Howe's sewing machine, c 1846.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Elias Howe (1819- 67) designed sewing machines in his spare time. He perfected the sewing machine in 1845. The principle of the machine was awkward but practical. A thin baster plate with pins held the material in place and carried it forward for a measured distance. The needle worked in conjunction with a shuttle, forming a lockstitch. Howe patented the machine in the USA in 1846, but it proved imposble to sell until the idea took off in 1849 and Howe was able to sue many other companies for infringement of his patent rights.