15 JAN HOW THE SEWING MACHINE TRANSFORMED WOMEN'S LIVES

Have you been listening to the excellent BBC radio series 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy? One of the episodes explores the way in which the invention of the sewing machine helped to improve the lives of women in the 19th century. 

Previously, seamstresses would be spending very long days hand-stitching garments in poor light. Because it was one of the few employment opportunities available to women - and carried out predominantly by women - the pay for seamstresses was very low. The sewing machine could speed up the time it would take to make a garment enormously. 

But how could a poorly-paid seamstress afford it? Isaac Singer - whose sewing machines you may have stitched on, or perhaps your mother or grandmother owned one of their early machines - revolutionised the industry in the 1860s by making the Singer company's machines available to women on a rental basis. Sewing machines would be marketed directly to women, offering ownership of a brand new machine after the small rental payment they would pay on a monthly basis totalled the cost of the machine. 

The invention of the sewing machine, according to the New York times, had brought "so great a relief for our mothers and daughters". Now, of course, a basic sewing machine is common in so many households and we couldn't imagine life without it! 

Image credit: Noel Bennett Photography 

You can listen to the podcast or read the article about the history of the sewing machine and the Singer company's marketing strategies on the BBC website

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