Legacy Sewing Companies Issue #94
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In this Issue:
Rhonda with upcycled sweaters.
When was the last time you used your sewing machine without needle and thread? Never! Can’t do it. Needle, thread and machine, the trifecta of sewing. Rita Farro explores the rich history of three of dozens of sewing industry companies that have adapted to change while building lasting legacies within our sewing community and beyond. After more than a century, Singer sewing machines, Coats & Clark thread, and SCHMETZ needles are trusted staples in sewing rooms around the world.
Legacy Sewing Companies Page 3
SCHMETZ Specialty Combo Packs Page 16
Cover: Story by:
White Fabric Background Rita Farro https://ritassewfun.blogspot.com/
Provided by Various Sources including Shutterstock
Layout/Design: Paul Ragas
What Inspires YOU to Sew? www.SCHMETZneedles.com
In this issue, get a glimpse at three global companies that have defied the times with agility, while remaining constant and loyal companions in our sewing rooms. Sew SCHMETZ & Grabbit® Too!
Rhonda Pierce Spokesperson, SCHMETZneedles.com info@SCHMETZneedles.com
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Legacy Sewing Companies
Legacy Sewing Companies There are many famous trios: The Three Musketeers, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Three Stooges, Destiny’s Child. And if you’re a fan of Creole cooking, you are familiar with that culinary holy trinity, onions, bell peppers, and celery. But no place in history or pop culture has a more powerful, essential trinity, than the world of sewing. If you love to sew, your beloved trinity is sewing machine, needle, and thread. The truth is, if you don’t have ALL THREE elements, you cannot sew even a single stitch. They rely on each other.
The shocking thing is that for over 100 years, three legacy companies have been producing sewing machines, thread, and needles. Although each company operates completely independent from one another, all three companies are completely reliant on each other’s product.
shutterstock Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1818501374 LOUISIANA, USA - SEPTEMBER 19, 2020: Vintage Wood Thread Spools for sewing, Coats and Clarks, Star Twist, and Mercerized, on wood textured background. By ccpixx photography
THREAD: COATS Established in 1755, Coats is the world’s leading industrial threads and consumer crafts business employing more than 22,000 employees in over 70 countries across six continents around the world. This corporation is the story of two competing Scottish thread dynasties, the Clarks and the Coats. In 1755, a hundred years before the invention of the sewing machine, both the Clark Company and J&P Coats were Scottish thread manufacturers. Paisley, Scotland was rapidly becoming famous for the production of Kashmir style shawls. From its
ancient Persian and Indian origins with its hidden messages and mysterious symbolism, the exotic Kashmir shawls were woven of silk and wool. Thanks to some early “influencers,” namely young Queen Victoria, these shawls became wildly popular. The pattern was often referred to as “Paisley,” named after the Scottish town where they were being woven. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the French blockade stopped the exportation of silk to Britain, putting a stop to the lucrative Paisley shawl business. Patrick Clark turned his attention to developing cotton as a cheaper, more readily available alternative to silk. His method of twisting fine cotton yarns soon resulted in a thread strong and smooth enough to be used in looms.
Clark’s three-ply cotton thread was brought onto the market in 1812 and the Clark Company opened a mill dedicated to its production. A few years later, the firm discovered a method of winding this thread onto small wooden reels. This type of cotton thread eventually replaced many of the linen and silk hand sewing threads already on the market. In the 1840’s, both companies started to send commercial agents to the USA. Despite restrictions on the production and sale of cotton during the Civil War (1861-1865), American thread sales were very brisk. Following the end of the civil war, the American economy started to expand. In the early 1860’s, the Singer Sewing
Machine Company started to mass produce domestic sewing machines. Clark’s and Coats sewing threads were both highly recommended for use with these machines. In the 1880’s, the Clark Company developed a six-cord soft-finished thread called “Our New Thread,” which became known as O.N.T. The ”Industrial Revolution” of the 19th century influenced almost every aspect of daily life in some way. It began with the mechanization of the textile industries and the Coats and Clark firms were at the forefront of this change. In 1863, the Clark Company started manufacturing thread in Newark, New Jersey. By 1866, they had completed gigantic new millworks, which would, for the next 100 years, become
a huge contributor to the welfare of Newark, New Jersey and the adjacent cities and towns. At that same time, J&P Coats was building their own huge thread manufacturing mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Company and J&P Coats would amalgamate under the Coats name. In 1912, J&P Coats had grown into one of the world’s largest companies. It was ranked by market capitalization as third in the world, after US Steel and Standard Oil.
The two companies had been competitors for 100 years, but in the 1890s, a difficult situation was developing. Both firms had grown so large, they each wanted a bigger share of the market. This resulted in a devastating price reduction war. However, in 1889, an amicable agreement was reached between the two Paisley thread companies, and they set up a rented office where their representatives could meet to discuss matters affecting their joint interests. This agreement worked so well, six years later it was announced that the Clark
There is no question that both the Coats and Clark families became extremely wealthy manufacturing thread. Both families were philanthropic towards their communities, donating money to build and support schools, hospitals, and parks. The two companies not only competed for customers, but they also competed to hire and keep good employees. Their factories employed thousands of people. And their thread workers were better treated than most employees of the nineteenth century.
By 1896, the Paisley mills had educational facilities in the form of the Half-Timers school, fire-fighting facilities, dining halls, baths, reading rooms, a gym, bowling greens, tennis courts, cricket, and other sports grounds, model cottages for some of their employees, and a hostel for single girls living away from home. Health matters were taken care of with sanatoria and medical centers which not only included the services of doctors and nurses, but dentists and podiatrists as well. In the 1920s, after an outbreak of smallpox, the workers were encouraged to have vaccinations, and given a bounty of £1 if they did!
Also, in the 1920s, Coats became one of the earliest industrial concerns to offer pensions to their female workers. The scheme was known as The Woman Thread Worker’s Benefit Fund. A sickness benefit was also included. In 1946, the company established a Welfare Department which looked after such matters as recreation and visiting sick employees. The amalgamation and competitive cooperation that began in 1912 between these two thread manufacturing giants has been modified several times. In 1952, J&P Coats and the Clark Thread Co. merged to become Coats & Clark. After being held by several holding companies, in 2015 the business returned to the market as Coats Group.
THE SINGER SEWING MACHINE COMPANY In 1851, the Singer Sewing Machine Company began as a partnership between two men, Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward C. Clark. Singer, a failed actor, was a flamboyant, charismatic, incorrigible womanizer. Clark was a respected, conservative New York City lawyer. Their complicated business relationship was the subject of SCHMETZ Inspired to Sew #83. In 1857, the first Singer showroom was at 458 Broadway, New York. They had three small manufacturing plants located around the city. Unable to produce enough sewing machines to satisfy the expanding market, The Singer Company purchased a 32 acre plot of land in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1872, Singer built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.
The 6,000-strong workforce at the plant in the 1870s was the largest in the world at the time for a single establishment. For the 109 years that the factory operated in Elizabeth, a large proportion of residents were employed there. By 1876, Singer was claiming cumulative sales of two million sewing machines. The main assembly building was nearly a half-mile long and extended almost to the waterfront. The Singer railroad had approximately six miles of track. Eventually, the plant outgrew its original site and expanded across the street to cover 100 acres.
shutterstock Royalty-free stock photo ID: 244398859 Middle-aged woman sewing on a belt driven Singer machine at the Richmond & Backus Company, Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1905. By Everett Collection
As the plant expanded, so did its need for skilled workers and the city of Elizabeth grew up around it. For decades, after graduating from high school, getting a job at the Singer factory was the natural course of events. On the eve of WWII, the complex employed close to 10,000 people, giving Singer tremendous clout within Elizabeth, while serving as a pillar of civic pride. The company was an economic stalwart for generations of ”Singer families” who knew that employment there would give them a long-term steady job with a decent working-class salary. In 1867, the Singer Company decided that the European demand for their sewing machines was sufficiently high to open a local factory. Scotland was selected for its iron making industries, cheap labor, and possibly because at the time the
General Manager of the US Singer Sewing Machine Company was George McKenzie, who was of Scottish decent. By 1873 Singer employed over 2,000 people in Scotland but still they could not produce enough machines. The Singer Sewing Machine Company was a marketing innovator and a pioneer in promoting the use of installment payment plans. The company had promotional ideas ahead of their time. It was the first company to spend $1 million a year on advertising and offered giveaways such as free sewing machines for the wives of clergymen. In 1882, George McKenzie, the soon to become President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, undertook the groundbreaking ceremony on 46 acres of farmland at
shutterstock Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 237228259 Power loom weaving in a cotton mill in Lancashire England ca 1835 Engraving with modern watercolor. By Everett Collection
Clydebank, Scotland. The largest Singer factory in the world was designed to be the most modern factory in Europe at that time, fire proof with water sprinklers. In 1885, with nearly a million square feet of space and almost 7,000 employees, Clydebank produced 13,000 machines a week. But even the world’s largest sewing machine factory could not produce enough machines to meet the demand. During both WWI and WWII, the Singer factories in New Jersey and Scotland were retrofitted to produce munitions for the war effort. Sewing machine production gave way to munitions. The Singer Clydebank factory received over 5,000 government contracts, and made 303,000,000 artillery shells, shell components, fuses, and airplane parts, as well as
grenades, rifle parts, and 361,000 horseshoes. Its labor force of 14,000 was about 70% female at war’s end. From its opening in 1884 until 1943, the Clydebank factory produced approximately 36,000,000 sewing machines. Singer was the world leader and sold more machines than all the other makers added together. At the height of its productivity in the early 1960s, Singer employed over 16,000 workers. By the end of that decade, compulsory redundancies were taking place and 10 years later the workforce was down to 5,000 employees.
shutterstock Royalty-free stock photo ID: 792262849 Georgievsk, Stavropol Region, Russia - January 06, 2018: Details of old Singer sewing machine. Singer Logo close-up. Manufactured in 1911-1914. By Aleksandr Stepanov
In the 1960s, the company diversified into aerospace and electronics businesses. No surprise that Singer’s executives had lost interest in the mother product line and veered off into high technology. The business of making and selling household sewing machines seemed to be doomed, at least in developed countries. Who had the time any more to sew a skirt or a pair of pants? Although sewing machine sales were declining, the Singer brand still had incredible value as the most recognized brand in the world. Its retail outlets started to label the “Singer” brand on other appliances made by other manufacturers.
Lack of orders forced the world’s largest sewing machine factory in Clydebank to close in June 1980, ending over 100 years of sewing machine production in Scotland. The complex of buildings was demolished in 1998. In 1982, the last 560 workers at the 1,400,000 square foot Elizabeth factory were laid off and the facility closed. The building still stands at First and Trumbull streets. In many ways, New Jersey never recovered from Singer’s exit. For decades, the Singer recreation hall was the center of social activity for the whole town. Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, and other top bands played at gala company affairs. Wedding receptions, bar mitzvah parties, and other functions took place in the company hall.
shutterstock Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1935117074 Caserta, Italy, February 08th 2021, Grandma taking a video tutorial on how to learn to use the sewing machine. By MarabellaStudio
The company baseball teams recruited the best players from the area high schools, and the summer picnics and holiday events were the center of Elizabeth’s social life. Even if you didn’t work at Singer, you went to the weekly dances. Long before internet dating and Match.com, the weekly Singer dances provided a safe place for young people to get together, dance, talk, and well, MANY proposals came from those weekly dances. By 1987, Singer was controlled by corporate raider Paul Bilzerian who was selling off pieces of its sewing machine business, which included both factories and a worldwide collection of retail outlets.
After ten years of being passed around various holding companies, Singer paid $157.5 million in 1997 to purchase German sewing manufacturer Pfaff. That was the last straw. Singer filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 1998. The company restructured and emerged from bankruptcy in September 2000. Today, Singer is doing business under the umbrella of SVP Worldwide, a private American company that designs, manufactures, and distributes consumer sewing machines and accessories around the world under three brands: Singer, Husqvarna Viking, and Pfaff. The company’s corporate headquarters is located in Nashville, TN.
SCHMETZ NEEDLES The SCHMETZ company was founded in 1851 and has since become known as a leader in the sewing machine needle industry. They were the first manufacturer to introduce a standardization of needle systems. SCHMETZ currently manufactures needles for industrial sewing, tailoring, tufting, and for home/hobby sewing.
The first half of the 20th century saw a boom in sewing machine production. In Germany alone, over 200 companies were producing sewing machines. This wide variety of systems and manufacturers caused a major increase in the number of needle systems. To combat this development, SCHMETZ, led by Ferdinand Bernhard Schmetz, became the first manufacturer to introduce a standard for needle systems, which would prove to be groundbreaking.
SCHMETZ founded several foreign subsidiaries between 1965 and 1971 to manufacture and sell sewing machine needles. During the process of internationalization, the SCHMETZ brand was registered and established all over the world. The establishment and development of additional production and distribution companies follow to further expand the global presence. A relaunch of the SCHMETZ brand associated with the slogan, “The world of sewing – the needle by
SCHMETZ,” conveys the high-quality standard and the global availability of the products as integral components of the corporate philosophy. In 2017, SCHMETZ became part of the Groz-Beckert company group, thus expanding its technological and regional reach. Combining the resources of two respected companies from the textile industry helped to guarantee sustainability and innovation for the benefit of consumers, retailers, and machine manufacturers.
— written by Rita Farro
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There are many famous trios: The Three Musketeers, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Three Stooges, Destiny’s Child. And if you’re a fan of Creole c...
Published on Sep 13, 2021
There are many famous trios: The Three Musketeers, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Three Stooges, Destiny’s Child. And if you’re a fan of Creole c...