John Deer’s Embroidery Legacy

By | 11/03/2021

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #91, July, 2021. Written by Rita Farro.)


John Deer, SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW, #91In June 2021, SCHMETZ Inspired to Sew, #90 focused on machine embroidery. While doing research for that issue, we interviewed John Deer. John Deer is to machine embroidery what Bill Gates is to computers. But maybe the most amazing thing is that his family has actually been in the business of machine embroidery for five generations. How is that even possible?

John’s grandparents immigrated to Canada after WW II and worked at Grant Emblems in Toronto, Canada. John made a film about his family’s history in the embroidery business on his YouTube channel:

In the video, you’ll see footage of his grandmother, Irene Thaler, threading one of their original 1905 Schiffli embroidery machines.

The Schiffli machine was a game-changer because it used a lock stitch, the same technique used by the sewing machine. By the early twentieth century, Schiffli machines had standardized to ten and fifteen yards in width and used more than 600 needles.

Early Schiffli machines used a manually operated pantograph to trace a pattern and translate the location of each stitch. Later, a card reader was used to program the machine. The punch card recorded the endpoints of each stitch. The conversion of the design into a punch card was known as punching.

John Deer’s Carica-Stitch of Rhonda Pierce and Rita Farro.

John Deer’s Carica-Stitch of Rhonda Pierce and Rita Farro.

The first Schiffli embroidery machine was invented in 1863 by Isaak Gröbli. In 1898 Joseph Gröbli, the eldest son of Isaak Gröbli, developed the fully automated embroidery machine. The pantograph, and thus the operator, was replaced by a punch card reader. The mechanization of the embroidery machine was now complete. Schliffi machines were also used to create chemical lace. They embroidered onto a type of fabric, a foundation, that is later dissolved. Schiffli embroidery machines were a big part of the industrial revolution in the textile industry.

In 1958, with a loan from the Catholic Church, John’s grandparents purchased their first Schliffi machine. It was a 1905 manual pantograph machine. (Forty years later, they sold that original Schliffi machine to a company in India, it’s probably still working today.)

Originally, their embroidery business revolved around the garment industry. They embroidered lace and yard goods for wedding gowns which have since been converted into modern-day lace embroidery designs that can run on home machines. They also made emblems, i.e., military patches and Boy Scout badges. John said, My grandfather always said it was a penny business. I remember in the ’70s my grandparents got an order for six million Brownie Emblems. They got paid four cents an emblem. Recently, based on their old-school patch-making knowledge, John has also come up with some amazing new ways on how to make embroidery patches.

The Deer’s Embroidery Legacy

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