Happy Birthday Elias Howe!

Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, was born July 9, 1819. What could be a better tribute than commemorating his birthday with a unit study on his invention- the sewing machine?

Unit Study: The Sewing Machine
A year and a half ago I took my daughter to a local craft fair sponsored by her sewing school where she could sell a few things she’d made. While we were there for the afternoon, I had the pleasure of watching the coordinator of the school sell the refurbished machines that were waiting for new owners. There were about 12 machines for sale and half had sold by the time we arrived. The ones that were left included a wonderful little hand crank machine from the early 1950s and a Singer circa 1960- something complete with “cams” to change the stitches. I learned how to sew on a machine just like that! As I was listening to this woman tell the story of each machine- when it was made, who the manufacturer was, and how sturdy a performer it would be, I became inspired to explore the world of the Sewing Machine.
My daughter knows her way around a sewing machine pretty well and she received her own machine for Christmas 2010, so it seemed like a great idea to find out more about this class of machines she loves so much. Without knowing all the nuances of the various models, I put together a small study which offers some fun exploration.
Language Arts: 
Little Town on the Prairie- Ma gets her first sewing machine and Laura gets to use one at the dress shop where she works.
Copywork from Little Town on the Prairie
If your student chooses to do a sewing project, have he/she prepare some directions for the project.
Electric Motors– AC vs DC and the types used in sewing machines. Newer models use more than one motor to control the various functions on a machine.
Electrical vs Mechanical Energy– how does the electricity get converted to kinetic energy via mechanical parts?
Types: All sewing machines have the same basic stitch mechanism. They make a basic running stitch the same way with two sources of thread. The top needle takes the thread down into the fabric. Then it’s caught and looped by way of the bobbin and pulled back up. The feed dog will move the fabric along and the next stitch will start. After that, everything else is different.
1.       Mechanical only- human powered machines were treadle machines and handcrank machines.
2.       Mechanical- are controlled by a rotary wheel and any adjustments made to the tension or stitch is done by moving a dial.
3.       Electronic- Some functions on this machine can be done by pushing a button. It has multiple motors for various duties.
4.       Computerized- Even more motors were added and they are coordinated by a computer. You can program the various stitches and the computer gives out the directions to the various motors.
5.       Serger- a different kind of sewing machine that trims the seam and encloses the seam allowance in a thread casing all in one step. Instead of using a bobbin there are multiple thread cones that feed the loopers.
Simple Machines– The pulley
1.       What is a pulley? How does it reduce work?
2.       Build a machine using a pulley. Can you build a compound pulley like the one that moves the hand wheel on a sewing machine? Can you get it to move something else in your “machine”? You might use Technic LEGOS if you have them or use household supplies that your inventors find.
Inventors were working on a machine that could perform a continuous running stitch. Both of these men had a role in the development of the sewing machine.
1.       Elias Howe
2.       Isaac Singer
Inventors– What is an inventor? Are there still inventors today? What makes a good inventor?
Industrial Revolution- What role did the sewing machine play in this part of America’s history?
You can compare hand stitching with machine stitching. How many stitches per inch does an average stitch length setting perform? In colonial times, girls were expected to hand stitch on the order of 20 stitches to the inch. Can you try it? How does the machine make the stitching easier?
Given a budget, can you find the most economical sewing machine to purchase for your needs? How did you decide?
Of course a unit on the sewing machine would not be complete without putting together a little project with the machine! You can take the time to teach the various parts of a sewing machine and get the kids to see if they can determine its type. You can teach sewing machine safety and basic techniques. Sewing is great for spatial reasoning and there is plenty of math to go ‘round!
Research machine manufacturers and models. Are there any stand out antique machines? Brands? My daughter loves hand crank machines. What can you find out about hand crank sewing machines?
Fascinating Facts about the Sewing Machine find out how much Elias Howe made in royalties on his invention!
As with any unit study, feel free to really focus on the areas that appeal to your student. I think it’s fascinating to learn about all the different kinds of machines from history and how improvements have been made on them throughout the years. Take advantage of the format to enjoy learning about this special tool together. My consummate creative girl will enjoy finding out more about how her favorite machine works. Do you have a student at your house that would enjoy some clever science and “inventioneering” as you explore the topic of the sewing machine? Have fun!
For more mini unit studies and ways to celebrate with July Birthday lessons, click the link to the iHomeschool Network and all the great homeschool bloggers joining up to share in the fun!*Please subscribe so you won’t miss posts at Blog, She Wrote! You can also have Blog, She Wrote delivered to your email inbox by subscribing above in the right hand side bar. Thank you!*

Enjoy learning more about the sewing machine and Elias Howe!

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  1. My daughter is getting a sewing machine for her birthday in just a couple of weeks…. we are going to refer to this birthday lesson ,Heather. Thank you! There's so much here!

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