Invention of the Sewing Machine ~ Canadian Sewing Machine Manufacturers
Sewing Machine Values ~ Singer Dates ~ Willcox & Gibbs Dates ~ Needle Threading
Shuttle Identification ~ Common Problems ~ Why Make Quilts? ~ Sewing With Children
Packing a Sewing Machine ~ Paint a Featherweight ~ Favorites and Links


This is a digital copy of an original letter from a sewing machine dealer in St. Catherines, Ont to the Singer Mfg Co in NYC, circa 1863. I think you'll find the contents interesting.

(please select above for larger images)


Canadian History on the
"Invention of the Sewing Machine"

Look on any website or book concerning the Field of "Antique Sewing Machines" and you will find very little if anything on the Canadian History of these great mechanical machines. There were only a select few sewing machine manufacturers in this country. It is very important we compile and preserve this history.

I want to hear from you. Are you are a living relative of any sewing company employee in this country? Can you supply pictures of sewing manufacturing plants in Canada? All this information is very important to this research. We here at sew2go will compile this information and present it all right here. Send us your stories and anything else in your possession regarding this field.

We know Charles Raymond was involved with the manufacture of the New England type machines as well many more different models, including the Raymond #1 and the Household handcrank. Raymond machines are definitely not plentiful, but can still be found. More research will be needed with the Raymond Company to document the different versions of Household machines.

Go directly to the Wanzer & Raymond Sewing Machine Co.

Go directly to Rogers Bros, Charles Irwin & Company.

Here is just a short sampling of a contribution made by a Mr. Bob McFarlane. Bob sent this copy of his Grandfather's obituary as it was presented in a Singer Company newsletter. Directly below the scanned heading of the Singer newsletter, is the newsletter article as I've retyped it.


It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of Mr McFarlane, the works manager of Singer factory, who, after a long illness borne with much fortitude, passed away on Monday, November 5th, at his residence Kenilworth, Scotstownhill, Glasgow. Mr.McFarlane, who was 74 years of age was born at Dennistown, Glasgow, within a short distance of the old Singer factory in James Street, Bridgeton. He entered into employment there in the year 1873 and had therefore, at the time of his death, completed fifty-five years service. A truly wonderful record. His service with the firm was first as an engineer in the tool department, where, in recognition of his ability, he was shortly thereafter appointed an assistant foreman. When the company owing to increasing business found it necessary in 1884 to remove to Kilbowie, Clydebank, Mr. McFarlane was made manager of the tool department. In this capacity, his practical experience of machine tool design and the development of automatic machinery was of great service, meeting the demand of ever-increasing demand of Singer machines. Later in 1903, Mr. McFarlane was made Works Superintendent in recognition of his administrative ability. This contributed in no small degree in building up one of the largest and most efficient factories in the world. In 1920 Mr McFarlane was appointed Works manager and a director of the company. With his sound technical knowledge and practical skill, he was able to render great assistance to the British Government, in recognition he was granted the O.B.E. He took a deep and personal interest in the welfare of the Singer employees, and did much for them in sports and recreation. Recognized by all as a man of sterling character, full of affection for his fellow man, he had an unusually keen appreciation of the good in others. These qualities, coupled with a considerate manner, made him extremely popular with all who had the privilege to work with and for him, and by all of whom he will be greatly missed. Mr. McFarlane is survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters, to whom we extend our sincere sympathy in their bereavement. The funeral was attended by the Management, the foreman, representatives from the Counting House, and a large contingent of workers, thirty of whom had been associated with Mr. McFarlane for fifty years or more in the Singer service. The large number present at the special church service and at the gravesite was an eloquent testimony of the high esteem in which Mr. McFarlane was held.

While Mr. McFarlane lived and passed away in Scotland, his grandson Bob McFarlane lives in Ontario and we are very grateful he elected to pass along this bit of history for all to share.


The following article is written by Martha Eckmann Brent.

A Stitch in Time: The Sewing Machine Industry Of Ontario, 1860-1897

Today, the early sewing machine is primarily remembered as a contrivance, which relieved women of much of the fatigue and drudgery of hand sewing and helped provide them with the time to pursue other interests. Yet, as the first domestic mechanical aid to be mass-produced, the sewing machine's impact extended a great deal further. The machine not only revolutionized the home production of clothing and the ready made garment industry, but was also largely responsible for the establishment of the first commercial pattern companies in the United States.

The production or manufacture of the sewing machine itself was progressive for its time. By using precision manufacturing techniques based on the concept of interchangeable parts, sewing machine manufacturers were able to produce well-constructed, dependable, affordable machines. Although the concept of interchangeable parts was not new, its application for the mass production of the first consumer appliance was novel, and many innovative changes in nineteenth-century manufacturing and marketing were pioneered by the sewing machine industry. The availability of spare parts, convenient local machine servicing, installment plan purchasing, and massive advertising campaigns were successful offshoots of the sewing machine industry that were later adapted to many other industries. The development of the sewing machine meant not only significant change in the lives of tailors, seamstresses, and homemakers, but also represented important new trends in manufacturing and marketing as well.

The invention of the sewing machine cannot be credited to any single person. Although the names of Howe and Singer have become synonymous with the sewing machine, there were literally hundreds of persons from many countries linked to its history. However, once Elias Howe patented the first completely successful sewing machine in the United States in 1846, the great boom was on. The success and popularity of the sewing machine promised opportunity and wealth for those engaged in its manufacture, and the third quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed the establishment of hundreds of factories throughout the United States, Canada, and the British Isles.

While the history and development of the sewing machine industry in the United States has received considerable attention, very little research has been conducted on the same industry in Canada. In fact, it is not commonly known that Canada even had such an industry. Despite the large number of American sewing machines sold here in the nineteenth century, however, a domestic industry did emerge which produced thousands of machines over a period of thirty years. The industry's development and decline can be measured from 1860 to 1897, a period when fourteen Ontario manufacturers, in business from as few as two to as many as thirty four years, were producing family or domestic sewing machines.

These operations varied significantly in size and production output, the smallest employing 12 men and producing 2,500 machines per year and the largest employing 300-400 mechanics and producing 1,500 machines per week. Since the primary materials required in the manufacture of sewing machines were coal, iron, and steel, transportation routes principally governed factory locations. As with most other industries, sewing machine factories tended to be situated either close to shipping centres along Lake Ontario or connected to the lake by railroad. Ontario's sewing machine factories were scattered in a variety of locations, including Belleville, Perth, Toronto, St. Catherines, Hamilton, and Guelph, and although each of these towns or cities was capable of sustaining a certain portion of the industry, Hamilton and Guelph ultimately became the two major centres for sewing machine manufacturing.

Ontario-manufactured machines were based on exactly the same principals and elements as the American machines. There was a trend among Canadian inventors to make additions or alterations to the basic principals; however, no significant new inventions in sewing machine technology were developed here. Stylistically, Ontario machines were slightly behind their American competitors, but in quality and workmanship they were considered to be on par.

Surprisingly, the sewing machine got off to a very poor start in Ontario. In the 1850's, there was tremendous resistance to the "iron seamstress" from both tailors and housewives -- ironically, the two groups who had the most to gain from using it. In the opinion of may tailors, the sewing machine threatened to ruin their trade. Whereas it took an estimated sixteen hours and thirty-five minutes to sew a frock coat by hand, the same work could be done in two hours and thirty-eight minutes by machine. Therefore, the tailors reasoned, the sewing machine would put many of them out of business. In 1852, the introduction of the sewing machine in the Toronto tailoring establishment of Walker and Hutchison resulted in Toronto's first organized labor strike. A similar reaction occurred in Hamilton and for a time, the sewing machine was set aside.

Many women were also skeptical of this newfangled device with its high price and complicated construction. They were reluctant to believe a machine could sew as well as they could. To prove that any women could successfully operate a sewing machine, the manufacturers approached the problem in several ways. They hired female demonstrators to show off the versatility and ease of mechanical sewing. They provided free instruction to buyers in their own homes. And they even offered there machines at reduced rates to wives of the clergy, hoping that these respected women might set an example others would follow. During the 1860's, the popularity of the sewing machine increased and several manufacturers built factories in Ontario. Due to favorable patent legislation, which encouraged manufacturers to pirate foreign technology, a variety of machines were produced. However, the still limited demand enabled only two of the companies to survive the decade.

Ontario sewing machine manufacturing entered its heyday during the 1870's. Improved or refined technology resulted in well-constructed, durable machines that could be manufactured cheaply and sold at a price affordable by everyone. Favorable public reaction to this cheap, accessible, labour saving device was reflected in the tremendous increase in demand during the 1870's that the sewing machine became a leading Canadian export.

By the mid 1870's there were clearly too many Ontario sewing machine companies competing for the domestic market, and a number of the smaller companies either folded or were absorbed by larger ones. The eventual decline of the industry occurred for a variety of reasons. Changes in Canadian patent requirements resulted in a proliferation of American branch plants on Canadian soil, a factor that seriously threatened Canadian dominance in the home market. Comparatively low tariffs on imports promoted the dumping of American sewing machines into the Canadian market at ruinous prices. In addition, overproduction and the depression of the late 1870's severely damaged the industry. The ultimate result was disaster for the once thriving sewing machine industry of Ontario and one by one, the companies disappeared.

Although the factories and inventors are long gone, a great many of the machines still survive and they tell a great deal about themselves if one takes the time to make careful examination. Almost all are marked with a patent date, a manufacturers initial or name, and the name of the model. Some even have the original instruction booklet tucked away neatly in a drawer.

Despite slight differences in appearance and construction, sewing machines from this period make either a chain stitch or lock stitch. The chain stitch machine is made by passing the needle through the seam and bringing it back but leaving an open loop on the underside which a second loop was thrust, this in turn secured by a third loop, and so on. The chain stitch requires only one thread and the operation is simple and fast.

The more complicated but more commonly used stitch is the lock stitch, a type of stitch peculiar to machine sewing. In this stitch, "a loop of thread is pushed through the seam, as in the chain stitch, but is secured by a second thread, which is thrust through the loop by means of a tiny shuttle before the loop is closed by retraction of the needle." The structure of this stitch is very simple and when, with proper tension, the threads interlock, the stitch shows the same on both sides and is very secure. Therefore if the machine has a shuttle or a space for a shuttle directly below the needle, it is a lock stitch machine. If there is no indication of this type of mechanism on the machine, it is probably a chain stitch machine.

Ontario's sewing machine manufacturers provided something for everyone. In addition to the large variety of machines on the market, the buyer also had her choice of tables, castings, and decorations. Treadle machines came with plain stands, stands with moldings, stands with extensions, stand with extensions and/or drawers, and full cabinet cases as fine as any piece of parlour furniture. Sewing machines inlaid with ebony, mother of pearl, or other decorative embellishments were also available upon request.

Who were these manufacturers and what kinds of machines did they produce? The following section is a chronological sketch of the companies and machines which comprised Ontario's sewing machine industry from 1860 to 1897.



Invention of the Sewing Machine ~ Canadian Sewing Machine Manufacturers
Sewing Machine Values ~ Singer Dates ~ Willcox & Gibbs Dates ~ Needle Threading
Shuttle Identification ~ Common Problems ~ Why Make Quilts? ~ Sewing With Children
Packing a Sewing Machine ~ Paint a Featherweight ~ Favorites and Links


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