Are sewing machines designed for the left handed?

right_hand_sewing_machineI had no idea that sewing machines favor left-handed people. Did you? Quite a few people do, I guess I was late to the party.  One explanation is that the inventors of the modern sewing machine, namely Elias Howe and Isaac Singer, were both left handed but this is disputed by Rex Pulker*, inventor of a right handed sewing machine. His explanation is a bit difficult for me to follow (a matter of writing style?) but the claims that machines were originally optimized for right handers -there was a crank on the wheel on the right side- but once technology improved and the crank was no longer needed, machine design did not follow suit and reverse the buttons and what not to lie to the left.

To be sure, modern day home machines have evolved to be more right-hander friendly. Many have a front loading bobbin, the needle is threaded front to back, and the foot lifter is often on the right side. But it is with industrial machines that I have doubts with the idea that machines were originally designed for right handers but failed to evolve. With industrial machines, bobbins nearly always load from the left, needles must be threaded from the left,  foot changes only unscrew from the left, and lastly, the default pedal installation is left of the needle, so minimally, one could think there is some ambiguity. Then again, it is possible that this design is another case of form following function with the conclusion being that left handers should find industrial machines easier to use than most other handed technologies.

Does it really matter these days? For industrial machine operators, I’d say it wouldn’t because we’re accustomed to it. However, being more aware about handedness explains some problems I’ve had in training people to sew on industrials.

Typically, someone who has only sewn on a home machine will position themselves to the right of the needle path -I could never figure that out, I have to direct them to sit directly in front of the needle (I sit to the left of it). Handling of the materials is another, larger problem. For the most part, neophytes only use their left hand as a clamp of sorts, to hold down the material, directing the material in the seam path with their right hand so the work never feeds neatly without unnecessary attention paid to the task. With industrial machines,  dexterity of the left hand is very important because it should lead in feeding the materials and lining pieces together. It’s an interesting problem to consider if you’re gravitating to an industrial or training new users on them. Do you have any ideas or tips as to training?

*Rex Pulker is also left handed.

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30 Comments on "Are sewing machines designed for the left handed?"


Kathy gUMPEL
1 year 8 months ago

Since my stroke[s], I only have use of my left hand. Is there a machine that does not require me to start by turning the wheel on the right, is self threadinh?

2 years 22 days ago

Mary: Interseting point about folders. Hadn’t given it much thought, but I’m sure it must be true that they often favor one handedness over the other. I’m right-handed, but found roll-hemmers difficult to use until I saw a pro doing it (at Advance Pleating in San Francisco). He actually used his left hand to guide the inside of the roll, while his right seemed more occupied with controlling the bulk of the fabric and providing tension.

Emily: Being able to use the machine from either side sounds awesome!

Rex: I’m happy to see you post here. Though I still don’t think material handling on standard machines favors the left-handed, I do think it would be worthwile to have the mirrored machine available. I would be very interested to see the difference for new users, as well as experienced ones. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Emily’s idea…seems especially well-suited to home machines, which could just be rotated on the table!

Tony: I had assumed the main difficulty in putting in the bobbing case was not being able to see it, but perhaps you are right: I may well have been able to do it in one go with my right. But I believe my point still stands: even with the off hand it’s only about takes about a minute of training to reach proficiency, and the difficulty of the sewing itself should be the first concern. Though overall, I’m with you: why not give people the choice. I think the new machine would be better for the left-handed, but there are lots of them about!

Tony Quayle
2 years 22 days ago

Having just read through the comments of your correspondents, I have come to the conclusion that most of them seem to be missing the point. Rex Pulker’s proposal to produce a reverse profile machine is not intended to convert experienced users. The proposal is to present a choice, primarily to new buyers. All you older lefties must remember having to use ‘normal’ scissors until left-handed ones were made. Did you notice the difference? In my experience of over 40 years training people to use sewing machines, it was always easier to teach lefties than righties. Callum Lamb tells us it took 10 shots to get the bobbin case in! A leftie gets it first or second shot. To all the retailers out there, how wonderful would it be to be able to sell the customer the machine that they find easiest to use be it left or right?

Steven Layt
2 years 23 days ago

I am a designer and have worked in the clothing indusry in Australia for over 40 years. Having taught people to sew, both left and right handers, I have noticed that some tasks are difficult for some people learning to sew for the first time.
For the first time sewer a choice of left or right handed sewing machines to try would provide a choice that can only be an advantage as it would give the learner a chance to use a sewing machine that would suit their dexterity. Hope that the retail sewing industry and the distributors of domestic sewing machines embrace the reverse configuration sewing machine for left handers. I am right handed sewer and would luv to have a play with a machine that is the reverse of what I am using at the moment.

rama narayanan
2 years 1 month ago

Has anyone created a vertical sewing machine? Something like the button machines only the clearance and the elbow space is wider. I never really understood why now one has worked on this? it would make sewing ergonomically an easier operation.