Transcript of YouTube Video: The Surprising Genius of Sewing Machines

Transcript of YouTube Video: The Surprising Genius of Sewing Machines

Welcome to our collection of transcripts of YouTube videos, where we provide detailed text versions of "The Surprising Genius of Sewing Machines" content.

00:00

- Can you explain how a sewing machine works?

00:03

I mean, think about it.

00:05

We've all seen them.

00:06

There's that little needle that's moving up

00:07

and down really fast, leaving a trail

00:08

of stitches behind them.

00:10

But if you think about it for a second,

00:12

how are they doing it?

00:13

Because the needle is never actually going fully

00:16

through the fabric.

00:16

If you're hand sewing, you have

00:19

to pass the needle up and down.

00:21

You have to let go of the needle

00:23

and grab onto it on the other side.

00:25

So in order to invent the sewing machine, we first had

00:28

to invent a whole new way of sewing.

00:31

It's one of these things that almost no one thinks about,

00:33

but is so important.

00:35

Every piece of clothing you've ever put

00:36

on virtually was made by a sewing machine.

00:40

So in this video, I'm going to explain

00:41

how sewing machines work.

00:43

And I promise when you find out, you will find it

00:45

so incredibly satisfying.

00:47

And what you'll realize is

00:48

that these machines are performing

00:50

tiny mechanical miracles every second.

00:54

A part of this video was brought to you

00:56

by KiwiCo, more about them at the end of the show.

00:59

- The foot pedal is right in front of your right foot.

01:02

You can gently rest it. It doesn't need a lot of pressure.

01:06

So easy does it, and you should be able to start going.

01:09

- All right. Ah, all right.

01:14

(sewing machine rumbling)

01:15

This is amazing.

01:17

- [Noah] I find it meditative.

01:22

- If I were going to sew two pieces

01:24

of fabric together, this is how I would do it.

01:27

Weaving the needle back

01:30

and forth through both pieces of fabric.

01:34

This is known as a running stitch,

01:36

and there are more sophisticated stitches you could do.

01:40

But if you're trying to mechanize any hand stitch, you run

01:43

into a major problem, which is

01:45

that any time you pass the needle

01:47

through the fabric, you have to release it on one side

01:50

and pick it up again on the other side.

01:52

This is almost impossible for a machine to do,

01:55

at least a machine from 200 years ago.

01:58

So in order to invent the sewing machine, we first needed

02:01

to come up with a totally new way of sewing.

02:04

And this came in three breakthroughs.

02:07

(dramatic music)

02:11

Human have been sewing clothes

02:13

for tens of thousands of years.

02:15

In 2016, researchers found a needle in a cave in Siberia

02:18

that dates back to about 50,000 years ago.

02:23

The crazy thing is

02:24

that homo sapiens didn't live in that cave.

02:27

It was inhabited by the Denisovans, a now extinct species

02:31

of early humans.

02:33

So sewing isn't just a homo sapien thing,

02:36

it is a human thing.

02:42

The needle is made of bone.

02:43

But in other regards, it looks like any modern needle,

02:46

a sharp end pierced through fabric

02:48

and an eye on the other end for the thread.

02:51

Needles have remained basically unchanged

02:54

for tens of thousands of years.

02:56

Artifacts from caves in France, ancient Egypt, Greece,

02:59

India, China, and Japan, all look about the same.

03:04

That is until 1755.

03:08

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal was a

03:09

German inventor living in England.

03:11

We're not exactly sure what motivated him,

03:14

some believe he was trying to invent a sewing machine,

03:17

but maybe he was just tired

03:18

of flipping the needle over twice every stitch.

03:21

But what he created was a needle that was sharp

03:23

on both sides, so you could pass the needle back

03:26

and forth through the fabric without flipping it over.

03:30

He patented his invention, a needle for ornamenting fabrics,

03:33

which may have sped up sewing a little.

03:35

But the two-sided needle delivered an unexpected benefit

03:39

used by all sewing machines up until this day.

03:42

It moved the eye of the needle next to the sharp tip.

03:47

But how does that help?

03:49

When I put the needle

03:51

into the fabric, the thread does go below the fabric,

03:54

but when I pull it out, the thread also gets pulled out.

03:57

So it seems like we've achieved nothing.

04:00

We need to find a way to tangle the thread

04:02

when it's at the bottom of the stitch

04:05

to stop it from pulling out.

04:07

And luckily, there are two ways of doing this.

04:10

(dramatic music)

04:12

If you can keep a loop of thread underneath the fabric,

04:16

as I pull the needle out, well then, I can move the fabric

04:19

over and pass that needle

04:21

through the loop, forming a little link.

04:26

And if I do that again, I can form a chain

04:30

of these stitches.

04:32

That is why this is known as a chain stitch.

04:36

The chain stitch was one

04:37

of the first stitches successfully performed

04:40

by sewing machines.

04:43

It's really hard to say

04:44

who invented the first sewing machine.

04:46

There were just so many people working

04:47

on the problem at the same time

04:49

and there are many competing claims.

04:52

In 1790, Thomas Saint drew detailed patent drawings

04:56

for a sewing machine design, but there is no evidence

04:58

that he ever built a prototype.

05:00

In 1814, Joseph Madersperger was granted a patent in Vienna.

05:04

It took him a decade to build the machine,

05:07

but he never commercialized it.

05:08

He spent the rest of his life trying to perfect the design.

05:12

In 1830, Frenchman Barthélemy Thimonnier

05:15

built his own version.

05:16

It created a chain stitch with a barb needle.

05:19

He was granted a patent

05:20

and set up a garment factory with 80 of his machines.

05:23

There, they began manufacturing uniforms

05:26

for the French army but this invention caused an uproar.

05:29

A mob of 200 angry tailors ransacked his factory

05:33

and destroyed all of his machines.

05:39

It took a few more decades

05:40

before sewing machines were reliable enough

05:42

to be commercially viable.

05:43

The two most reliable ways

05:44

to build a chain stitch machine were invented

05:47

at nearly the same time in 1857, when James Gibbs

05:50

and Charles Raymond received their respective patents.

05:54

It was easy enough for me to grab the loop of thread

05:57

in the model, but it's much more difficult

05:59

to design a machine to do this reliably and repeatedly.

06:03

Charles Raymond's design used a hook.

06:06

The needle punctures the fabric

06:08

and carries the thread down with it.

06:10

Then as the needle moves up, the thread between the eye

06:13

and the fabric shortens

06:14

and buckles forming a little bulge of thread.

06:18

At exactly this instant, the sharp hook catches the bulge,

06:21

stretching it into a loop.

06:23

And as the needle comes back down, the hook moves backwards

06:27

and the needle passes through the loop.

06:29

The needle comes all the way down

06:31

and then as it moves back up, the thread between the eye

06:34

and the fabric buckles again,

06:35

the hook catches this bulge pulling the thread

06:38

into a loop for the needle to pass through once more.

06:45

Gibbs had a similar design, but the hook was rotating.

06:49

So as the needle lowers the hook grabs the thread,

06:53

the rotating hook spins around, the first loop is released,

06:57

and then the hook grabs the second loop.

06:59

It took Gibbs thirty-seven prototypes, all carved outta wood

07:03

to get this incredible looper shape just right

07:06

and then that same shape was used

07:09

on over 80 models of sewing machines for 80 years.

07:13

The looper was held by pieces of metal tightly enough

07:16

that it didn't fall out, but with enough of a gap

07:18

for the thread to pass through all the way around.

07:21

We are showing a simplified model here for clarity.

07:25

But there's a flaw with this simple way

07:27

of making a chain stitch.

07:29

If the thread comes loose, you can easily pull

07:32

out all the stitching.

07:33

It's remarkable how quickly

07:35

and easily the thread gets pulled out

07:36

because there's barely any friction with the fabric.

07:40

The only friction holding each stitch in place is the loop

07:44

from the previous stitch.

07:46

So once one goes, they just all go in a chain.

07:49

So people developed more complex chain stitches

07:52

that use more thread and are more robust.

07:54

You'll likely find chain stitches holding the hem

07:57

of your jeans together.

07:58

You can also embroider beautiful patterns

08:01

with the chain stitch.

08:02

- Anything that kind of had decorative stitches is

08:05

what it was originally used for, but then it became used

08:07

for all kind of lettering and flowers.

08:11

- You're sort of doing gymnastics figuring out,

08:13

if I feel it this direction, where is my next path gonna be?

08:16

You're trying to kind of think ahead of yourself.

08:17

And I think as you become more skilled with the chains too,

08:20

that's where your work begins to look a lot more refined.

08:23

(sewing machine rumbling)

08:30

- Besides the chain stitch,

08:31

there is a completely different way to secure the thread.

08:35

And honestly, it's kind of genius.

08:37

All it requires is two separate spools of thread.

08:41

Now this spool of thread is called the bobbin.

08:44

So here's how it works.

08:47

The needle goes through two pieces

08:49

of fabric all the way down,

08:52

and then you pass the second spool of thread completely

08:58

through a loop in the top spool,

09:03

and then bring the needle back up, pull in the excess

09:10

and what we have done is interlocked

09:13

these two pieces of thread.

09:15

That's why this is known as a lock stitch.

09:21

In 1846, Elias Howe patented it

09:23

and to promote his new creation,

09:25

he staged a live sewing demonstration, him

09:28

and his sewing machine versus five seamstresses.

09:31

Howe's machine worked, but it wasn't elegant.

09:34

The machine used a curved needle, the fabric hung

09:37

down vertically, and it could only make stitches

09:39

in a straight line.

09:41

Five years later, Allen B. Wilson dramatically

09:43

improved the lock stitch sewing machine

09:45

receiving two patents, one in 1850 and one in 1851.

09:49

The first patent was

09:51

for the vibrating shuttle lock stitch machine.

09:54

Although it's called a vibrating shuttle,

09:56

it actually oscillates back and forth

09:59

and inside it is a small bobbin of thread.

10:02

As it moves forward, it catches the top thread

10:05

from the needle forming a loop and as the shuttle passes

10:08

through this loop, it creates a lock stitch

10:10

by intertwining the top thread with the lower bobbin thread.

10:16

The shuttles movement is synchronized

10:18

with the needles up-and-down motion.

10:22

The shuttle was pushed around by pieces

10:23

of metal tightly enough that it didn't fall out,

10:26

but with enough of a gap for the thread

10:27

to pass all the way around the shuttle.

10:30

This type of sewing machine was incredibly common

10:32

in the late 1800s.

10:34

Many millions of just the Singer Model 27 were made,

10:37

and they were built incredibly robustly.

10:40

There are many machines that are now

10:42

over a hundred years old that are still working.

10:45

Sewing machines were developed before the idea

10:48

of planned obsolescence took off.

10:53

The second patent that Wilson received in 1851 is the basis

10:56

for how most modern sewing machines work.

10:59

Instead of a shuttle moving back and forth, the bobbin is

11:03

inside a rotating hook.

11:05

So let's see how that works.

11:07

The needle comes down, pulling that top thread,

11:12

and it goes down really low,

11:14

and then it pops back up a little bit

11:16

creating this little bulge right here.

11:19

And when the rotating hook comes around, it is grabbed

11:24

by that rotating hook, pulling even more thread

11:28

so that this thread can pass entirely around the bobbin.

11:32

And then needle pops back up.

11:36

We pull in the excess

11:39

and we've formed another lock stitch like so.

11:44

From this, it might look like you're using more thread

11:47

from the top because when this thread comes in, you need

11:50

to pass an entire loop around the bobbin

11:53

but that thread then gets pulled back up.

11:55

So we actually filmed

11:57

in slow motion a sewing machine using a gradient thread

11:59

so you can see just how much thread is getting pulled

12:02

in from the top.

12:03

It looks like a lot, but ultimately you use the same amount

12:06

of thread from the top spool as from the bottom spool.

12:12

The tension needs to be identical

12:14

on both the top and bottom thread

12:16

so the same amount of thread is used in each stitch.

12:18

If the tension is off, the stitch won't meet perfectly

12:21

in the middle of the two fabrics leading

12:23

to a much weaker stitch.

12:24

This is true for both vibrating shuttle

12:26

and rotating hook lock stitch machines.

12:30

But what does result is a lot of friction.

12:33

You can imagine this piece

12:34

of thread is getting pulled back down

12:36

and back up a whole bunch of times with every stitch.

12:40

So what was developed was actually a groove

12:42

in the sewing needle right here

12:43

to reduce the friction between the thread and the fabric

12:47

as it has to keep getting pulled down

12:48

to go around the bobbin and then get pulled back up

12:50

when it's tensioned again.

12:52

This resulted in less fraying of both thread and fabric

12:55

and resulted in a cleaner stitch.

12:57

Practically all modern sewing machine needles have a groove

13:00

on one side.

13:02

But there's still an important piece missing.

13:04

After a stitch has been made, how do you move the fabric?

13:07

(dramatic music)

13:10

In the earliest sewing machines, the fabric would be moved

13:13

by hand after every stitch,

13:15

but that was obviously slow, inefficient,

13:17

and the stitches wouldn't have been identically spaced.

13:20

A few designs were attempted,

13:21

but the most successful one was also invented

13:23

by Allen B. Wilson.

13:25

His idea was a small piece of metal, the foot

13:28

that would press down on the fabric.

13:30

When the needle is not in the fabric, a small piece of metal

13:33

with grooves in it pushes up from below.

13:35

It grabs the fabric and then moves back a fraction

13:38

of an inch advancing it to where the next stitch should be.

13:41

This design is used

13:42

in practically all sewing machines today.

13:45

They're called feed dogs.

13:47

There are some modified versions

13:49

of this idea, like the universal feed machine used

13:51

for chain stitch embroidery.

13:54

- With these style of machines,

13:55

there's a handle underneath the machine

13:59

and it rotates the entire nose of the machine.

14:03

- [Derek] Okay.

14:03

- And this presser foot,

14:07

that will basically advance the fabric in 360 degrees.

14:11

So right now we've got this hooked up to a single motor,

14:15

but back then these cables went up to the ceiling

14:19

and were all powered by one big generator,

14:21

one big like steam power or coal powered generator.

14:25

And so I'm sure the factories were so loud.

14:29

There used to be a pin, we've taken them off just

14:32

'cause we don't need them anymore.

14:33

And what you would do is you'd pull down

14:35

and it would immediately engage the machine

14:37

because this was spinning continuously

14:40

'cause it was all hooked up by one motor.

14:42

Like nowadays, when you start a machine, you can kind

14:45

of like feather it a little bit, you can start slow.

14:48

Back then, they were going like 10,000 rpm right away.

14:50

- [Derek] You got to gotta be ready.

14:52

- Yep. Those women were heroes.

14:55

I mean, unbelievable skill.

15:01

- The most famous name associated

15:02

with sewing machines is that of Isaac Singer.

15:05

But Singer did not invent the sewing machine.

15:07

He was a shrewd businessman buying up patents

15:10

for various parts and building his company on that.

15:14

Inspired by interchangeable parts

15:16

that he saw in production of firearms,

15:18

he optimized the production process

15:20

and his company was able to drop the price

15:21

of sewing machines from a hundred dollars to around $10.

15:25

That's just over $300 in 2023 terms.

15:29

This lower price meant he could sell the machines

15:32

to families rather than to corporations.

15:34

Singer's business was also one of the earliest in the world

15:37

to offer an installment payment plan, allowing the buyer

15:40

to pay it off over a few months,

15:42

rather than paying the entire cost upfront.

15:44

Singer became one of the largest corporations in the world

15:47

and the first American multinational company.

15:53

Before the advent of sewing machines, it would take

15:55

over 12 hours to sew a single shirt.

15:58

It now takes less than 30 minutes.

16:01

In 1900, the average American family spent about 15%

16:04

of its total income on clothing.

16:07

In 2003, it was less than 4%,

16:10

but despite spending less, we own more clothes.

16:13

In 2019, the worldwide average number

16:15

of garments owned was over 130.

16:19

Each year, a hundred billion garments are produced.

16:23

And just in the US alone, 11.3 million tons

16:27

of clothing ends up in landfill.

16:29

That's nearly 35 kilograms of clothing for every man, woman,

16:33

and child that is thrown away each year.

16:38

But should we blame sewing machines?

16:42

The sewing machine is brilliant.

16:44

Invented, iterated upon, and improved by dozens of people.

16:48

They really have revolutionized the world.

16:52

All it took was inventing a completely new way to sew.

17:03

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17:15

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17:17

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17:20

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