New This Month

Meet Beulah Louise Henry: She Invented the Bobbinless Sewing Machine

And that's just one of her 100-plus inventions.

Beulah Louise Henry with one of her inventions.
Photography by: Getty Images

In 1940, the woman known as "Lady Edison" successfully patented her invention of the first bobbinless sewing machine. Beulah Louise Henry already had several patents to her name, which was unusual for a woman at the time, and her improvements to the sewing machine revolutionized the crafting industry. She wanted a sewing machine that produced a strong stitch without the threads unraveling or tangling on the sewing machine or in the fabric.

 

Beulah Louise Henry entered the world in 1887 with creativity and invention in her spirit. Even at the tender age of nine, she was drawing plans for different inventions. Henry patented her first three inventions in 1912, while she still lived in Northa Carolina, before moving to New York City to open the Henry Umbrella and Parasol Company. She had patented an umbrella that could be changed to match any outfit thanks to detachable cloth covers. She also opened the B. L. Henry Company of New York to sell more of her inventions.

 

[LEARN MORE: Meet the Women Who Revolutionized the World of Arts and Crafts]
thread-organizer-032-mld110766.jpg
Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Replacing bobbins could become expensive. The bobbinless sewing machine eliminated the need to replace bobbins while also creating a stronger stitch in half the time. This would be valuable to seamstresses who wanted to manage a larger workload and but did not want to spend hours at the machine. Her invention also allowed the use of shorter or thinner thread without the fear of the stitch breaking from the strain. Creating a double stitch with a sewing machine became more efficient for seamstresses everywhere when her invention became available for daily use.

 

During her lifetime, Beulah Lousie Henry was able to patent 49 of her inventions. Her inventions included improvements to the sewing machine but also to typewriters, sponges and even dolls. Her "protograph" (1930) developed copies of a typed document without the use of carbon paper. The "Dolly Dip" sponge (1929) could store soap in the middle, which made cleaning a breeze. And her "Miss Illusion" doll (1935) probably thrilled girls everywhere with her color-changing eyes that could blink.

 

She had over 110 inventions to her name by the time she passed away in 1973. When few people, especially women, were able to make money off their inventions, Beulah Louise Henry had turned it into her career and life's work. She proved that women could succeed as engineers without formal training and that practical inventions that solved everyday problems could appeal to consumers. Her most popular quote is a great summation of who she was as a person and an inventor: "I invent because I cannot help myself."

 

Feeling inspired? Watch how to make fabric flowers perfect for embellishing using basic hand stitches: