Getting Pretty Serious

I am doing what’s called “getting pretty serious” about sewing. While I have been slacking a bit in the garment making area, I have been working on expanding my skills.

First, I am taking a Dressmaking and Design course through Penn Foster. While I would prefer a local, hands on classroom approach, it is hard to do so with baby and while working full time. This was the best choice for me right now. I will always consider more education in the future, especially workshops or other hands on sewing experience. This course is actually serving me quite well. I have learned a considerable amount in the first two thirds of lessons that I have completed. There are also activities that get me in front of a sewing machine, with the next assignment to include pattern adjustment of a princess seam sheath dress which I plan to make out of leather (or faux leather at the very least).

Second, I have had the wonderful opportunity to do some alterations. While I have done alterations sporadically in the past, I am glad to be able to use my skills to benefit others. Thank you dear alterations clients!

Third, I have taken the plunge and purchased a very entry level embroidery machine. Embroidery machines can cost thousands. I did not spend nearly that much, so I’m hoping the little guy I got will serve me well. My husband was adorable because he asked if it was something we could use for awhile. Well, it has a 20 year warranty, so… yeah? It uses the PES format of embroidery designs, and it has a USB connection so I can shop to my heart’s delight then transfer designs right over to the machine from my computer. Gotta love technology!

On a final note, I enjoyed Madonna’s multiple costume changes because she is keeping fashion designers and seamstresses busy!

“I’m a material girl… want to see my fabric collection?”  ~Author Unknown

A Woman Who Sews

What am I? There are all these words to describe people who sew. Tailor, dressmaker, sewist. What is it I do, exactly?

I looked at the definition of these words before adding a few adjectives to my blog recently. A few people out there have talked about this already, but I wanted to add my 2¢. (Incidentally, I recently learned that it costs 2¢ to make a penny. Talk about inflation.)

Here are a few of those articles/blogs:

Seamstress: a woman who sews, especially as a job. This term defines only a woman who sews; the male counterpart is “seamster”. The word seems antiquated, but I actually like it! The word has been in use since the 16th century.

Dressmaker: a person who makes women’s clothes. In use since the 19th century.

Tailor: a person whose occupation is making or altering outer garments. However, this term used to define only a man who made or altered garments with the female version being “tailoress”. Tailoress sounds odd. I guess that’s why it was changed. In use since the 13th century.

Clothier: one that makes or sells clothing or cloth. Nope, that’s not me. Yet. This word has been used since the 14th century.

Couturier: an establishment engaged in couture, or one who designs for or owns such an establishment. First used in the late 19th century. Sounds complicated. And French.

Sewer: one that sews. In use since the 14th century. The problem with this word is that is has too many denotations, with the most popular referring to the place where sewage exists. Sounds gross. I know a lot of people use this one, though.

Sewist: one who sews. This one has recently crept into greater use in the blogosphere. Perhaps it is meant to be gender neutral? hipsterish? I’m not sure. It’s not even a real word. I personally don’t like it. The first documented use of the word was in the 1960s.

I chose seamstress or dressmaker to describe myself. I particularly like seamstress, even though it does sound outdated. I have a romantic vision of myself as a Victorian seamstress with lovely dresses in the shop window in London. Here is seamstress translated into many different languages.  Maybe I’ll go with syerske.

Antique Singer Sewing Machine
Antique Singer Sewing Machine

Garments in our Global Economy

Food. Clothing. Shelter. Three essential human needs. There has been a lot of discussion lately about food sources and commercial agriculture versus local, sustainable or organic. And shelter discussions can be about how green your lily pad is or homeless all the way to mansions of the rich and famous. But what about clothing?

We go to local shops, malls, big box stores, online to find our clothes. We want clothing that is fashionable, wearable, comfortable and easy to care for. And we don’t want to have to pay a lot for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy clothes. Not only are they, well, necessary, but they are fun! And I am certainly guilty of having a closet full of “outsourced” clothing… as we will see. But it worries me: where is clothing made and under what conditions? How is this clothing manufacture outsourcing affecting our economy? Global trade is most definitely here to stay, but I can’t help but wonder about the people who make my pants. Who are they?

Global garment factories

In 2008, Kelsey Timmerman published a book, Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that Make Our Clothes. I intend to get my hands on that book and explore this more. In the meantime, this blog has a few excerpts from his research: Essentially, corporate clothing companies have outsourced manufacturing to countries where garment workers earn very little and work very hard to make the clothing that we simply pick off the racks and pay the least we can for.

Are these, in fact, sweatshops? What are the conditions really like? I started with a look through the eyes of, a non-profit focused on international labor rights. They reminded me of our sweatshop history, where one hundred years ago, women worked and died in horrible conditions at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. That day contributed to positive changes in labor, and that legacy has continued through to today in the form of unions. Unfortunately, out of sight is out of mind. What really happens at the factories overseas? Are they happy, cared for employees? My gut says no. And the idea that conditions where people make my clothes are as bad as or worse than the girls at Triangle makes me ill.

Just recently, in December of 2010, 24 garment workers were killed in a fire in Bangladesh, and 800 Cambodian workers were fired because of a strike looking for better working conditions and a salary higher than $53 a month. And in Uzbekistan, forced child labor gives us the cotton for our baby’s clothes.  (Carter’s brand will not reveal whether it sources cotton from Uzbekistan).

So do I go naked?

Of course, we do not want to support the exploitation of women and children that make garments in our global economy. But what can we do? The consumer voice must be strong enough to stop this economic engine – which means Walmart, Target, mall stores and other retailers must get the message that we won’t buy clothes not made under fair working conditions. Realistic? Hardly. Even if consumers were made more aware of these conditions, I don’t think they would stop shopping at Old Navy. Sad, but unfortunately true. However, if you are an individual that cares about this issue, you can locate clothing sources that are local or fair trade and you can make your own individual protest against sweatshops. I know I will. I just don’t think it will make a difference to the exploited in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Mexico or countless other countries where US manufacturers can pay less for product production in order to earn a higher profit state side. For now, I will focus on buying Fair Trade clothing, and fight the fight against sweatshops.

Where Your Fabric Comes From

Sewliloquies is all about sewing apparel. In our world of consumerism, garments and fabric are abundant. I believe it is important to know what the fabric is that you are wearing, and where your fabric comes from. In this first video I try to explain the major fabric categories. Natural and man made fabrics come from around the world, and from different animal, plant and laboratory sources.

Hip Host

Bless Elaray. This blog is what I’m talking about!

There have got to be people at home trying to puzzle through how to sew their own garments. I mean, there are people buying sewing machines, so what are all those sewing machines being used for? If they are collecting dust in basements and under desks I’m going to cry.

Bottom line, there are very few sewing TV shows and instructional videos out there. We need a hip host, with the knowledge to make quality garments (not quilts or crafts)!

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