The ancient craft of sewing involves fastening or attaching objects by creating stitches with a needle and thread. One of the oldest of all textile arts, the earliest known records of sewing comes from the Palaeolithic era. Before the invention of the concept of spinning yarn or weaving fabric, it is believed by archaeologists that people from the Stone Age era across Europe and Asia, sewed fur and various clothing made from skin, by using bone, antler or ivory needles, combined with thread made from sinew, catgut, and even animal veins.
Historically, all sewing was done by hand, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that the first sewing machines were invented, which helped to significantly increase production rates, improving the proliferation of clothing and bringing down prices.
It was during the Middle Ages that clothing as fashion first became popular in Europe; at least to those who could afford it. Wealthier households would employ seamstresses and tailors to hand-craft their clothing. During those times, sewing was considered to be a female occupation, although there were some notable male sewers, such as Robert Radcliffe, the 1st Earl of Sussex, who was appointed Lord Sewer during the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509. Sewing was typically employed to increase the longevity of clothing, due to the cost of creating it from scratch. It was a substantial investment to buy clothing, even for wealthy households, so being able to mend clothes was necessary.
Such was the importance of sewing, that during the 17th-century sewing tools, such as needles, pins and pincushions were often included in the trousseaus of European brides. While basic sewing has been an essential skill for most of human history, as cultures and societies grew wealthier, decorative embroidery began to be sought after by the most affluent members of society. There are many surviving examples of traditional embroidery, with some still in production today.
Some of the more notable examples are the Cretan Open Filling stitch, Romanian Couching, and the Japanese stitch. The techniques used for creative embroidery spread throughout the world via trading routes during the Middle Ages. In particular, the Silk Road brought Chinese embroidery techniques to both Eastern Europe and Western Asia, with techniques from the Middle East spreading through to Europe through trading routes which ran through Morocco and Spain. There are also examples of techniques that have been developed simultaneously, where cross-cultural communication would have been very unlikely. A notable example is the reverse applique technique, known to areas of South America, as well as Southeast Asia, despite the two regions having little to no communication historically.
It was during the Industrial Revolution that sewing was changed forever, with factories now creating clothing at good quality for lower prices.