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For the love of

SEWING MACHINES Words by Jennifer Ward


lothing is something that every culture around the world shares and with that, are the seams that hold each garment together. These, as we know, are sewn together with a needle and thread – and for thousands of years, this was done by hand. Since the Stone Age in fact, civilisations have been using hand-crafted instruments to create items that provide warmth, protect modesty and offer fashion. As time evolved, stricter rules for dress reflected social norms at the time and naturally, clothing was used in its colour, quality and fabric texture to signify social status and wealth. In the 1876 book How to Dress Well on Shilling a Day, the author instructed that ‘poverty must, above all things, avoid the appearance of poverty’. Consequently this involved more time spent stitching, so for women throughout history – who would most often have a husband and numerous children to clothe, as well as a household to stitch for – sewing was a laborious task, yet a necessary one. “Poor women and girls had few respectable

options for earning their own living, and the needle trades – such as dressmaking, shirtmaking and millinery – were often their only resort, despite the appallingly low pay,” explains Danielle Thom, assistant curator at the V&A museum. “Most of it was ‘piece work’, done at home by women and children. The work, which often lasted from dawn until midnight, was injurious to the eyesight and the spine, and the poor pay was compounded by the fact that women had to pay a deposit to their overseer for the materials, repayable upon delivery of goods.” Because of this, the concept of a machine that could absorb at least some of this burden was something of a dream to both the working and middle class woman.


Before the First World War, women didn’t often use machine tools. When sewing machines first became readily available, women generally 35

New Home Sewing Machines was the original trading name of Janome Sewing Machines.

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