The sewing bird is not a bird that can sew! It is a bird that assists someone to sew. Confused? Let me explain.
Way back in 1853 Charles Waterman of Meridan in Connecticut decided to patent a device that would help support a piece of fabric for sewing. In his daughters words ‘he wanted to make sewing a little easier for the ladies’. His invention consisted of a metallic ornamental bird in flight mounted on a clamp that could be fixed to the table and hold the sewing cloth in its beak. In effect a third arm for the sewer!
On February 15th that year Charles Waterman successfully patented the the first ‘official’ sewing bird in the United States. Although the patent made it official he had been selling sewing birds for some time with moderate success. Charles was savvy enough to get the first patent but there had been sewing birds used as far back as Elizabethan times in England.
Modern day sewing birds have changed little since the pioneering patent was first approved over 160 years ago. There are some variations but the principle is the same. The upper body of the bird is set on on a hinge with a sprung tail. The main body of the bird is fixed so that when the tail is compressed the beak opens.
The fabric is placed in the beak and the tail released allowing the beak to clamp down on the cloth. This holds the fabric for sewing to take place. In effect adding a helping hand to the sewer allowing them to pull the fabric taught to work on. Simplicity itself but very clever of Mr Waterman to develop the idea and have the drive and foresight to patent the device.
Where can I buy a sewing bird?
That all depends upon whether you want a modern new sewing bird or an antique. If you are into oldy worldy sewing tools then you can get some really nice antique sewing bird.
Rubylane.com is a web site that I discovered that has some great examples of sewing birds (and a lot more if you are into antiques). At the time that I looked there were original Charles Waterman sewing birds from the mid 1800’s available. Just remember an antique sewing bird can set you back a few hundred dollars. However, some of them look fantastic, quirky and authentic. If you are a serious sewer and like old and quirky it could well be worth the investment.
If antiques are a turn off then you can buy new reproductions and here are a couple of examples you can find on Amazon (I have added to links if you wish to look more closely) These are a fraction of the cost of their antique counterparts:
It looks authentic and is in the right style for an antique look. This appears to be the best seller in this style of sewing bird on Amazon with some very good reviews (between different sellers).
- Has a red pillow pin cushion included
- Screw type C-clamp – attaches to a table up to 1 inch thick
- Solid brass
- Spring loaded beak to clamp onto fabric
- Approx. 6.5″x 4″ x 2.25″
This is a variation on the ‘bird’ theme (without the bird!) but works just the same. It is less attractive and is purely functional.
If you are not bothered and just want a simple and effective device to clamp your work, this could be for you.
It clamps onto the table and with the straightforward calliper keeps the cloth nice and taught. There were mostly 5 star customer reviews for this and just a couple of negative reviews. One customer noted that there were no instructions with the device. However it is not exactly rocket science to set up.