Why not use Attachments?

In the world of historical sewing, of which I have only dipped a toe, there are many that use original techniques of the era that they are making or recreating. Something that I have always wondered: why aren’t the attachments used that were available during the same time period as the garment being made?

During my years in Quilt club at Grandma’s Attic Sewing Emporium, Rachel (the owner) being a quilt historian pointed out that when sewing machines were beginning to be available widely to the general public ladies would piece by hand but would quilt by machine, to show off that they had a sewing machine. In every age the new technology of the day has had certain status attached to them, even for our sisters from the past.

Awhile back, I traded my electric Brother sewing machine for a treadle machine. I honestly love sewing with it. The rhythm of the treadling is very soothing. Poking at the inter-webs, it wasn’t long before I was delighted to discover Becky Cameron’s YouTube channel, Fiddlybits. She shows attachments and how they are used. I was instantly hooked!

In watching costuming vlogs and reading costuming blogs, I noticed that some of the wonderful attachments weren’t being used. This got me thinking that, perhaps, the attachments were developed much more recently than I imagined. So, I started to try and find out when each attachment was made. I was amazed that it wasn’t easy to find out this information.

I purchased the “1906 Edwardian Singer Treadle Sewing Machine Attachments Use Guide Book 27-4 Parts Numbers Sewing Guide” from Schmetterlingtag on Etsy. It is a spiral bound book republication. There is a page that states: “the machine is furnished with a foot hemmer, for narrow hemming, in addition to those in the drawer; the wide hemmers, binder and quilter fit into the attachment foot”. There is a picture showing the “Position of attachments in centre drawer”. The attachments that are shown are:

  • 25525 – Bias Gauge
  • 25527 – cloth guide
  • 25537 – Screw Driver (machine)
  • 25538 – Screw Driver (shuttle tension)
  • 25539 – Stiletto
  • 287B – Cloth guide thumb screw
  • 28875 – binder
  • 28876 – hemmer – 1/4″ hem
  • 28877 – Hemmer – 3/8″ hem
  • 28878 – Hemmer – 5/8″ hem
  • 35358 – Tucker
  • 35464 – ruffler shirring plate
  • 54583 – Hemmer foot
  • 35461 – Quilter
  • 35463 – Ruffler for Shirring Plate
  • 35466 – Under braider

So, these attachments were available to our past sisters by 1906, at least. More poking at the internet turned up the Stitches in Time page. There was a small section about attachments. On this page was the following information:

  • 1853 – Henry Sweet received a patent for a binder, an attachment used to stitch binding edges to the fabric.
  • 1854 – a machine to make a buttonhole was patented and attachments to do this followed
  • 1857 – thread cutter, bobbin winder both patented
  • hemmers, a braid foot and braid carrier, embroiderer soon followed
  • 1861 – glass presser foot patented (enabled the user to see the stitches as they were being formed)
  • 1860s (late) – a practical attachment to make button holes was manufactured.
  • tucker
  • ruffler
  • 1870s – commercial zigzag machine being used
  • also stated that “most of the basic attachments used today were developed by the 1880s and remain almost unchanged)

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