Schiffli Embroidery Machine

Modern Schiffli embroidery machine. Modern Schiffli embroidery machine.

The early 1860's saw the development of the Schiffli embroidery machine, which produces the machine made equivalent of running stitch, satin stitch and zig-zag stitch. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it still remains one of the most significant forms of commercial embroidery machines.

The origins of this machine date to 1863, when Isaak Gröbli (1822-1917) from St. Gallen, Switzerland, developed what became known as the Schiffli machine. His machine was based on the principles introduced by the newly invented sewing machines, which used two sets of threads, one on the obverse and one on the reverse side of the cloth. Gröbli 's machine, however, used the combination of a continuously threaded needle on the obverse and, more significantly, a shuttle containing a bobbin of thread underneath. The shuttle itself looks like the hull of a sailboat, hence its nickname, Schiffli, meaning ‘little boat’ in Swiss German (the term is still in use at the beginning of the twenty-first century).

Over time, more and more needles and corresponding shuttles were added to the machine, so that a much wider piece of cloth could be embroidered simultaneously. After several years, the machine developed into the automatic Schiffli machine that could sew in any direction. The design is controlled by a pantograph arm, which the operator uses to follow the design drawing. The cloth is attached to a frame that moves, while the needles stay in one place.

By the 1870's, Schiffli machines were widely used in Switzerland and quickly spread to other countries throughout the world. The first machines were relatively small and were operated by a couple of workers, usually women. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, some Schiffli machines are up to 18 metres in length and equipped with over one thousand needles. The Schiffli machine can make a wide range of embroideries, as well as imitation lace forms. The advent of computer driven machines with design software, still using the Schiffli machine principles, has meant that just about any form of design, no matter how complex, can be created using a wide range of stitches.


  • HOLMES, Val (2008). The Encyclopedia of Machine Embroidery, London: Batsford, pp. 136.
  • RISELY, Christine (1973). Machine Embroidery, London: Studio Vista, pp. 169-176.
  • (retrieved 9 March 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 26 June 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 30 April 2017 13:04
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