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Do You Know Why Women’s Buttons Are Sewn Onto The Left Side Of The Garment?

Each year on June 13th, National Sewing Machine Day honors an invention that’s kept us in stitches for over 150 years. Before the sewing machine, tailors and sewists created clothing by hand, stitch by single stitch. The invention of the sewing machine brought about revolutionary change. Not only did it boost an entire industry, but it changed the way we viewed the garments we wore. However, the development of the sewing machine took time.

  • Archaeologists believe that people used to sew together fur, hide, skin and bark for clothing as far back as 25,000 years ago.
  • Early sewing thread consisted of thin strips of animal hide that were used to stitch together larger pieces of hide and fur.
  • 1755:  The First Patent was issued. Charles Weisenthal, a German man, was issued a British patent for a “needle that is designed for a machine.” There’s no description in Weisenthal’s patent of any mechanical machine, but it shows there was a need for such an invention.
  • Skilled cabinet-maker and English inventor, Thomas Saint, received the first patent for a design of a sewing machine in 1790. His design was intended for leather and canvas.
  • However, he never advertised it and no evidence of the design, other than his drawings, could be found.
  • In 1874, William Newton Wilson found Saint’s drawings in the London Patent Office. With some minor adjustments, Wilson built a working model. The London Science Museum currently owns Wilson’s model.
  • Walter Hunt invented the first American lockstitch sewing machine in 1832. But failed to patent it.
  • John Greenough patented the first sewing machine in the United States in 1842.
  • Elias Howe is credited as the inventor of the sewing machine in America, thanks to his 1846 patent.
  • In 1851, another inventor, Isaac Singer, developed a sewing machine model that would endure and also thrust him into court with Elias Howe over patent infringement.
  • By 1860, Singer’s company had become the largest producer of sewing machines in the world.
  • Industrial use of the sewing machine reduced the burden that was placed upon housewives, moving clothing production from them and seamstresses to large-scale factories. This also resulted in a decrease in production time which caused the price of clothing to drop considerably.
  • In France, Bartheleemy Thimmonier patented his first machine in 1830. This machine-stitched fabric together with a curved needle and helped produce uniforms for the French army with a factory filled with machines.
  • In 1941, displeased at their loss of earnings, a group of tailors rioted and destroyed the machines, attacking Thimmonier in the process.
  • The first electric sewing machines were invented in 1889.
  • In the early 1900s until these machines became more popular in homes rather than simply being a tool for industry and were mainly only seen in factories. In the 20th century, these machines became so popular that almost every home had one, or at least everyone knew someone with one.
  • In the 1860s, women started forming sewing societies and other social get-togethers where they could make quilts and other items together, to sell for charity. These early societies mostly relied on hand-stitching as sewing machines weren’t available on the mass market, but as more people started getting their own domestic machines in the early 20th century, these social and charitable efforts continued to grow.
  •  Women’s buttons are sewn onto the left side of the garment. The reason for this is that buttons were very expensive and only wealthy women with domestic help could afford them. So to make it easier for the help to button up they were on the ‘wrong’ side.
  • “The whole nine yards,” a common phrase, came from the fabric that was needed to make the fanciest coat for a man of fashion.
  • Zippers were invented in 1893.
  • Buttons on sleeves were Napoleon Bonaparte’s idea. First seen during the time he ruled, buttons on sleeves are now taken for granted. Rumour has it that Napoleon did not want his soldiers to wipe their noses on their sleeves so he told his uniform makers to sew buttons on the ends.
  • By the 20th century, more than 4000 different types of sewing machines had been invented. Most of these slowly got lost in time as they were riddled with many problems. Only the machines that made sewing simple, fun and easy survived.
  • The Mill Museum has a timeline that showcases the journey of the sewing machine. Check out the events below to see a snapshot of sewing’s history from 1755 to 1900!
    • 1755: Charles Wiesenthal invents a double-pointed needle for hand sewing.
    • 1826: Henry Lye patents a machine that stitches together the ends of leather belting for machines.
    • 1830: Bathelemy Thimonnier invents a wheel-driven embroidering machine that uses a needle with a hook at the pointed end.
    • 1834: Walter Hunt patents a crude, unworkable sewing machine that employs two strands of thread, one carried by a needle with an eye in the pointed end, the other driven by a shuttle.
    • 1846: Elias Howe patents the first practical sewing machine.
    • 1849: Benjamin Wilson invents an automatic feeding system.
    • 1851: Isaac Singer patents and begins manufacturing the first sewing machine fit for home use.
    • 1854: Allen Wilson invents an improved reciprocating shuttle.
    • 1855: Allen Wilson and Nathaniel Wheeler begin manufacturing sewing machines with rotary hooks rather than shuttles.
    • 1856: Following the loss of the patent infringement lawsuit to Howe, Singer joins with Howe, Wilson & Wheeler, and Grover & Baker to organize Patent Combine to monopolize sewing machine production for the 1860s and 1870s.
    • 1889: Singer Company introduces the first practical electric sewing machine.
    • 1900: Singer Company claims 80% of global sewing machine Sales.


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