The first sewing machine in the BC gold rush

In 1846, the sewing machine was invented. Isaac Singer made a series of other improvements in 1850 and 1851, making curved stitching possible and replacing the hand wheel with a treadle.

SewingMachBy the time of the BC gold rush, there was a demand for sewing machines. This ad for Wheeler & Wilson sewing machines appeared in the British Colonist newspaper in 1859.

This would have a made a huge impact on the availability of clothing. That same year a “Ladies’ Benevolent Society” was formed “for relieving the sick and clothing the naked.” One can imagine what a difference these sewing machines would have made.

Trousers made of canvas or denim were essential for prospectors working the creeks. These could now be made by sewing machines. Most miners had to learn how to make their own repairs with a needle and thread themselves.

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Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine (credit McCord Museum)

In the meantime, young aboriginal women were taught the old ways of making clothing. At their Cowichan convent, the Sisters of Saint Ann taught “young female Indians and half-breeds” to card wool.

In the eariy 1860s it was proposed that the Songhees women of Victoria be put to work in a laundry, while others thought instruction in needlework would be better.

Mrs. Reynard and Mrs. Hills taught Aboriginal women to knit stockings in Victoria’s Humbolt Street mission in the late 186Os.