An offhand remark, a Sunday inspiration, and a new horizon appears.
From Bags to Britches (via knit underwear)
Whatever hesitation bag manufacturers first had to the Union Bag Machine invariably turned to enthusiasm. The combination of a fast, well-built machine and the double-locked stitch it made was irresistible. Word of the new machine spread rapidly so rapidly, in fact, that even while the bag industry was still discovering its merits, the tent and sail industries were adopting its use.
The apparel industry was about to find out about the Union Bag Machine as well. While at the bag factory of Arkell & Smiths in Canajoharie, NY, a Union Bag Company representative who was installing some new machines was told the double-locked stitch formed by the machine would be useful for manufacturing knit undergarments. The representative was referred to John Warner, president of Warner, DeForest & Company, a large knit goods firm in the nearby town of Amsterdam. Warner was interested and decided to install one machine as a test.
Union Bag Machine Company occupied the top floor of the June Manufacturing Building from 1884 to 1887. Coincidentally, June Manufacturing made a sewing machine called the Jennie June.
The results were a case of good news and bad news. The bad news was immediately clear: the machine was too slow. Although 900 stitches per minute was fine for making bags, the machines used on knit goods operated at 3000 spm. More bad news was the knit goods machine had a material trimmer?an essential feature for knit garment sewing. A material trimmer was never needed on a bag machine. The good news was the double-locked stitch made by the machine was perfectly adapted for the work. It had better elasticity for knit material, unlike the single thread chainstitch made by the knit goods machines, which would rip or ravel back easily.
But those results were good enough for Warner. In his enthusiasm for the improvement he knew this stitch would make to his garments, Warner told the Union Bag representative, “Go home, make a new and speedier machine, making the same stitch and attach a device to trim the seam at the same time, and then come back.”
It was simply stated advice, yet not so simple to follow. The representative returned to Chicago.
The first catalog, for the No. 1 Bag Machine, dated 1883.
From a halftone reproduction.
When Lorenz Muther and Russell Woodward heard of this ripe opportunity to enter the growing industry of apparel manufacturing, they began to plan out and construct a machine without delay. By July of 1882 they had completed the first few examples of Union Bag Machine No. 2, and offered one to the knit goods firm again as a test.
This time the results were better, but still short of the mark. The speed was satisfactory, but now the stitch skipped and needed more elasticity. It was clear more work was needed.
Experimentation began in earnest to overcome these defects, but no solution became readily apparent. Unexpectedly, the answer came to Woodward while reading his Sunday newspaper. The following day he tried a crude first version of what became the rotary take-up for the looper thread.
The One Needle Flatbed – the first successful apparel machine.
This made all the difference in the formation of an elastic seam. The improved stitch came to be called the “Safe Elastic Stitch.” Finally the Union Bag Company had a machine to compete with the apparel machines. The machine would soon become standard equipment for the knit goods industry.