An eye for an I Science

A stitch in time...

Have you heard the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine”? A proverb which is used to suggest that timely effort will prevent more work at a later time — though it is often debated. While “saves nine what?” is a question that is often posed, there are even suggestions that the stitch in time refers to the space-time continuum!

The popular opinion remains that the first users of the expression were merely referring to saving nine stitches, thereby offering an incentive to those who are lazy. In fact, it might be interesting to note that “a stitch in time saves nine” is actually an anagram of “this is meant as incentive”!

  Staying with stitches, we are going to look into sewing machines and a patent war that was caused by it this week. For this, we’ll have to go back decades from the Carrington event of 1859, as the first major occurrence in this timeline came in the 1830s. Precursors existed, as the textile industry was big at that time, but industrial revolution meant that something was overdue.

French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier pitched in first, patenting a device that mechanised the hand sewing motions to create a simple chain stitch in 1830. He was looking to mass produce uniforms for the French army, but the tailors in France had other ideas.

His factory was ransacked and his machines destroyed, forcing Thimonnier to run for his life.

American Walter Hunt came in next, but he never patented his back-stitching sewing machine as he was afraid that it would cause massive unemployment. He went on to become a prolific inventor though, creating the safety pin, a precursor to the repeating rifle, a knife sharpener and a street sweeping machinery among other things.

It was during this time that Elias Howe was working under Ari Davis, a Boston machinist. Davis told Howe that anyone who invented a practical sewing machine would end up rich, setting him up in the path that he would be taking. Over the next eight years Howe worked on his machine, moving the eye of the needle and creating a tight lock stitch that was stronger than Thimonnier’s chain stitch.

His device could produce 250 stitches per minute, thereby out-sewing five humans right away. He got his patent on September 10, 1846 but the steep price of the machine and poor business tactics meant that his device didn’t exactly fly off the racks.

Isaac Singer’s improved design, which included power from a foot treadle rather than a hand crank and a needle that moved up and down instead of sideways, along with better marketing techniques meant that sewing machines soon became a rage.

Other inventors soon hopped on the bandwagon which meant that Howe had to sue them for patent infringement. It took years, but Howe finally won it in 1854.

After this, Howe, Singer, and the others involved pooled in their patents two years later to give us the modern sewing machine which exists to this day.


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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 1:55:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/a-stitch-in-time/article6388535.ece

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