The Monmouth Museum is home to one of North America's largest collections of 18th and 19th century sewing clamps also known as sewing birds. Sewing clamps were used in the 18th century to attach one end of a piece of cloth firmly to a table to enable a seamstress to hold her sewing taut with one hand while stitching with the other. Before the invention of the sewing machine clothing, sheets and other household items were sewn by hand.
Early clamps can be traced to the late 17th century. The "sewing bird" came into fashion early in the 18th century. Invented in the Georgian period in England, it was the first device that allowed the material to be moved without having to loosen the clamp. Many were made for the travel trade and were used for advertisements. Most were made of polished and turned wood or iron. Victorian clamps were made of brass, iron, steel and painted wood.
In America the first sewing birds were called "grippers." Not used widely until mid-19th century, they became popular as a luxury item, which a young man would present to his intended bride months before the wedding. These were made in many varieties; birds with or without a pin cushion, on a spindle or not, deer, dogs, fish, frogs, snakes, dolphins, cherubs and people. Small thread winders, spool holders, netting hooks and rug braiders were also common.
After the invention of the sewing machine the need for grippers was diminished but they were still manufactured as novelties. The Singer Sewing Machine Company produced a few as late as 1980.
The original inexpensive novelties of yesteryear are expensive antique collectibles today. This extensive collection was gathered by Eugenie Bijur on her travels with her husband, who was an antique collector, and willed to the Monmouth Museum. It is one of the most impressive collections in this country.
More about the sewing Birds at the Monmouth Museum by Caroline Rodgers