I recently studied a bit about the history of machine embroidery for my stitch class. I found an instruction book from the Singer Sewing Machine Company published in 1911 for doing “Art Embroidery”. It was amazing to see what was being done 100 years ago on a treadle sewing machine.
Recently, Mary Corbet of Needle ‘n Thread wrote a blog post about old embroidery books online because she’s had lots of questions about where to find antique embroidery patterns. So I thought perhaps there might be some interest in the history of machine embroidery. Do read Mary’s post, as she has some excellent links.
This is the book that I made with my local surface design group. Jan showed us several book making techniques and I used some fabric that I had screen printed quite a while ago.
Since I already had the book made, I thought I’d put it to use while researching machine embroidery history. I looked up the origin of the sewing machine and then went searching for other early resources.
Amazingly (to me anyways), I found a Singer manual for “Art Embroidery” that looked very similar to techniques I was learning in class. I found the manual through Internet Archive. It is a digital library with tons of old books that have been scanned and made into PDF files. And it’s free. You can go and search to find many old goodies. Here’s the Singer manual PDF link. If you do any type of machine embroidery, it is worth a look. You will be amazed at what was being stitched in 1911. The instructions are pretty funny to read and vague, but it is quite interesting.
I can’t imagine doing machine embroidery on a treadle machine. The coordination is hard enough with a foot pedal much less having to pump your foot up and down on the treadle at the same time you’re stitching.
We were given three names to research as these were well-known machine embroiderers in England in the early nineteenth century. The first was Rebecca Crompton who started with hand embroidery but then moved on to machine and a combination of both. She was very much into teaching design and moving embroidery away from “craft” towards “art”.
Here are a couple of examples of Dorothy’s work that were stitched in the 1940′s. I think these would fit right in with what people are stitching today, don’t you?
The last name I researched was Constance Howard. She was a well known instructor in the UK and taught many of the contemporary names of today such as Jan Beaney, Jean Littlejohn and Richard Box. She lived to be 90 years old and dyed her hair green long before the trend became popular. She established the department of Embroidery in the Art School at Goldsmith’s College, London when embroidery was completely out of vogue. She was the author of several books including the mammoth task of “Twentieth Century Embroidery” which chronicles the history of embroidery in the UK from mid 19th century to the mid 1980′s.
So even if you aren’t into machine embroidery, take a look at the Internet Archive. I did find “A Treatise on Hat-Making and Felting” published in 1868 that was interesting. There are many books and pamphlets about hand embroidery and other topics that I haven’t explored. It has an easy to use search feature. Do let me know if you find anything fun!