I was having a typical conversation about my work with my roommate, discussing my multiple costume jobs and costume shop procedures, when he exclaimed, “It’s Just Sewing!” This wasn’t the first time I had heard this point of view. Numerous times people have expressed shock that I was paid for sewing. How could I be paid for something that is so easy? Since I know how to sew everything why would I charge money to do something that comes quickly to me and takes virtually no time? Even though I no longer work as a costumer, after learning how the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 killed over 1000 garment workers and injured about 2500, I was hopeful people might see the result of not thinking about how our clothing is made and who makes it. Although Fashion Revolution Day is upon us, it unfortunately seems that sewing is still regarded with these attitudes:
Sewing is easy, I can’t believe you get paid for that. Yes, sewing is still seen as women’s work. If it is something your grandmother could do quickly and simply, why should you have to pay for it? Because if you sat down to actually do it, you would know how complicated it can get. All fabric seems to have a mind of its own and isn’t always easy to work with at first (or ever). And, just like everyone else, seamstresses have days at work where nothing goes right. We can’t avoid mistakes completely, which means going back, correcting our missteps and adding time to something that seams “easy.” Sewing takes skill and time, but most people don’t understand that until they sit down at a machine and begin working.
If you know how to sew, you can sew everything. Maybe there is someone who knows everything about sewing, but I have yet to meet them. There are people I’ve met who know everything about a specific time period or style of clothing, or they are excellent tailors who thrive in menswear. However, I haven’t worked with someone who has worked with every single kind of fabric and knows every detail of sewing. If you’re sewing a material you’ve never worked with, chances are you won’t instantly know how to handle it because it will take time to learn how to work with it. Like any subject, sewing takes practice, time to learn and everyone’s skill level is different.
You must want to sew all the time. When you sew for a living, the last thing you want to do on your free time is more sewing. I mostly worked on alterations in costume shops, after eight hours of hand-sewing suspender buttons to a pair of pants and adding Velcro or snaps to a garment to make it functional for fast costume changes during the show, my hands and wrists were sore and tired. Going home to do more sewing was the last thing I wanted to do. After a full day of office work, do you like to voluntarily take your paperwork home with you? Probably not. That’s exactly the attitude I had when it comes to sewing after working in a costume shop.
Since you work as a seamstress, you must love everything related to sewing. Even though I was a seamstress, I am also a human being. I enjoy things outside of sewing, including baseball, hiking, photography, yoga and a small group of British actors. When I see a performance I look at the costumes, but it’s not the only thing I watch. I see how the costumes contribute to the whole production. Instead of just staring at the lead actor’s shoes, I look at the cohesion of the designs, acting, script, dialogue and storyline. When a family member asked why I hadn’t read a book she recommended about seamstresses, I wanted to tell her, “My whole life isn’t about sewing! My life isn’t just pins, needles and thread; I am more than a seamstress.”
Perhaps it may not be possible to change how people perceive sewing unless you have them work on a sewing project. It would be wonderful to be able to, but until that’s possible, I hope more people see the important lessons from Rana Plaza. Those who make our clothing, whether they are garment works in a foreign country or costumers for a local performing arts company, take on complicated and difficult tasks that not everyone can do. The work they do is more than “just sewing” or “women’s work.” On Fashion Revolution Day, when I ask #whomademyclothes on social media, I recognize all seamstresses, tailors and drapers with respect and agree that they all deserve basic human rights. I will continue to advocate for them until others feel the same, even if that means I have to go to every home with a sewing machine and sit everyone in the household down for a sewing lesson.
This post is part of Inspire Me Monday hosted by Create With Joy, Flog Your Blog Friday hosted by With Some Grace and Sweet Inspiration hosted by My Sweet Things, Repurposing Junkie, Kreativ K and Boondocks Blog.