Tallbald

Were machines used for leather sewing, Civil War era?

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Tallbald   

I've wondered for several years as I have become more proficient with my Cowboy 3500, if leather holsters and accessories were all hand stitched during the American Civil War 1861-1865? I understand much of the history of sewing machines and that they were available during that period, but were they used for example in manufacture of large contracts for the warring sides military forces? Thank you. Don.

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That is a good question. I have scans of the us cavalrys patterns for their equestrian gear from that period and there is no mention of machine sewing i have seen.

The modern sewing machine as we know it was conceived in the 1840s, and took a few years to get going. Likely most of the leather gear in the civil war would have been hand stitched, Both because the sewing machine was not common at all yet, as well as the fact that they were not really built heavy duty enough for heavy leather until around the 1870s or so.  Singer made the Standard model 2 and 3 starting in the mid 1850s, and these were made for buggy and harness uses, They could not have been common outside of bigger factories, and  were much less refined machines as later ones that were pretty limited to what they could do.

They were using sewing machines extensively by then for cloth and most of the cloth items would have been machine done.

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Tallbald   

Thank you so much. I suppose then that a possibility exists for machine sewn articles in limited amounts(?) Buggy and harness leather capabilities might have transferred to military contract items let through the larger industrial makers. Some interesting food for thought. Thank you again. Don.

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I bet there is an answer to this on a reenactment forum. They are CRAZY for details.

I'd be willing to guess that at the beginning of the war on both sides, most of the gear would have been factory made in the 50's, or in a local saddle shop, and likely hand stitched. They did have factories full of guys sitting at stitching benches for horse gear back in the day. Even well into the 1900s, they still had these. There are still operations that can't be done by machine faster than by hand without some serious machine specialization. By the end of the war the replacement gear may have been machine made because the demands of supplying the war quickly would have required machines. Rivets may have been used in some places to keep the hand stitching hours down, and were replaced with stitching in the machine age. Again, I am not an expert here by any means, though I may be soon if I don't find a different rabbit hole to go down.......

For info, I attached a scan of a 1928 revision of a stirrup strap that clearly stated which stitches are to be done by machine and which by hand:

1-1-44.tif

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@TinkerTailor  As an old re-enactment hand I can confirm our impossible "geekieness" . . many the hour I and others have spent discussing what the exact width in microns was for the slightly raised line around the edge of our uniform buttons . . question never seemed to get any clearer no matter how much beer we drunk either.  Strange that. :blahblahblah::wacko:

@Tallbald you know when you think that the US Civil War was almost solely responsible for manufacturing, more particularly assembly line production, as we now take for granted . . the Springfield Rifled Musket . . you would have thought that bright minded entrepreneurs in the North would have cashed in on the advantages of the sewing machine, driven by leather belts presumably, in turning out the many hundreds of thousands of pieces of kit that were needed, not just leather but canvas and heavy wool too.

Seek the answer amongst the history of clothing suppliers at the time I would say . . if you find that sewing machines were in regular use to turn out even larger numbers of clothing then surely some machines were adapted for heavier work?

An interesting question and, as one who personally strove to ensure I accurately represented the past, a keenness for truth that I applaude.

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You got that backwards, the firearm was mass produced after the sewing machine. Look it up.

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I wished I knew more about these old machines too! The smallest machine is Singer first Industrial model & the ser# on it dates to 1858 so it might of done some civil war sewing?? The 2nd one back is a Standard or #2 & the larger one is #3 for harness work.

They all use a wooden pitman arm to the treadle pedal insead of a belt like the newer machines & they are pretty hard to treadle !

Singer 3-1 & etc 001.jpg

Edited by CowboyBob
PS

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By the size of the flywheels, the front one looks to have some pretty good punching power, and with that short arm would have been stiff. Could have been used for harness straps.....If i were to guess, the bottom one is for leather straps, the middle one if for textiles and the top is for sails. That was the age of sails after all. They were huge and plentiful. Hand sewing new sails for a schooner would suck....That longer arm would be ideal.

Edited by TinkerTailor

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The largest one is a Singer model # 3-1 & supposed to sew 1/2" of leather? Sails or whatever needed sewn.I think they needed the big wheels to keep the momentum going has they were treadled.

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Before synthetics, canvas sails were reinforced with leather at the corners and such. With 3-4 layers of sailcloth and 2 layers of leather, it would be close to 1/2 inch thick I cant think of a non sail leather operation that needs an arm that long on a machine. It must have been made that long for a reason. Most every equestrian operation can and has been done on machines with almost no throat, like the campbell lockstitch. Do you know of any operations that require the larger arm clearance from that time period?

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23 minutes ago, TinkerTailor said:

Before synthetics, canvas sails were reinforced with leather at the corners and such. With 3-4 layers of sailcloth and 2 layers of leather, it would be close to 1/2 inch thick I cant think of a non sail leather operation that needs an arm that long on a machine. It must have been made that long for a reason. Most every equestrian operation can and has been done on machines with almost no throat, like the campbell lockstitch. Do you know of any operations that require the larger arm clearance from that time period?

 Perhaps carriage dashes and fenders for the longer arm machine?  That would explain the relatively light capacity of a half inch

 

21 hours ago, CowboyBob said:

I wished I knew more about these old machines too! The smallest machine is Singer first Industrial model & the ser# on it dates to 1858 so it might of done some civil war sewing?? The 2nd one back is a Standard or #2 & the larger one is #3 for harness work.

They all use a wooden pitman arm to the treadle pedal insead of a belt like the newer machines & they are pretty hard to treadle !

Singer 3-1 & etc 001.jpg

 

6 hours ago, CowboyBob said:

The largest one is a Singer model # 3-1 & supposed to sew 1/2" of leather? Sails or whatever needed sewn.I think they needed the big wheels to keep the momentum going has they were treadled.

Half inch would not have been of much use for harness work for anything except the lightest carriage harness. And it certainly might have been used for that so I'm not arguing. But farm and work harness requires close to an inch of lift, not necessarily throughout the entire harness, but trace and breeching ends get pretty heavy on those types of harness.  I've been told that the Landis One's (Regular Landis Lockstich Machine) were in use during the civil war, but I have my doubts on the accuracy of that. Any info on that Bob?

 

These old machines fascinate me as well. For no more technology than they had in those times, and they could design and build a machine that would do a pretty decent job, all things considered.

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I don't know a lot about Landis #1 history either,although I've worked on alot of them & sold them over the years,they are a pretty good old machine.I was told once that they quit making them around 1900 but I've never talked to anyone that could say when they started making them.

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I found this on ISMACS

The No. 3 Standard

Singer's Number 3 Standard Sewing Machine

(Picture and Text Courtesy of Dorothy Brumleve)

In 1852 a modification of the first Singer machine was put on the market and was called the "No. 1 Standard"; it was essentially a machine for manufacturing purposes and several hundred thousand were sold previous to 1880.

It was succeeded by the "No. 2 Standard" in 1854. This also was similar to the "No. 1" but had greater capacity; it was fitted with either the rolling, the vibrating or the spring presser, according to the class of work it was to accomplish. It was heavier than the No. 1 and had more room under the arm.

In 1856 the "No. 3 Standard" was brought out. This too was similar to its predecessors in its mechanism but was especially designed for stitching leather in carriage trimming and harness manufacture. It has 18 inches clear space under the arm and is a standard machine to-day [1914] for its purpose.

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Bob,

I was told some time ago but can't remember who told me that Isaac Singer donated machines to the North's cause and uniforms were sewn on them.

glenn

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After you commented that, I found this:

https://americancivilwarvoice.org/2014/06/03/the-sewing-machine-and-the-civil-war/

And here is the answer:

According to sewing-machine historian GraceRogers Cooper, over the course of the struggle the Union army purchased 473,000 pairs of ‘machine sewed bootees’ since they lasted eight times longer than those sewn byhand.

http://www.academia.edu/2646532/A_Nation_in_Extremity_Sewing_Machines_and_the_American_Civil_War

It appears that the north used them extensively and the south couldn't get them. The north had 60 or so sewing machine makers at the outset of the war, the south had none. Only 2% of the existing southern uniforms were machine sewn, while in the north 71% of uniforms inspected in one study had machine sewing somewhere. Apparently it was Elias Howe equipped a whole regiment with his royalties.

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Here is what I.M. Singer said about the No. 3 Standard in an 1862 advertisement:

 

"Our No. 3 Machines are especially adapted to all kinds of light and heavy Leather Work, in Carriage Trimming, Boot and Shoe Making, Harness Making, etc., etc. They are of extra size, with an arm long enough to take under it and stitch the largest sized dashers. There is scarcely any part of a Trimmer's stitching that cannot be better done with them by hand; so, too, the saving of time and labor is very great.  The table of these machines is 24 inches long, and the shuttle will hold six times as much thread as the shuttle of those used for tailoring purposes.  The large machines work as fast as the small ones."

 

I have a saddle made in the 1860's in San Jose, CA.  The linings were almost certainly sewn into the various pieces by machine - the seams run at about 25 stitches per inch (extremely small) and with a uniformity that would have been nearly impossible, in my opinion, to do by hand.  The 1870 Industrial US census entry for the particular saddler reports manual powered sewing machines in use in his shop at that time.  I would imagine that the larger shops in SF, like Main & Winchester, had many sewing machines by then.  

I am guessing that if leather sewing machines had made it to CA by those dates, even though no rail line had been established yet, then they were already in fairly wide use in the East. The average cost of a good saddle in CA during the Civil War was about $40-60, so $125 for a sewing machine would have been a reasonable investment.

 

Can I ask where that photo of the three Singer "Standard" machines came from?  I have never seen them photographed as a group before.

 

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The posting on ISMACS, by the way, is a quote from p. 46 of Singer Sewing Machine Co., "The Mechanics of the Sewing Machine" (1914).  The drawing is a reproduction from there, too.

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On 11/25/2016 at 5:03 PM, Harfindel said:

Can I ask where that photo of the three Singer "Standard" machines came from?  I have never seen them photographed as a group before.

I believe they are in Cowboy Bob's "collection"

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GOOD LORD :blink: - what a nice bunch of machines. Can I add a Needle Positioning System and has JUKI ever built s clone of them :lol:

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I was poking around craigslist in Philadelphia the the other day, and came across a Standard No.3.  with some pretty good pictures.  It looks fascinating, but certainly too pricey for me and I somehow doubt that parts are available.  I'd love to see a video of one o' these in action!  They claim that this one was made around 1873, so shortly after the civil war.

http://philadelphia.craigslist.org/for/5888005948.html

 

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Sorry to dredge up this old thread, but I thought Constab might be interested in these links, which show the original Pfaff no.1 sewing machine (1862).  Looks like it was based off the Singer Standard.

http://schlingenfaenger.de/sammeln.html

http://www.needlebar.org/cm/displayimage.php?album=190&pid=393#top_display_media

http://www.pfaff150anniversary.com/us/historicalmachines

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Lakedog   

I read in a Museum some time ago that new Calvery recruits had to make all of their leather goods including their boots.

The specs were exacting as to what they made, belts straps, holsters, etc. US Army specs 

They made them Because such items were not readily available at a post and as part of indoctrination into the army.

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