Design Object Series N. 001

The Ford Probe, the London Eye + the High Line

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. After spending months focusing on women we admire in the design industry, we decided to flip the script and shift our focus to the objects designed by such women, allowing the story of the object to reveal the impact that is possible through intelligent, empathetic design. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to the design industry have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three contemporary designs and the innovative women behind them: the Ford Probe, designed by Mimi Vandermelon in 1992, the London Eye, designed by Julia Barfield in 1998, and the High Line, designed by Elizabeth Diller in 2014.

The Ford Probe

promotional image of Ford Probe by Mimi Vandermelon, 1992
The Ford Probe was designed by Mimi Vandermelon in 1992. Photo courtesy of aldenjewell.

In the late 1980s the shortcomings of the classic Mustang were increasingly evident to Ford developers. New models from Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Toyota brought front or all-wheel drive, turbochargers, and other new technology to the market. These efficient coupes had better mileage and gas prices were on the rise. The Mustang, originally launched in the 1960s, was slated for a replacement that would involve a complete redesign. Ford worked with Mazda to develop the Mustang SN8, a front-wheel drive sports car built in the United States that used an existing front-wheel drive platform from one of Mazda’s best-selling sedan models at the time. 

Just as production was about to begin, images of the design were leaked to an automotive magazine and thousands of outraged, die-hard Mustang fans flooded the Ford offices with complaints. Although they had already submitted an order for thousands of units, the response from the customer base was so negative that Ford canceled the Mustang redesign and pivoted, marketing the car as a new model; the Ford Probe. After side-stepping the Mustang debacle, the 1989 Probe was released with great success, and was scheduled to be redesigned in 1993. 

lifestyle image of the 1993 Probe driving up a hill
Photo courtesy of IFHP97.

Ford wanted a lighter, sportier look, and tapped Mimi Vandermolen, who had recently led the interior design of the 1986 Ford Taurus to great acclaim. Ford called the Taurus “a rounded edge revolution” and it was a catalyst for the explosion of oval-inspired styling that has dominated the market ever since. It was one of the earliest models to be developed by a cross-disciplinary team, meaning that the designers working on the exterior worked in concert with those working on the interior, and engineers, dealers, and promoters were also included. Vandermolen was the designer who realized that the key to a successful design would be to have the aesthetic of the interior reflect the lines and styling of the exterior. She thought explicitly about designing the car for women and told her boss, “If I can solve all the problems inherent in operating a vehicle for a woman, that’ll make it that much easier for a man to use.”

When they brought Vandermolen on, the Ford Design Studio hadn’t hired a woman in twenty years—not since World War II. Vandermolen was one of very few female designers in the automotive industry.  She is famous for thinking first about whether or not the internal controls were friendly for the user, and much of what we think of as standard ergonomics for car interiors—which were originally designed for the convenience of engineers and not drivers—we owe to her influence. 

The London Eye

Design Objects: London Eye
The London Eye was designed by Julia Barfield in 1998. Photo courtesy of jimmyharris.

Mimi Vandermelon’s use of ovoid curves shifted the aesthetic of car design in the US, and a circle is the ultimate curve. The London Eye is a massive circle on the London skyline, reminding us how beautiful and how unusual a circle is in this urban context. From 1999, when it was built, to 2006, the London Eye was the tallest ferris wheel in the world, measuring 443 feet in height. The vantage point of the highest observation position provides a stunning view of London and the Eye remains a popular tourist attraction to this day, often credited with the boom in ferris wheel construction that followed its success.

In 1993, wife and husband team Julia Barfield and David Marks submitted the concept to a competition for a new London landmark to celebrate the then impending millenium. Though no winner was declared, Marks and Barfield undertook the construction themselves, locating a site on the south bank of the Thames river. Originally the installation was only meant to stand for five years but the overwhelming popularity of the attraction led it to be preserved and, in 2006, illuminated with LED lights so as to be a landmark on the London skyline at night as well as during the day.

The London Eye is lit up at night
Thousands of LEDs make the London Eye a distinct element in the London skyline day or night. Photo courtesy of otrocalpe.

The wheel of the Eye measures 394 feet and is connected to a central hub with 64 cables. 32 passenger cabins are mounted along the wheel, a number that is symbolic of the 32 boroughs that make up Greater London. The wheel rotates at just two revolutions per hour, allowing each passenger a long look at the historic city.

The High Line

The High Line: Elizabeth Diller, 2014
The High Line was designed by Elizabeth Diller in 2014. Photo courtesy of joevare.

Like the London Eye, the High Line is an iconic installation in a giant city that makes incredible use of public, outdoor space. Where the London Eye provides a stunning overview of the city from a high vantage point, the High Line provides a gently elevated perspective; not like the view from the Empire State Building, but not like a view from any other park in NYC, either. The urban landscape rises up around visitors to this elevated park, the buildings becoming like trees and shrubs as they integrate with the native plant life. The High Line is a 1.45 mile long greenway suspended above the city sidewalks, repurposing old train lines that were scheduled for demolition before the proposal for a park went through. It is not only a park but a public space for arts, community events, food, plants, and convenient access points to the neighborhoods below. The elevated train lines, developed in the 1930s, were in decline throughout the 60s and 70s and completely defunct by the 80s. In 1999 CSX Transportation, the owner of the elevated rail line, invited proposals for recreational renovation, and in the early 2000s the land was rezoned as a public park. The non-profit conservancy Friends of the High Line was founded to oversee the development of the park. The founders noticed that, while considered by many to be an eyesore, wild plants were thriving on the abandoned rail line. A team that included a landscape architecture firm, a planting designer, and a design studio came together to create a unique public park dedicated to native plant species. The planting designer was Piet Oudolf, the Dutch plantsman famous for a revolution in the use of grasses and native plants.

Black eyed Susans pepper the High Line
The High Line is planted with a thoughtful range of native species that shift and change with the seasons. Photo courtesy of Andreas Komodromos.

The design studio was Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an interdisciplinary studio that combines architecture as well as visual and performing arts. Elizabeth Diller is an architect famous for her “alternative strategies in space-making.” She took an interest in activism and community issues early in life, and carried a passion for social activism into her career as an architect and designer. Through her subversive lens, anything could be architecture. Of the practice she founded with her husband, Richard Scofidio, she explained, “We wanted to question habits of space.” She questions the very concepts of space and architecture to expand our ideas of what these terms can signify, how they can be integrated into the landscape, and how they can impact our daily lives.

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Fun Fall Activities

The Smart List is a monthly list of multi-media recommendations on everything design, curated by Interwoven Design. In this issue we share some of the cool events and fun activities we’re looking forward to this fall, from cutting edge films at the New York Film Film Festival and artist-selected art at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit to fashion pop-culture at at the Virgil Abloh exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and a quirky trove of treasures at the latest New York Public Library exhibit.

The Smart List: Fun Fall Activities 2022
The Smart List: Fun Fall Activities 2022

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” 

at The Brooklyn Museum, July 1, 2022–January 29, 2023

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” is a multidisciplinary exhibit that celebrates the work of late American fashion designer Virgil Abloh. He is best known for his work as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear and as the founder the iconic fashion label Off-White, which he defined as “the gray area between black and white.” Abloh was raised outside Chicago, the child of Ghanaian immigrants. His work combines streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel, to speak across cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. This exhibit, created by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, is the first to be dedicated to his work. It spans 20 years of his fashion practice and includes incredible collaborations with artists, architects, musicians, and more.

Smithsonian Museum Day

at participating museums, Saturday September 17th, 2022

Museum Day is an annual event celebrating history, science, arts, and culture hosted by Smithsonian Magazine. Participating museums and cultural institutions provide free entry to visitors with a Museum Day ticket.

Participating museums for 2022 include The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum,  The Museum of Arts and Design, The Museum of the City of New York, The New York City Fire Museum, Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor, Poster House, The AKC Museum of the Dog, The Noble Maritime Collection, and The Williamsburg Art & Historical Center.

60th New York Film Festival

Lincoln Center, September 30th – October 16th, 2022

The New York Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in America. It showcases a highly curated selection of international films, just a few dozen out of over 1,500 submissions are accepted and the structure is non-competitive, with no prizes offered beyond the prestige and exposure of being selected. The only limitation is films that have not yet been screened in New York City, and the selection committee prioritizes cinematic works that push the boundaries of film and challenge the audience. Selections for the 60th festival include Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, Laura Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, and Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection as well as lectures, discussions, and specialty screenings.

The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures 

at the New York Public Library, permanent exhibition

The New York Public Library has been collecting and preserving knowledge for over 125 years, accumulating millions of objects in that time. The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures features over 4,000 years of ​​manuscripts, artworks, still and moving images, recordings, and more that bring this collection to life. It is the library’s first permanent exhibit, freshly launched this summer and free to the public indefinitely. Visit in person or check out the online exhibition to explore this incredible archive.

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Design News N. 030

Design News is your tiny dose of design, technology and other important news, curated monthly by Interwoven Design. In this issue: we look back and honor Virgil Abloh’s life and impact on the fashion community, Pangaia and Officina+39 collab on repurposing textile waste, furniture design from Swedish forest inspiration and upcycled remnant product design in bags by Freitag.

Installation view, Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech.” Brooklyn Museum, July 1, 2022–January 29, 2023. (Photo: Danny Perez, Brooklyn Museum)

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”

Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition on Virgil Abloh’s career shares projects never before along with collaborations and insights from his past. These pieces are with a collection from his brand, Off-White, on display in the installation. “Figures of Speech,” dives into the need for a diversity across all lenses of art and design. 

Via Brooklyn Museum

Photo: Nao-cha

F707 Stratos designed by Freitag

Freitag has done it again. The F707 Stratos is a shoulder bag made from the upcycled remnants of used truck tarps and a truck truck’s airbag. The bag can be unfolded for multiple uses. Freitag touched on the involvement that goes into the prototyping and development for a product like this. From material sourcing and understanding characteristics to communication between design and sewing departments, we think it is an awesome accomplishment from the Freitag team.

Via Dezeen Awards

Photo: Dey Alexander

Pangaia’s Sustainable Pastel Clothing Line

Pangaia collaborated with Italian textile company, Officina+39 to utilize old clothing scrap into a plethora of colors in their new pastel sustainable clothing line. Officina+39 recycled clothing into a powder that is being used to color fabric in a bunch of ways. This isn’t the first time Pangaia has made products from pigments of other objects. They have innovated in ways including food waste and captured C02.

Via Fast Company

Photo: Andy Liffner

Furniture inspired by Swedish Forests

Sofia Lagerkvist and Anna Lindgren, two members of the Swedish design studio Front, use observation of nature as theme exploration into form and texture. The designers explained how living in Sweden, they are constantly surrounded by nature and it has directly inspired their project, furniture seating, that was presented at Salone de Mobile 2022.

Via Wallpaper

Photo: Toshihiro Gamo

Issey Miyake, the Groundbreaking Japanese Designer, passes away at 84

The legendary Japanese Designer, Issey Miyake passed away at the age of 84 after a battle with cancer. This year marks Miyake’s 50th anniversary of being featured on the Paris Fashion Week. Fashion inspired from process, proprietary technologies and architecture allowed him to create wearable innovations and trends. People all over the world fell in love with his creative movements, along with Steve Jobs, who hired Miyake to design his distinct black turtlenecks. The designers community, collections and principles will be timeless contributions across all sectors of creativity and design.

via Vogue

A Q&A with Design Leader Lea Stewart

“You have to be really good at what you do”

A Q&A with Design Leader Lea Stewart

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them.  In this interview, we speak with design leader Lea Stewart, an industrial designer with expertise in
team management, strategy, and concept development in multiple product categories.

Lea currently oversees a global team of industrial designers in the baby division at Newell Brands. Oh, and she’s a professional speaker as well, specializing in design leadership, women in design, the value of design, and much more. Basically, she’s cool. We asked her about being a woman in industrial design and how we can better support women in the industry.

Head shot of Lea Stewart, industrial design leader.
Lea Stewart is a leader in industrial design as well as a speaker and educator. Photo courtesy of Lea Stewart.

Q: What are you working on that’s interesting to you at the moment?

A: So let me explain what I do, and then it will make more sense why certain things are interesting to me. I lead the design group for Newell Brands that develops all the products for our baby business unit. That’s one section of the corporation, but it includes many different brands you might be familiar with, like Graco, which is strollers and car seats, and Nuk, which is bottles and pacifiers and feeding tools. Everything to do with babies, toddlers, etc.

We have a project right now that I’m super excited about, going into a new category. And I wish I could tell you more. New category expansion is rare, because we’re so saturated in categories that we’re already in. Going into a new white space is really exciting. It’s a hard thing to not be known in a space and then develop that first product. It’s got to win if you’re going to continue to be in that space, so it’s high pressure, but it also doesn’t have any precedent.

It’s really cool when I think “oh man, I wish this existed when I first had my child.” My son is now four. That’s all I can say for now but that’s what gets me excited; when there’s a huge challenge of “gotta win” in that totally new space.

Q: Could you tell us about one of your favorite projects and share why it is important to you?

A: Like picking a favorite child! 

It’s hard to pick one thing when you’ve been working in the field for 20 years, so I’m going to pick from projects that launched in the last year, and tell you about the Baby Jogger City Sights stroller. It started a couple of years ago, because it takes quite a while to get to market. When we started to work on it, what was so cool was the team interaction. It was one of our first ground up strollers for that brand. A lot of the projects we were doing initially was updating aesthetics, but not quite reinventing the way that the stroller worked. This stroller was completely rethinking how we would get a modular stroller—which means the seat would come off—to be compact, lightweight and super premium. And we started from scratch. 

When I say we it was cross-functional teams. We had a war room we were working in. We had folks that work specifically on fabrics and fashion and soft goods. We had engineers, the suppliers that we were partnering with, and then the design team. The other thing that I love about it: it’s beautiful, especially in the mode where the bassinet is attached. A bassinet attachment is usually an afterthought in stroller development…and it doesn’t look right. The use of the bassinet mode is really popular in Europe especially, and this mode looks just gorgeous. 

We just won a Red Dot award, so I’m super excited about that. Parenting is such a difficult job that it feels very fulfilling to help with that in any kind of way, because it is tough. It is so tough.

Q: At what point in your career did you transition from designing to designing and leading teams? 

A: Yeah, super interesting question. It made me think a lot, because even in my very first job, which was lifeguarding when I was in high school, it always ended up that whoever I was working for naturally said, Oh well, now you’re not just a lifeguard, you’re going to be the manager of the lifeguards. They would notice something in me where they would give me responsibility. 

When I got into the design world, in early roles, I might have had an intern or been working with an outside contractor. You need to be thinking, what kind of work should I be asking them to do? As I got more experience with that it started really motivating me. I would love to do the planning and the thinking around what should we do in this project, and then have someone else activate it or work with them to activate it, and mentor and coach them. It happened pretty naturally. I think people recognized that responsibility or that ability in me, and I started to notice that it was inspiring me, to see other people develop. That’s how I knew management was a path I wanted to take.

Q: How did your public speaking start?

A: It didn’t really have anything to do with a connection to people-managing or leadership. In my early career it was more about networking, and wanting to be known as an industry expert. I felt like I had something I could contribute, so I would give talks about my work. In 2020, I got asked to speak at an Industrial Design Society of America panel about different generations of women. There were three other women on the panel and they all had more experience than I did. One of them was actually in her 90s. And I’m thinking to myself, How do I not know these women? 

They were amazing. Am I doing the same thing? Not letting myself be seen by less experienced women? It would be great if they could see more representation in our industry. 

Since that realization—that representation is really important to less experienced women in particular—I’ve wanted everyone to see, Hey, yes. There are women that have 20 plus years experience in this industry. I pretty much just say yes to anybody who asks me to speak. I do a lot of talks with students. I take it as my form of volunteering right now, it’s something that I can give back.

Q: How do you navigate being a woman in the design industry? A woman in leadership?

A: I think that first, you have to be really good at what you do. I’m not going to have a seat at the table, if I’m not super badass at what I do. 

I work really, really hard to be good at design and design leadership. I’ve got to have the chops before I can do any kind of advocacy. Because I am really interested in equity for women in our field, I do a lot of work outside of my day job, to work towards that. Being a leader in the Industrial Design Society of America and a representative for the Central District is one thing, I’m also on the board of a community group called Women and ID Chicago. I volunteer myself a lot. I’m also active in employee resource groups for women in my company. 

At some large companies, they might have groups of folks interested in common goals. One group at my company focuses on how women can help women in the workplace. For example, we might meet and talk about a new study from McKinsey that talks about challenges for women in the workplace. We get guest speakers and offer tools and resources. It’s a place for women to talk about what it’s like. A place where, when something does come up, you have a network that you could talk to. It’s really helpful even just to have other people say, I know what you mean. I’ve been there, you’re not crazy

Q: What guidance do you have for women who aspire to leadership positions?

A: The work that I do, I wouldn’t classify it necessarily as activism or overt activism. It’s really about helping women navigate their careers. I have focused on women in industrial design because I feel like I can make change within our industry. To choose your focus might be something to think about. I’m super focused right now on advancing industrial design specifically. 

Leadership could be leading projects or initiatives. You don’t necessarily have to manage people in order to be a leader. You really should think about what motivates you. Do you really want to be responsible for other people’s development? When you see somebody else learn and grow, does that get you excited? Or is it more about the project management, figuring out what should happen in this project while not really wanting to develop people? You could mentor people, mentoring them on a skill and managing them is a little bit different. Think about what happens when you get a manager title: it’s not just about control and power. It comes with that responsibility for the people who will work for you, and I see that as a big difference. 

Other advice: let’s say you have no idea, you don’t know what you’d be motivated by. You could talk to the folks you work with about what they do. Could you shadow another manager? Could you sit in as a fly on the wall in a meeting that’s just for managers to see what kind of things they’re talking about?

Q: How was the transition into motherhood for you as a professional?

A: I think for all, becoming a parent is just hard. That’s whether you’re in industrial design or any field. It is hard. Your brain half works, your body’s all messed up, you’ve got a lot of responsibility and very little sleep. But all these things are short-term, so that normalizes after a while. You’ve got to create your own support network, whether that’s a partner or other forms of help. Get yourself a good network and recognize that you need that village. 

When I went back to work, the other moms that I work with were amazing. There were the most heartwarming memories when I first came back. There were two other moms using the pumping room and they decorated the room for me on my first week back. It was so sweet because they knew. They were already in it and they were like, We know this is hard, you got this.

Q: Were you already working in the baby division when you had your baby?

A: Yes, for several years actually, and I had a really hard time having a baby so that was interesting too, working in this category, being a leader in this category, while personally having a ton of trouble and going through a lot of infertility treatment. Then again, you realize that a lot of people go through that, and there were a lot of leaders in my business unit that went through it, too. 

My company is very supportive, they have policies in place. My managers worked with me. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have a lot of challenges or things I had to navigate new, or be the first one. A lot of women go through that. If you’re working for a company that doesn’t have precedents set, you may be the first person to have gone on a maternity leave and have to set the policies with your company and discuss what’s going to happen.

Q: Do you think it changes what you’re bringing to the table as a designer, having had the experience yourself?

A: Somewhat. I think it can be good and bad. The good part is, you might know the kind of questions that could be in that mom’s mind. Say we’re going to build a new stroller; in using them yourself so many times, you kind of know the pain points a parent could have. And I say could have, because the danger is that you get in your own cycle of thinking, and my experience is not every mom’s experience. Every parenting experience is different, so that can be the danger: making yourself the consumer instead of listening to lots of consumers.

Q: What guidance do you have for those who want to be an ally to women?

A: As part of the Women Industrial Design Chicago Group, I lead a lot of their blog content. We did a really great series about allyship. The way I break it down is thinking about different phases of depth of your allyship. It could be you’re in the beginning, just realizing that allyship is needed and that bias does exist. You’re noticing things like micro-aggressions. Next you might want to do something about it but you don’t exactly know what to do, so you might need to educate yourself. That could be reading or listening to women podcasts, or going to women’s group meetings. We have a lot of men that attend the Employee Resource Group I mentioned. Then you might want to take more action. That could be giving voice to women and supporting an idea that you think is good that might have gotten passed over in a meeting, amplifying it. 

Even just listening intently when a woman is speaking is allyship. To just truly truly listen and give them as much attention as you would anyone else. If you’re in a position, you should hire women, you should mentor women. You could acknowledge any bias you see out loud. If you’re really bold and really want to be a good ally, you could get uncomfortable. You could point out people’s blind spots. You could have open conversations about equity for women in your workplace. 

The first step is to recognize the need for it, and that without allies, we’re not going to solve it. We really need allies to help. The worst thing to do is nothing! 

We made up a list of mantras that allies could state to themselves if they’re getting to that phase of realizing that there’s a need. I’m just going to read it out to you because I think it’s cool.

You can say:

  • I play a critical role in accelerating gender equality in industrial design. 
  • Women don’t have all the solutions to the problem either, we’re in this together. 
  • Gender equality makes economic sense. 
  • Gender balance and design will mean better products for users. 
  • Unrecognized and unaddressed bias could be hurting my design outcomes.

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add, or anything you wish you’d been asked?

A: I’m going to go back to that idea of just being really good at design. I think it’s overlooked a bit. There are so few women in this place of leadership that we get asked a lot to speak about women and design. We don’t get asked a lot to speak about just being a great designer. 

That could be another way to be an ally. Recognize women for being really good designers or managers or leaders.

What is an Industrial Sewing Machine?

What is an Industrial Sewing Machine?

At Interwoven Design we use industrial sewing machines every day, we couldn’t create our prototypes and soft goods without them. But what is an industrial sewing machine, and how is it different from a domestic sewing machine you might have used yourself at home?

Imagining the meaning of the term industrial, you can probably guess the basic meaning. Industrial sewing machines are intended for use by businesses and factories. As the name also suggests, they are heavy-duty, built to withstand this industrial use. That’s a start, but it only scratches the surface of what these beautiful machines can do. In this article we’ll explain what an industrial sewing machine is, how that differs from a domestic machine, what these machines can do, and common uses for those features. We’ll show you some of the machines in the Interwoven Design studio to illustrate!

What is an industrial sewing machine, essentially?

Industrial sewing machines offer fast sewing speeds, powerful motors, and high stitch quality. Here a designer uses our straight stitch machine, a versatile workhorse stitch.

Industrial sewing machines are built for industrial use by businesses and factories, designed to be able to run several hours a day, every day. They are built to last with powerful motors and durable materials like aluminum and cast iron. They offer precision, fast sewing speeds, and higher stitch quality thanks to carefully calibrated components. They are able to sew through thick and dense materials, and can be designed to do complex stitches as well as automated stitches, which may reduce the labor needed as well as the level of skill needed to operate the machines. While they can in some cases do multiple stitches, it is more common that a machine specializes in a single type of stitch. Regular oiling and maintenance is required for industrial machines to run smoothly and reliably. They may also be called commercial sewing machines.

How is an industrial sewing machine different from a domestic sewing machine?

While domestic sewing machines often feature cost-effective plastic and nylon elements, industrial sewing machines are built with durable materials like aluminum and cast iron.

Domestic sewing machines are intended for personal and home use. In contrast to industrial machines, domestic machines have weaker (and less expensive) motors. The needle speed has a relatively low upper limit and can go extremely slowly to accommodate beginners. Many elements are made of plastic and nylon to cut down the cost as high quality metals are not necessary for the level of anticipated use. They can typically do a wide range of stitches and need minimal cleaning and maintenance. There is a limit to the thread and material thickness they can handle. They, like industrial machines, are capable of quality sewing, though this depends much more on the skill of the user and the suitability of the materials being used. Both types are available at a range of price points but domestic machines are typically much less expensive, with high quality machines for just a few hundred dollars compared to thousands for a specialized industrial machine.

What can industrial sewing machines do?

Most industrial sewing machines have a specialty. Any given machine offers a single stitch style: One machine does one stitch. There are many different types of machines to do many different types of stitches.

This industrial sewing machine from Juki is our walking foot machine, which means that the fabric is fed through the machine “feed dogs” from the top and the bottom. This is useful for sewing thick or unwieldy layers together.

If you take a look at a piece of clothing, especially clothing made with a stretchy fabric, you will often see multiple stitch types in the garment. Mass produced garments are typically made in an assembly line, with each station in the line doing one element of the garment. For most of these stations, with the exception of hand stitched elements, there is a dedicated machine. In the case of a standard dress shirt, for example, the machine that stitches the front and back pieces together will be different from the machine that stitches the buttonholes, which will be different from the machine that sews on the buttons, which will be different from the machine that applies the pocket, which will be different from the machine that hems the shirt. The stitches on a pair of jeans look very different, and the machines to make those stitches are different, too. 

Take a look at vintage garments; you see fewer and fewer machined stitch types the older the garment is. Perhaps the machines to make more complex stitches didn’t exist yet, or the garment is old enough that most clothing was made domestically, using classic straight stitch machines. Perhaps it was even made by hand.

How do we use industrial sewing machines?

In the Interwoven Design studio, we have four industrial sewing machines that do one stitch type each: we have a straight stitch machine, a zig zag machine, a four thread overlock machine, and a walking foot machine. Each machine has a purpose in our studio, and we need all of them to create the soft goods and wearable technology products that are our specialty. 

This is our industrial zig-zag machine. The needle moves left and right as the fabric passes through to create a zig zag pattern. This allows stretchy fabric to stretch even after being stitched, as the stitch expands and contracts like an accordion.

A straight stitch machine creates straight stitches in a neat line, though these stitches can curve on a garment or soft goods product up to a point. They typically cannot create tight curves. This is one of the most common types of stitches, though it is not suitable for stretchy fabric, as the straight stitches are rigid, and do not stretch. 

As we often use stretchy fabrics like jerseys and meshes for performance features, we need zig zag and overlock stitches that will expand and contract with the material. The zig zag stitch can often be seen on thick materials like neoprene, imagine a wetsuit or the padding in a bicycle helmet. The overlock stitch is a finishing stitch that is everywhere, easiest to see on the hem of a classic t-shirt.

Close-up of knobs on an industrial sewing machine
This is our four thread overlock machine. Each of these four threads leads to a different needle, and these needles move in three dimensions to create a stitch that can stretch with a material.

There you have it!

Those are the basics of what an industrial sewing machine is and why they are powerful tools, especially for mass production. You can find videos online that will help you to understand the build quality, speed, and specialization of these impressive machines. Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!