Call Me Seamstress

At work on a muslin. Photo by Bob Moeller

At work on a muslin. Photo by Bob Moeller

People who love to sew seem to have trouble deciding what to call themselves. Many home-based craftspeople use “sewer,” but that sounds better than it looks. The written version conjures up images of subterranean piping systems.

Creators of art-to-wear and couture level designs have invented the new word “sewist.” With this title, parallel to artist, they are claiming their work’s status as an art. However, this term leaves out those of us who do not have the same high skills and ambitions. I see my sewing more as a craft than an art.

For awhile, I tried using the humble yet venerable term “seamster,” which I discovered in a history book about the textile trade. In Old English it was originally applied to women, but eventually it was used for men. I liked its gender neutral connotations. Its contemporary sound was also a plus, evoking the ubiquitous “hipster.” But eventually I felt a little odd applying the term to my plus sixty year old self.

So I have come back to the tried and true—seamstress. This might evoke images of garrets, sweatshops, and tuberculosis, but the word has an impressive history. It is what my grandmother called herself. It also reflects what I do. My sewing is practical, aimed at the everyday. Of course I try to do beautiful work. However, but wearability, not perfection, is  my goal. I am not an artist with the needle, nor do I want to compare myself with highly skilled professionals.

So for now—call me seamstress.

This entry was posted in 2010s, General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Call Me Seamstress

  1. Rhoda K says:

    Hmmmm, I like the word skill more so than craft, but will ponder this a bit 😉 Did you make the shirt you’re wearing in the photo? I like the design on the front.

    • Lynn says:

      I did make the shirt–a Marcy Tilton pattern, V8497. It was a lot of work. As I learned on a second try, it’s much easier to sew on the design with bias binding.

  2. eimear says:

    I use the word sew-er (hypenated only to differentiate from the pipes!), and only in that its the only term I have ever used. I do like the term seamster, as it evokes work and craft, but I have only seen it used online so perhaps it has yet to ‘cross the pond’

  3. Laurie Myer says:

    Loved this post! Very timely–I don’t know how many years I have left to enjoy sewing, but I do want to enjoy every moment that I can; wadders and all. Seamstress it is!

  4. Sewer says:

    I don’t like “seamstress” at all. I remember reading a 1990 or 1991 New York Magazine article called “Scissorhands” about the best dressmakers in New York and it was made clear that a “seamstress” is a person who works in a factory.

    You obviously have a sense of history, but to be frank, most of the time I see “seamstress” used by women bloggers who are having some kind of misguided 1950s fantasy about homemaking with seemingly zero understanding of what a terrible period the 1950s was in America for many groups, including women. They think that history and the world at large are just part of their playground. In the real world, “seamstress” is a lowly and low-paid position.

    “Sewer”doesn’t bother me. Many words in English change their pronunciation based on the context. “Seamster” and “sewist” are fine, too.

  5. Lizzie says:

    I like seamster, but honestly, I like seamstress as well and feel that the word does have a place in our modern world. Honestly, we just cannot rid our language of all the words that have uncomfortable connotations. I was rather surprised the first time I read that some people object to the word. To each his (or in this case, her) own.

  6. I can’t read the letters “sewer” (unhyphenated) without faltering over which way to pronounce them. Since people who sew professionally may be male or female, in the costume shops where I have worked we call ourselves “stitchers.” Of course, a stitcher isn’t getting paid to do all the steps involved in making your own clothes — we also have “cutter/drapers” who make the patterns and fit costumes, and “first hands” who assist them and cut the cloth (and confusingly, are not the same as a couturier’s Premiere Main….)

  7. Val says:

    My grandmother was a seamstress – she made wedding dresses (back in the 1930s and presumably earlier.) Most of my family from that generation were in what was known as the ‘rag trade’ (tailors, etc.) I have no problem with any of the words used to describe the occupation, whether it’s professional or as a hobby. I wish I could sew well but, while I’m okay at mending, my creative sewing skills are minimal!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.