What is a Sewing Bird? September 18 2017
This beautiful antique tool was designed in the 19th century for hand sewing. Clamped to the edge of a table, it acted as a "3rd hand" keeping the fabric taut as one sewed. By pressing the top and bottom tail together it opens the beak, which allows the sewer to place the fabric in the beak holding it securely while stitching a hem or seam. Keep in mind that the sewing machine was not invented. Women would buy fabric to make their kitchen towels, sheets, quilts, blankets, aprons and clothes for the family. This involved a lot of hand sewing; to be exact, hemming! A very handy tool to have before the invention of the sewing machine.
These beautiful birds began showing up in the American market around 1850. However you will find sewing clamps throughout England and Europe during the 18th and 19th century.
Charles Waterman acquired the patented February 15, 1853, although he had been selling the sewing clamps or “grippers” for awhile. Apparently, the ad campaign shows two women on opposite sides of a table sewing. The woman without a sewing bird clamp is bent over her stitchery in a unhealthy posture, while the woman with a sewing bird is upright showing it’s “health preserving property’s.” I have not seen this ad and my website site searches have reveled only descriptions of the Hartford Times ad from June 5, 1852. (Would love to see it if anyone can find it.) Waterman’s daughter claimed ‘he wanted to make sewing a little easier for the ladies’ Hmmm, I guess for the times that was thoughtful.
As the sewing bird became more and more popular, the designs became more varied and elaborate. They could be made of carved ivory, brass, steel, iron, even painted wood. The shapes varied as well from the original bird to a variety of animals, cherubs and people. Other sewing aids where incorporated into the original design like: emery balls, spools or thimble holder, winding reel for yarn, thread cutters, small drawers and scissor sharpeners and compartments.
Wealthy woman had highly decorated sewing birds with indicate carving or embossed details to indicate their social status (and yes, even wealthy women were expected to be more than proficient at the needle arts.)
Then the sewing bird took a romantic turn. Young men begin buying sewing birds for their brides to be. The groom would present his fiancee with a sewing bird months before the wedding so she could prepare all the items she would be sewing for her trousseau. As she was doing this her sewing bird would remind her of her future husband. My guess is that may have back-fired occasionally.
Anyway, the sewing bird became such a mainstream sewing notion that “The Mary Frances sewing book or Adventures among the Thimble people” published in 1913, had a character call sewing bird who (was really a sewing Fairy) taught Mary Frances how to sew. Jane Eayre Fryer wrote several books designed to teach young girls domestic skills.
Once the sewing machine was invented they lost their popularity. However, the Singer sewing machine company produced sewing birds until 1980. Below are a few page from the Mary Frances sewing book.
Supplies list for sewing.
The sewing bird in action.
Mary Frances spending time with her sewing bird.
A little poem written for this handy tool.
Now that you know the history of the sewing bird, you can see how helpful the tool was! So, we decided that like a sewing bird we wanted our unique kits to be that ” third hand” - helping you make a beautiful baby quilt for a friend, family member, or your own little one.
Fortunately in the 21st century women are not defined by their sewing and domestic abilities, but rather use the needle arts to create and express everything from simple embroidery pieces to modern museum fiber art installations. For me the process of designing, then embroidering an image puts me in a zen state. I find it relaxing and creative at the same time, very similar to knitting.
But… for many it is a chore. That is why after years of designing embroidered baby quilts for mothers to be and baby shower activities we decided to turn these simple quilts into kits. We saw how people enjoyed embroidering the simple squares, the satisfaction of seeing their work become part of a beautiful baby quilt. I know how easy it is to buy a pre-made quilt or baby blanket, but nothing compares to a hand crafted gift for a newborn or child.
When you see that little child bond with their special blanket and when they can’t take a nap or go to sleep without their special quilt, you realize it was worth every stitch that knotted as you pulled the thread through or accidentally jammed the needle into your finger because you where watching T.V. and trying to finish the quilt before the baby shower (or at least before the baby was born or before they started school). It’s worth all that and more. All this from a little sewing bird.