Before sewing machines were invented women spent much of their time maintaining their family's clothing. Middle-class housewives, even with the aid of a hired seamstress, would devote several days of each month to this task. It took an experienced seamstress at least 14 hours to make a dress shirt for a man; a woman's dress took 10 hours; and a pair of summer trousers took nearly three hours. Most people except the very well-off would have only two sets of clothing: a work outfit and a Sunday outfit.
Sewing machines reduced the time for making a dress shirt to an hour and 15 minutes; the time to make a dress to an hour; and the time for a pair of summer pants to 38 minutes. This reduced labor resulted in women having a diminished role in household management, and allowed more hours for their own leisure as well as the ability to seek more employment.
Industrial use of sewing machines further reduced the burden placed upon housewives, moving clothing production from housewives and seamstresses to large-scale factories. The movement to large-scale factories resulted in a great increase in productivity; fewer workers could produce the same amount of clothing, reducing clothing prices significantly. As supply increased, prices also dropped..
The initial effects of sewing machines on workers were both positive and negative, however in the long run the negative effects decreased. Many of the women who had previously been busy at home could now seek employment in factories, increasing the income for their family. This allowed families to be able to afford more sets of clothing and items than they previously could. For seamstresses, home sewing machines allowed them to produce clothing for the average person during periods when demand for fitted clothes was low, effectively increasing their earnings. When industrial sewing machines initially became popular many seamstresses, either working in factories or from home home, lost their jobs as fewer workers could now produce the same output. In the long run these now unemployed skilled workers along with thousands of men and children would eventually be able to gain employment in jobs created as the clothing industry grew.
The sewing machine's effects on the clothing industry resulted in major changes for other industries as well. Cotton production needed to increase in order to match the demand of the new clothing factories. As a result, cotton became planted in new areas where it had not previously been farmed. Other industries involved in the process benefited as well such as metal companies who provided parts for the machines, and shippers to move the increased amounts of goods. In addition to being important for clothing production, sewing machines also became important in the manufacturing of furniture with upholstery, curtains and towels, toys, books, and many other products.