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Quilting Machines

Quilting Machines History

The art of quilt making has come a long way. Long before man had invented machines or electricity, there was a need for warm clothing, thus quilting was born. Historians credit both China and Egypt with the origins of quilting. The earliest reference to quilting is found in an Egyptian ivory carving of a pharaoh wearing a quilted mantle dating from 3400 B.C. Before the invention of the quilting machine, all quilting was done by hand.

It was not until 1755 that the first breakthrough was made by Charles Fredrick Wiesenthal, who patented a double pointed needle with an eye at one end to be used in a machine, though he never produced a complete sewing machine. The second breakthrough in the creation of the sewing and quilting machine came in 1790 when Thomas Saint patented a design for a sewing machine using an awl in place of a needle. The design was not actually built until 1873 by Newton Wilson, who had to make significant modifications in the design in order to get the machine to work. However, Saint's design was significant in that it used an overhead arm for the awl and a tensioning system, features which virtually all future sewing and quilting machines would use.

In 1830, Barthelemy Thimonnier made the first functional sewing machine. Unlike earlier designs, which tried to recreate a hand stitch, this sewing machine used a chain stitch, and was powered by a foot pedal. Unfortunately, Thimonnier was not able to enjoy his invention for long-after eighty of his machines were installed in a Paris factory to make clothing for soldiers, local tailors understood the threat this machine posed. These angry tailors burnt down the factory and nearly killed Thimonnier.

Walter Hunt developed a machine in 1834 that used a lock stitch, as opposed to the weaker chain stitch which had been used until then. Elias Howe, in 1846, patented a sewing machine that used a shuttle on a track to make the lock stitch. Isaac Merritt Singer invented the first sewing machine capable of continuous stitching in 1851. This machine was the first to use a flying shuttle where the needle moved up and down instead of from side-to-side. Another major improvement was the use of a foot pedal to generate the power instead of the traditional hand crank. This also marked the beginning of the mass commercialisation of the sewing machine. Many patent wars followed, with Howe suing Singer and winning; later inventors continuing to fight over patents. Many of these original companies, started by the inventors, still exist today and continue to manufacture sewing machines, such as Wilcox & Gibbs.

Specialised for Quilting

Since their popularity in the late 1800's, sewing machines have been adapted for different tasks, including books, sails, and shoes. Machine quilting is either machine guided, which is called "feed dogs up" because metal teeth grip the underside of the fabric and advance it under the needle for stitching. This is ideal for stitching straight lines or slight curves. The other way to machine quilt is free motion, called "feed dogs dropped", and is ideal for all other patterns. Of course, there are no rules and some prefer machine guided for all tasks while others use free motion for all their stitches. When looking for a sewing machine to quilt with, keep in mind that you will probably want the flexibility to drop the feed dogs or keep them up. Most new machines have this option.

The needle of the quilting machine is vital to the machine's performance. Always start a new quilt with a new needle, and replace the needle with the first signs of dulling, such as popping noises or poor performance. It is not uncommon for a large quilt to require many needles. Also keep in mind that quilts require a sharp needle that is able to penetrate the thickness of the quilt, which includes the batting between the two layers of fabric. And when using special threads, such as rayon, make sure to use a needle that is compatible with it. The thread used in your quilting machine is also important. A cotton thread is sure to be the strongest. Note that most thread used for hand quilting is coated with a wax that can damage your quilting machine! Also popular in machine quilting is clear or invisible thread, called monofilament nylon. This is ideal when working with light colored fabrics where you do not want the stitching to appear.

Long arm quilting machines are the ideal choice for any serious quilter. These machines offer a longer throat space so that you are able to work on large quilts without having to section it. You can easily pass the quilt under the shuttle, making the entire quilt easily accessible. While more expensive, a long arm machine can also do all the tasks of a regular arm machine. Newer models offer advanced features such as an "auto stitch regulator", which allows you to program how many stitches the machine should make per inch, thus giving you the ability to keep the stitches consistent while varying the speed or direction of the stitching. Different manufacturers offer their own unique features, ranging from inserting special foam into the machine to make it operate more quietly, to fluorescent lights to illuminate your quilt.

Perhaps the best symbol of how the times have changed is the CompuQuilter. Believe it or not, the CompuQuilter uses a computer to control your long arm machine, allowing you to make intricate quilt patterns that would otherwise take months longer. The program will ask you a few questions about the quilt and then will go ahead and complete it for you. You can create your own design on your home computer, load it into the CompuQuilter, and before you know it, have your own design quilted.


Today, quilting enjoys a newfound popularity with books, magazines, television shows, and internet sites all dedicated to quilting. Sewing machines and long arm quilting machines have made it easier than ever to make high quality quilts in less time. A 2003 "Quilting in America" survey reports that 15% of U.S. households are involved in quilting. There are over 21 million quilters in the U.S., which means a 50% increase from the numbers reported in 1997. The survey also found that the average quilter spends $139.70 on quilting. "Dedicated quilters", those who spend more than $500 annually on quilting supplies, represent 5.21% of all quilters, yet account for 94.7% of total industry expenditures. Dedicated quilters own on average two sewing machines, and 21% of dedicated quilters own more than four sewing or quilting machines.

Quilting machines make you a more productive quilter, saving you time and adding a professional touch to your quilts.

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RSS | September 18, 2019

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