Up to 30 stitches per inch! No bobbins! Quiet!
January 29, 2022 4:32 AM   Subscribe

Historical costumer Bernadette Banner unboxes a Wilcox & Gibbs chainstitch sewing machine from 1876.
posted by metaquarry (25 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
And with the original user guide too (@ 1:34)! More about the Wilcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company at the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society.
posted by cenoxo at 5:20 AM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

That was way cooler than I thought it was going to be! Thanks!
posted by Dhertiiboi at 6:40 AM on January 29, 2022

You know when you buy a 40 lb bag of, say, oats, you pull on the top and a thread unravels to open it? That's a chain stitch, what this machine makes.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:48 AM on January 29, 2022 [9 favorites]

Her whole channel is amazing!
posted by ananci at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Love her channel. She is such a cool person and her passion for historical reconstruction of clothing is enough to get me, a very fashion-unconscious person, interested
posted by adoarns at 7:02 AM on January 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

Perfect viewing for a snowy day. I, a person who cannot even sew a straight line on a modern Singer machine, adore her channel.
posted by kimberussell at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2022

You know when you buy a 40 lb bag of, say, oats,

Yes, as one does...
posted by hippybear at 7:30 AM on January 29, 2022 [9 favorites]

I visited a couple in Aberdeen one winter, and she made breakfast porridge out of a similar bag.

I get the Bob's Red Mill one pound bags myself.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:42 AM on January 29, 2022

Well, I just found a new channel to subscribe to, thanks! I am a hobby machinist, and I watch a lot of machining and welding YT videos. This channel is definitely going into the rotation. When the pandemic first started, I bought a refurbished Brother sewing machine (the only one I could get my hands on) and a bunch of quilting cotton, and started producing masks to give out. Somewhere along the road, I found that sewing was giving me much the same pleasure and satisfaction as machining or welding; after all, what is a sewing machine but a welder for fabric? I've expanded a bit and started doing alterations and repairs on my clothing, repaired the seat cushion on my office chair, and When This Is All Over™, I am really looking forward to joining a local quilting guild and learning all about that.
posted by xedrik at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2022 [12 favorites]

That was interesting to see. When I was small my mother used a treadle machine, but it was replaced with an electric sewing machine before I was old enough to have used it myself, so I've never sewed with a hand- or foot- machine.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:07 AM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

The soundtrack is great.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 8:07 AM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

Sewing machines are black magic. They violate obvious rules of topology and should be discouraged and/or burned at the stake.

Now with that out of the way: Until now I've only managed to fail to understand how lock stitch machines work... Now there's a whole new kind I don't fucking know what the crap is happening! And as a bonus, it makes me think about how I don't really know how to pronounce the word "victuals"... Excellent.

It does explain though what happened the last time I bought a 40lb bag of oats (well, a 5lb bag of Carnaroli rice, same thing). The zippy action kind of worked, but it appears that there was some kind of specialized skill required to open it that I lacked. Oh well.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 8:32 AM on January 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you like chain stitch, Fort Lonesome is worth talking a look at! They do piles of beautiful custom work using restored chain stitch machines.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:40 AM on January 29, 2022

Well, I just found my new favorite binge! She’s a true delight.
Ye godz, nerds in full nerdflight is a wonderful thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

This why I come to Metafilter. A thread after my own heart. Thankyou for posting this wonderful link.

In the manner that the New Deal promised a chicken in every pot, post Independence India promised a sewing machine to empower every woman. The first indigenously manufactured sewing machine brand in India was purchased by my mother's father's employer in 1941 - it was a small enterprise and the new owner was one of the original industrialists who were Gandhi's supporters and followers, with the vision to build the most modern manufacturing plant in the country. He gave my grandfather an empty shed and said build me a world class factory and brand.

There's a letter addressed to him by the industrialist owner that's been reprinted in the Oxford History of Indian Business, where it says that 'our ambition should be to aim for export quality manufacture' - and another letter* in Purdue University's Gilbreth Archives where Lillian Moller Gilbreth name checks him as the General Manager who built India's most modern manufacturing plant in the 1950s, just a handful of years after the country became a Republic. What was unique in his business and operations model was the integration of refugees in the production supply chain as a means to help support them.

I played with the hand operated sewing machine sitting on the ground as a child - there were always machines around the house, later graduating to the electric machines that mother always had at her home. Until I reached high school, my mother made most of our frocks (as dresses used to be called back then) herself. Without the engineering and technology that goes into a sewing machine see footnote 67 I do not believe my family would be what it is right now. Nor would I have studied industrial and production engineering in the early 80s.

*wasted time with big search algorithm trying to turn up that letter online, i have it downloaded somewhere in a hard drive
posted by infini at 10:12 AM on January 29, 2022 [27 favorites]

I love her channel, especially the eps where she evaluates historical clothes in modern TV and movies. Had not watched this yet, but it’s so great to see her insights and wit!
posted by gemmy at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

1851 - Isaac Singer's Sewing Machine Patent Model gallery at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (tap an image to open it in the gallery viewer where you can zoom and move it):
For his first patent model, Isaac Singer submitted a commercial sewing machine. He was granted Patent No. 8,294, on August 12, 1851 [PDF file].

These commercial sewing machines were built in Orson C. Phelps’s machine shop in Boston. The head, base cams, and gear wheels of the machine were made of cast iron; to fit together, these parts had to be filed and ground by hand. The machine made a lockstitch by using a straight, eye-pointed needle and a reciprocating shuttle. The specific patent claims allowed were for: 1) the additional forward motion of the shuttle to tighten the stitch; 2) the use of a friction pad to control the tension of the thread from the spool; and 3) placing the spool of thread on an adjustable arm to permit thread to be used as needed.

Always the showman, Singer relished exhibiting his invention at social gatherings and was masterful in convincing the women present that the sewing machine was a tool they could learn to use….
posted by cenoxo at 2:12 PM on January 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

And as a bonus, it makes me think about how I don't really know how to pronounce the word "victuals"...

Just like Jed Clampett!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:55 AM on January 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Victuals, another word where the spelling and pronunciation don't marry well.
(vi-​tᵊlz) Merriam-Webster.
Rhymes with the candy Skittles (since 1974 -- wow!), which in turn is named after a sports game.
posted by TrishaU at 3:41 AM on January 31, 2022

I grew up sewing on a Wilcox and Gibbs machine just like this (mine was motorized) and this was so lovely to watch. My dad bought it for me at the flea market and fixed it up—later he found a treadle mounted one for me too. I still use the motorized one for decorative embroidery but between the ages of 10 and 12, that thing was my daily driver. Thank you for posting! I’ll follow her W&G adventures!
posted by zem at 6:47 AM on January 31, 2022

Wow, now I understand why 'vittle' doesn't work in the NYT Spelling Bee, despite obviously being a real word. :P
posted by kaibutsu at 1:24 PM on January 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bernadette Banner is a delight. So is her camera crew.
Conversation while lovingly cleaning and oiling her new – old – hand-turned chain-stitch sewing machine:
“You know how dust is mostly just dead skin particles? I wonder how many hundreds of years of… human… I am inhaling right now….”
Yes, the 1876 Wilcox & Gibbs Chain stitch is a tidy little tool. I’m not a fan of the backside of the stitches, but I get her enthusiasm. Lucky find, the extra needles and the ability to construct a belt replacement.
Banner gives a brief lesson on how the availability of these machines for industry and the general public led to the fine detail machine sewing trend included on fashions in the late 1850s through 1880s, then the inevitable resurgence in the 1890s back to handcrafted embellishments. After all, anyone could have a machine-sewn garment, but not everyone could afford cottage craft laces and intricately sewn beading and embroidery.
posted by TrishaU at 7:06 PM on January 31, 2022

That's a beautiful machine. It would be nice not to have to mess around with bobbins. I look forward to seeing how it handles making a garment.

Bernadette Banner is a treasure. I've been a fan since I came upon her channel a few years ago, when I had to make myself a costume for a reconstruction of a court case that took place in our small town in 1873.

I binged The House of Elliot last week, much-loved 1990s BBC tv series about two sisters establishing a fashion house in the 1920s. I kept wanting to hear Ms Banner's take on the costumes and working methods. Every stitch sewn by hand when they produced haute couture, then by machine when they switched to ready-to-wear. (If you watch it be warned, the footage is reversed, which doesn't really matter except on the rare occasions when a scene involves some written text.)

As a kid I learnt to sew on my aunt's knee-operated electric Singer, like this one. I kinda miss that knee control.
posted by valetta at 5:01 AM on February 1, 2022

I’m not a fan of the backside of the stitches, but I get her enthusiasm

Today chainstitch is used a lot specifically for the decorative effect of its reverse side.

Another interesting thing is that, unlike lockstitch, chainstitched seams can be really easy to undo - you can just pull along the end of the seam and pull the whole thing out, like with crochet or knitting. (As with the latter, this only works if you pull from the correct end.) That's not always great for garment seams, but can be really nice for basting.

Most machines that can do chainstitching are specialized for that purpose (or for coverstitching), but some vintage lockstitch machines actually had a really awesome feature where you could use a chainstitch adapter in the bobbin area to make real chain stitches. That's not a feature on any modern machines I know of, which is too bad!
posted by trig at 10:34 AM on February 1, 2022

I wish more product manuals were as thorough as sewing machine manuals seem to be.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:06 PM on February 1, 2022

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