Long before Elias Howe, Jr. perfected the first practical sewing machine, others had invented machines for stitching fabrics or leather.
Four fundamental kinds of stitching were performed on these earlier inventions: (1) the stitch similar to that done by hand, made on a "Short Thread" Machine, (2) the Single Thread Chain Stitch, Type 101, (3) the Lock Stitch or Shuttle Stitch, Type 301, and (4) the Two-Thread Chain Stitch, Type 401.
The Short Thread Machine As early as 1755, ninety years before Howe perfected his machine, a needle with two points and an eye at midlength was patented in England. With its short length of thread, machines using this needle were patented by Lye in 1826 and by Heilmann in 1829.
The Single Thread Chain Stitch Machine
A machine for making the chain stitch was patented in England by Thomas Saint in the year 1790. It had a horizontal cloth plate, an overhanging arm with a vertically reciprocating straight needle notched at its lower end, and a thread spool giving top thread continuously.
In 1830, Barthelemy Thimmonier patented a chain stitch sewing machine in France, with a crochet needle, depressed by a treadle and returned by a spring. It plunged through the goods, caught the thread below from a thread carrier and looper, and brought up a loop. Descending again, the needle brought up another loop and enchained it with the first loop made, producing a single thread chain stitch This machine had the first presser foot.
The Lock Stitch Although Elias Howe invented the first practical shuttle machine for making the lock stitch, Walter Hunt of New York in 1833 made a sewing machine with a curved eyepointed needle and shuttle. Hunt, however, abandoned his sewing machine and was unable therefore to obtain a patent.
The Double Thread Chain Stitch Machine The double-thread chain stitch, where there is a looping of one stitch by the loop of another, was produced on a machine patented by Fisher & Gibbons in England in the year 1844. The machine had two curved eye-pointed needles.