Sewing Bird

Sewing bird or clamp; Metal, Perhaps silver-plated; velvet-covered cushions atop the bird and on the clamp. Bird measures 3.5433" from beak to tail. Catalog #T15758. Color Transparency #78-1548 shows 24 of the over 500 sewing clamps in the Textile Collection; this clamp is second from the left in the third row down. A sewing bird is a table clamp that supports a bird on its top. The lower body of the bird is stationary while the upper body is hinged, and there is a spring in the tail. When the upper and lower tail ends are pinched together, the beak opens, allowing the edge of a fabric to be placed in it. When the tail is released, the beak closes on the fabric, holding it securely while a sewer pulls it taut for stitching a hem or seam. This bird is marked "Patented Feb. 15, 1853," the date of the first American sewing-bird Letters Patent, which was granted to Charles Waterman of Meridan, Connecticut, for a "feathered bird upon the wing, bearing a burden upon its back." The burden is an emery ball. Before the patent, Waterman was already selling the clamps successfully when an advertisement appeared in the Hartford Times of June 5, 1852, showing two women on opposite sides of a table. The one without a sewing bird is bent over her work in an unhealthy posture, while the woman using a sewing bird is upright, showing the clamp's "health preserving property." According to Waterman's daughter, "he wanted to make sewing a little easier for the ladies." The Waterman bird was produced for well into the 20th century and variations in the design, as well as painted and plated versions, came and went. Catalog #2004.0116.1 is a mid-19th century daguerreotype of a mother and her daughter, the latter holding a sewing bird like this one, with an emery on top of the bird and a pincushion on the front of the clamp below the bird.
Currently not on view
Date made
3rd quarter, 19th century
patent date
place made
United States: Connecticut
Physical Description
silver-plate? (overall material)
fabric, velvet (overall material)
bird, beak to tail: 9 cm; 3 9/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Dr. Manton Copeland
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Industry & Manufacturing
Data Source
National Museum of American History


I have a sewing bird like the one in the third row, furthest to the right. It is marked Patented FY 15 1853 around the base of the small cup that holds the pin cushion. The back of the bird is painted gold with highlights of dark green and red alternating along the neck, wings, and tail. The underside belly is painted cream or light beige. The eyes are painted red. There is one pin cushion on the bird's back which is a faded burgundy. The clamp has three round holes and it is painted gold. I purchased the sewing bird in an antique shop in Westport, Ontario, Canada. The owner told me she shopped for antiques in England to bring back to her shop and it was one of the items from England. I had to pay $165.00 in Canadian dollars to purchase the sewing bird on Sun. Aug. 8, 2016. It is the only sewing bird I have ever seen and I thought it was a wonderful example with most of its paint still intact.
I have a sewing bird like the second from right in the second row. It is missing the pin cushion in the "bowl " below the bird's breast and the one on the bird's back has lost almost all of it's fabric covering. I can remember my grandmother using it in the early 1940's. There are many wonderful memories attached to it and it will remain in my family.

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