July 22, 2013

Zig-Zag Sewing Machines

I recently posted about a blouse I repaired, dating to the 1920s or 30s.

I became curious about the dating of the blouse relative to the seam finishing techniques.  They are French seams, finished with a machine zig-zag stitch.  


I learned about the history of the zig-zag machine at this site:
It's a great presentation of the history of sewing machines, the inventors, and the social milieu of the early machines.

Here's a quote from this site.  I had no idea zig-zag stitching dated this far back, let alone that it was invented by a woman, and such an amazing woman at that. 

"What we do know is that of the thousands of sewing machine patents granted in the past 150 years, hundreds of them have been by women. Notable among them is Helen Augusta Blanchard (1840-1922) of Maine. Of her 28 patents, 22 of them deal with sewing machines; she is particularly known as the inventor of the zigzag sewing machine. The model for her 1873 overseaming machine can be seen at the Smithsonian.

Blanchard, born into a rich ship owner's family, showed early aptitude for mechanical inventiveness, although she received no formal training along that line. She patented her first invention after her family was left in financial straits by business losses suffered in the panic of 1866 and her father's death. She had to borrow money for her first patent fee. In 1881 she established the Blanchard Over-seam Company of Philadelphia. Profits from this company and her other patents provided her with enough money to buy back the family homestead they forfeited earlier. As she became secure financially, she was very supportive toward other women less fortunate than she and was known for her generous, unpretentious manner."

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