By Carol Grinage, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
I have a sewing machine in the back of my storage closet underneath boxes of Christmas decorations, old toys and other items that I no longer use regularly. I never gave much thought to the sewing machine until I toured a local hat company and the tour guide pointed out that some hats were sewn completely by hand and some parts of all hats were done by hand.
She then pointed out that the Singer sewing machine standing in front of me was from 1880 and that none of the machines were younger than 1920. Of everything I saw that day, what stood out the most and what I talked about was the sewing machine. I was amazed and am still amazed at the importance and endurance of one small household item. It is for these same reasons that we celebrate National Sewing Machine Day.
The sewing machine was born in 1790 when Thomas Saint took out the first patent for the design of the sewing machine, but it wasn’t until many years later that a working model was built. With this, life changed for many people.
Before the sewing machine existed, clothes were sewn by hand by wives and daughters or seamstresses. Once sewing machines became widespread for industrial use, the production of clothing and other textiles was done in large factories, and the price of clothing dropped because the production time decreased.
Although the sewing machine was used in factories, it was also used in many homes for repairing and making clothing. Now, it is primarily used by hobbyists for crafts, such as quilting, or by those who want to make their own clothes.
Not only were sewing machines used for industrial and home use, they were also used by charitable organizations such as the Red Cross, which created production rooms in World War I.
These production rooms were full of sewing machines used to produce garments, surgical dressings and other items needed in the war effort both in the United States and abroad. Thus, with these production rooms, the Red Cross demonstrated that patriots don’t always enter battle or wear camouflage.
Despite the changes that have occurred since World War I, the Dallas chapter of the American Red Cross still has one of these production rooms in use. Here, volunteers sew blankets and beanies for babies in the NICU and quilts that are sent to VA hospitals or stocked on our emergency response trucks.
National Sewing Machine Day reminds us what sewing machines added to our lives and our history. Without the sewing machine, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make many of the clothes, shoes, bags and upholstery that we use every day.