The Spinning Jenny
Using machinery to increase production is the idea that started the industrial revolution and the Spinning Jenny is one of the first of these ideas. Invented in 1764, it was a frame for spinning cotton into yarn. Rather than using the single spindle of Sleeping Beauty fame, the Spinning Jenny featured multiple spindles allowing for more spools of yarn to be work. This reduced the amount of work needed to make cotton fabrics. Along with other inventions such as the water frame, the spinning mule and the flying shuttle, cotton production rapidly expanded in England. In 1770 total English cotton production was worth around 600,000 pounds, twenty-five years later it had grown to a 10,500,000 pound industry. This meant cheaper and more fabric, and quilts, which had previously been a display item for the upper class, began to reach the middle classes. A final note, the ‘Jenny’ is sometimes thought to be named after one of the inventor’s daughters but is likely just abbreviation of the word ENGINE.
Compared to current sensibilities and fashion tastes, colonial era clothing appears quite drab. In fact it is often literally drab, as in drab the color. Drab is a dull yellowish or brownish gray and it is very typical of the era. This is true of the quilts of the time too. While the handiwork is immaculate and precise, the colors are (if not outright drab) muted and dull by modern standards. This isn’t just a matter of modesty or of taste. It was a matter of constraint, the dyes of the era couldn’t do much more. Most natural dyes come from plants, bark, berries, leaves and roots and some of these like indigo and saffron are still quite well-known. Purple and Royal Blue both famously derive from sea snails. Minerals and even insects were also known to be used. Whatever their source, natural dyes were either expensive, inconsistent, or muted.
In 1856 mauvine, the first mass-produced synthetic or manmade dye, was discovered by accident and it was just the start. Many other aniline dyes followed such as fuschine, safrine, Perkin’s green, aniline black, dyes which were cheap to make and that had vivid color. This very quickly infected the quilting world too. Influenced by asymmetrical Japanese art and ceramics, Victorian Crazy Quilts took the wide array of dyes and turned it into a veritable explosion of color.
The Sewing Machine
In 1790 Thomas Saint invented the first sewing machine, but it was not until the 1860’s that they began to make their way out of the factory floor and into homes. Even without electricity they were valuable time savers, reducing the amount of time needed to make a man’s shirt from 14 ½ hours by hand to just a single hour by machine. In addition to mending clothing and the like sewing machines were certainly used in quilting and today remain the most popular method of sewing quilts among hobbyists.
The Long Arm Quilting Machine
A quilting machine starts with the idea that instead of moving the quilt top, padding and backing under a sewing machine’s needle, the sewing machine should do the moving. The first machine appeared in 1871 and was really just a frame that could be moved under a moving needle in parallel lines. Today’s machines look quite different. 10 to 14 feet long, the long arm quilt machine has two sets of fabric rollers that hold all three pieces of the quilt as they get sewn together, these are the arms of the machine. Because of how narrow a machine is, only 2 ½ to 4 feet wide only a portion of the quilt is workable at any moment, which is why the quilt is held by adjustable fabric rollers that allow the user to expose different sections of quilt.
The sewing machine head can move freely over any part of the exposed quilt and with current machines it glides easily even when used by hand. Some heads come with a laser light that allow the user to trace a pattern, called a pantograph, as they sew. The ease with which the sewing head glides also makes it very physically easy to use for free hand stitching, though the skills needed to be proficient can take some practice. There are also computerized machines that have a number of pre-programmed stitching patterns, further reducing the quilter’s physical effort to merely attaching the quilt to the frame.
At Stitched, after you design your quilt we promise to make it and have it ready to ship in 5 to 7 days. Long arm quilting machines are a big part of the reason we can deliver on that promise.
Technology plays a big part of making Stitched into a unique experience for quilters. Because we have digitized our quilt layouts, our quilts can be completely personalized. Every block of fabric exists digitally and that allows you, the user, to swap out different colored fabrics and patterns until you get it right. Because the design is digital it also means it is easy to use irregular shapes. No tedious applique needed to put someone’s name in block letters, we can just type it in.
Whether you are looking to create a quilt top that you will finish yourself, or finding the perfect addition to your nursery or if you need a gift that is personal and timeless, our digital technology makes it easy.