from our family members whilst growing up. 

The odd bit of mending then onto making something small and slowly increasing our abilities to make something larger and more personal. Satisfaction guaranteed. No wonder most of us still do it today and some of us have taken it a bit further and are doing it for a business.

Here is a bit of information I came across, I hope you find as interesting as I did. This infographic shows things step by step over the years the growth of the sewing machine.

History of the Embroidery Machine

At first Embroidery was done by hand, beautiful works can viewed around the world. In the Victorian era elaborate freehand stitching began to dwindle when the machine age started to flourish. But at the same time bead embroidery gained popularity along with the new needlework stitches.

Embroidered clothing was also considered a symbol of wealth in ancient China and Japan but then along came the industrial revolution and the embroidery machine with it’s rayon thread apart from cotton and wool.

The use of embroidery to decorate clothes is as old as the sewing itself. With wear and tear in his clothes man started mending his torn clothes with patches and used reinforced sewing techniques to make it strong to ensure that the stitch didn’t give in during rough use.

It was at this time when man discovered that the thread that he used for fastening clothes together and mending patches could also be used to decorate and design it.

The computerized embroidery machines that bless our homes are nothing like their prototypes which could fill an entire lower-level living space. Without them, though, we would not have ever gotten this far.


Nearly 20 years before Isaac Singer patented the first sewing machine in 1846, a Frenchman named Josue Heilmann invented a hand embroidery machine. The huge machine could do the work of up to four hand embroiderers.

Heilmann’s embroidery machine was made up of a frame to hold the fabric, a needle assembly and a handle to work the needle. Instead of taking the needle to the fabric (as in hand embroidery), the fabric moved to meet the needle which had a point at each end and an eye in the middle. The process allowed stitching in any direction.

Designs were six times the size of the original and a great amount of coordination was needed to stitch. The operator used his left hand to guide a scribe around the pattern diagram. His right hand cranked a wheel that pushed needles through the fabric and his feet operated the clamps that gripped the needles.

The invention was thought to be such a threat to hand embroiderers that Heilmann only sold two machines. However Heilmann's invention led to the development of modern-day embroidery machines.


Before affordable computers, embroidery was completed by punching designs on paper that ran through the embroidery machine. Created by Isaac Groebli in Switzerland, the Schiffli machine utilized the combination of a continuously threaded needle and a shuttle containing a bobbin of thread. Groebli’s son went on to create the automatic Schiffli machine.

Gorgeous laces and broderie anglaise flew off of the loom-like embroidery machines. They were so efficient that the fruits of their labor were mistaken for hand embroidery. Home businesses and factories sprung up. The embroidery machine age had begun.

Embroidery has evolved through the years with many designs and materials.

Computers brought in the digitized patterns to finish off these beautiful garments. Although technology has made embroidery more easier with different materials and techniques it is still an art and fun.

Maybe a quick read of this might take you back to those rag time days.....

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Keep Smiling Jenny x