Is Automated Sewing in Our Future? Two American Companies Say Yes

We have come a long way since the invention of the first functional sewing machine by Elias Howe in 1846, but we haven’t quite made it all the way—yet. Although the processes of spinning and weaving were industrialized long ago, sewing has proven more difficult to automate. We may think sewing machines still have to be operated by hand; but 2 American companies think otherwise, and have developed automated systems with, basically, robots that can sew.

SoftWear Automation in Atlanta, Georgia has created machines called Sewbots that already create textiles of a rectangular nature, such as towels and rugs. Palaniswamy Rajan, the boss at SoftWear, thinks they are close to being able to make actual garments.

Automated sewing

A drawing of the first patented lockstitch sewing machine. Elias Howe invented this machine in 1845. Photo by Frank Puterbaugh Bachman/Wikimedia

The other company, Sewbo, in Seattle, Washington, has already made a T-Shirt with their machine, but they haven’t yet developed a commercial production system.

The issue with automated sewing of garments is that fabric is often flimsy and difficult to align at a seam. Each company has a different approach to overcoming the problem: SoftWear is working to improve their machine’s ability to handle the cloth, whereas Sewbo is working to make the cloth itself easier for the machine to handle.

SoftWear’s Sewbots use high-resolution camera technology and software to track movements that make it possible to adjust fabric more accurately as it is sewn. Sewbo’s strategy is to stiffen the fabric by coating it with a layer of polyvinyl alcohol before the fabric pieces are sewn together. The more stable fabric makes alignment easier, and the plastic coating can be removed afterward by soaking in water.

Both companies are hopeful to be mass-producing garments for commercial use in the near future, but neither is quite there yet. Whether or not sewing robots are nigh is still to be determined, but 1 thing is for sure: crafters will continue to sew either by hand or with hand-operated sewing machines. At Interweave, we have noticed an interest to apply sewing skills in different crafting communities. For example:

Weavers are enjoying a garment construction webinar series by Daryl Lancaster.

Knitters learn more about seams, zippers, and finishing edges on knitted garments with a sewing machine from this blog post. Sewing has long been a knitter’s companion.

Do you think we will ever achieve automated sewing? Would this be a good or bad thing for the economy and the workforce? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Jenna


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