The Language of Sewing

Sew magazine featureIt’s been a busy week or so, doing a lot of talking about sewing. I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in this month’s Sew magazine, highlighted as Blog of the month. When asked why I started a blog I replied, ‘Because I wanted to engage more actively in the conversation.’ I had the opportunity to do just that when I joined a bunch of sewing friends at Tilly Towers.

Sewing at Tilly Towers

Tilly Towers

Being a contrary soul, I sat there knitting. Ooobop and I had a very entertaining conversation about how we were both taught you should never, on pain of death, abandon knitting mid-row. I then promptly abandoned knitting mid-row in order to open some champagne.

Knitting at Tilly TowersThis week, I also ordered a copy of the now out-of-print The Gentle Art of Domesticity from Jane Brocket. Published in 2007, it still sells for quite a lot second hand, even though at the time of publication I believe there was some stir about it being anti-feminist. I certainly paused at the photos of aproned Jane pinning out a man’s office shirts on a washing line. Still, Jane is eloquent and clever and makes a valid point that being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t knit, sew or embroider. I see her book as a landmark in the trajectory of craft publishing, and a very thought-provoking one at that.

Gentle Art of Domesticity

This all led me to think about the words we choose to use. Some people throw their hands up in horror at the term Sewist. I quite like it. It has a sparkiness to it. Other people would die rather than call themselves Seamstress, but I like that word too. There’s an echo of elegant timelessness. Though some people would only hear the ring of ‘old fashioned’ or ‘downtrodden’. Words are such very powerful tools, especially in this digital age. We should use them with care and kindness.

What do you call yourself? Would you rather die than be a Seamstress? And why does it matter?

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93 Responses to The Language of Sewing

  1. Kelly says:

    I don’t mind the word seamstress, but to me, that brings up the image of someone who does it for a living, so I don’t tend to use it to refer to myself. If I’m talking, Ill usually just say sewer, but that obviously doesn’t work so well when written down, so I use sewist as default then, in the lack of another term. Although I hesitate to use that one around non-sewing friends in case they’re not entirely sure what I mean. Someone invent a new word please that I can use in all situations!

  2. Shar says:

    Pretty much what Kelly said. I never use seamstress (I feel too much of a novice for that). I tend to use sewer with my non-sewing friends and sewist with my sewing friends.

  3. PegD says:

    I used to use “seamstress” when I sewed for other people. Now I sew and quilt and knit and crochet and dye and….well…now I think I like “fiber artist”.

  4. Interesting! I agree that the words we use have power. It’s also fascinating to me how the meaning and usage of certain words changes over time or in different situations. I’ve been called a “seamstress” by more than one non-sewing friend, but I never take offense, instead I think about how being a seamstress was a profession, a way to earn your own living, and it should be a compliment that they see my sewing on that level. Although really, I think non-sewers use it because it’s the only word they know, even though it sounds old-fashioned to them too.

  5. Vicki says:

    I really don’t like the term sewist, I don’t mind seamstress but that sounds like a proper job. I suppose I call myself a home dressmaker but in reality I am a slightly bored housewife.

    • Do you know why you don’t like the term Sewist? Am really intrigued by the reactions this word sets off. Thanks for contributing!

      • Vicki says:

        I am not entirely sure, I think it feels like I is trying to make my hobby something more than it is. I associate the ‘ist’ suffix with qualifications and expertise, neither of which I have. Maybe it is the modern equivalent of seamstress? Suggesting more skill and proffesionlism than a home dressmaker. Or maybe it just seems a bit try hard and trendy for such an old fashioned hobby.

    • Ah, thanks so much for coming back to explain! So maybe it’s a slightly ‘industrialist’ angle that you don’t like? Which I’d never picked up on, but can now immediately understand. Also, this is helping me understand what I DO like about the word Sewist. It’s short and snappy. No one is going to ask you to repeat that word. Which I like for two reasons a) as a softly spoken Northerner who is constantly having to repeat words, having lived in the South for 20+ years and b) as an editor of children’s books, who veers towards words that are sharp and tight and quickly understood. I really appreciate the insight and opportunity to consider my own thinking!

  6. sewchet says:

    When I used to sew for a living I was happy to be called a “Seamstress”. Now I’m a “Photographer who sews and crochets”!

  7. What Kelly said: seamstress is someone who does it for a living. So’s a dressmaker. I tend to use sewist but it is kind of an ugly word.

    What about ‘maker’? There seems to be quite a maker movement going on right now and you hear it used to describe people who do other creative work with their hands.

    • Ah yes – Maker. And, actually, this highlights the flaws in my own argument. I wrote a blog post about what words I should use around sewing when a significant part of my blog post is about knitting!

    • Ros says:

      Actually, I would use dressmaker for a hobby sewer. I don’t mind being called a dressmaker, but I do a lot of other kinds of sewing too, so I tend to use sewer for myself.

  8. Caitlyn M. says:

    I understand the inclination to hang on to any and all words related to one’s craft, and I deeply appreciate the desire to use them with kindness and not scorn, but as an English major I balk at the haphazard use of words. Seamstress, for example, used to refer specifically to a woman who sewed seams by machine during the Industrial Revolution, and this woman may not have had any drafting, fitting, or other dressmaking skills. (In fairness, such a woman may have been an accomplished dressmaker, but it wasn’t a prerequisite of the job, since it was unskilled labor.) By using it now to refer to anyone who sews, we muddy the meaning, which may lead people, both outside the sewing community and those new to it, to misunderstand what is meant when the word is used in a historical context. By losing distinctions among words, we lose the vocabulary to differentiate between skill sets (House of Nines Design’s discussion of hatter vs. milliner is an excellent example of this) and to distinguish truly exceptional work in our discussions–for if every word comes to mean simply “someone who sews,” how do you identify someone with the skills to draft and grade a sewing pattern, or tailor a coat, or produce delicate lingerie?

    • Ah, now, the necessary fluidity of any living, breathing language is a whole other debate – but I love all of your detailed comments about the history and cultural context behind all of these words. Thank you!

    • Emma says:

      “Seamstress, for example, used to refer specifically to a woman who sewed seams by machine during the Industrial Revolution”
      Words change quite significantly over time. The word may have meant that during the Industrial Revolution (I enjoy history but know little about that time period), however, the word seamstress is older than that. It comes from the sempstress, but changed to seamstress in the 17th century and simply meant, at that time, woman who’s work is sewing.

  9. Twilight says:

    Seamstress sounds like it may just refer to women while some men (after all) also sew! Sewist sounds better to me personally. English is not my first language and in my mother tongue (Afrikaans, being from South Africa) a good word would be “naaldwerker” – needleperson. Now THAT does not sound great in translation, but it is more general and would not necessarily refer to a specialist in the field.. LOL

  10. Philippa says:

    I think of myself as a ‘sewer’. While I realise it could be vulnerable to mispronounciation, ‘seamstress’ is to me someone who sews professionally, for others. I’m not really sure about ‘sewist’. I’ll have to think about that one!

  11. Béa says:

    The term seamstress has been ruined for many of us, (albeit in a good and funny way) by Terry Pratchett’s discworld books, where “seamstress” is the euphemism for prostitute.

    Personally, I use the term “sewer” when speaking, because there isn’t that visual confusion with drains and sewage that you get in the written form of the word. In writing I reluctantly use sewist, but I find it inelegant and silly, and I don’t like using a “made up” word, when there’s a perfectly reasonable “real” word (sewer) that I could use if it weren’t for the accident of an unfortunate homograph.

  12. Lucy says:

    At work I’m a seamstress, at home I’m a sewer. Seamstress seems too fancy for my at home sewing 🙂

  13. Anna says:

    I was actually thinking about words and stuff earlier today when I read Tilly’s post and noticed she describes her sewing office (for want of a better word, ha!) as a “studio”, and how in the past it would have been more likely to be described as a “workshop” — not all that long in the past, either, but the word “workshop” has definitely fallen out of use/favour, and I’m curious about why. Everyone has a “studio” these days.

    I’m not fond of “sewer”, for the reasons Bea mentioned, and I think Caitlyn made some excellent points too. I do like the new look to your site though — lovely and fresh!

  14. MarrieB says:

    I tend to just say that “I sew,” rather than use the terms sewer, sewist, or seamstress. I don’t have a problem with those words, and am not offended if called any of them, and I do use them too. I guess for me, I think of sewing as something I do, and not something I am. Plus saying I sew avoids the problem of figuring out which is the best word to use. 🙂

    • Joanne says:

      Ha! I totally agree. I tend to think that sewing is what I do, rather than who I am. I rather enjoy both my career and my hobby, but I don’t really go around introducing myself as a teacher either; when it comes up, I just say that I teach. If people want to know more, I’m happy to explain that I teach middle school, or that I like to sew clothing. Honestly, some people are content with just the basics; it’s really only people who can connect to either that will further the conversation. (or are really interested, and I’m not afraid of going off the deep end on them!)

  15. Brenda says:

    I never call myself a seamstress or sewist or sewer. I say “I like to sew” and then to clarify I add that “I make clothes”. Nothing against the other terms, I’m just not used to using them and no one I know does either so the words don’t sneak into my vocabulary. I don’t talk about my sewing a lot because very few others I know also sew.

    • Yes, how many opportunities do any of us actually have to talk about what we do – other than beyond our coterie of like-minded people? So, the language becomes … not a moot point, but maybe a very specific point?!

  16. LinB says:

    I prefer the term “stitcher,” as being more inclusive of only just sewing. Also because, in the American West in the late 19th century, prostitutes could be located in rip-roaring young towns and cities by displaying a sewing machine in their window. “Seamstress” became a euphemism for “whore.” I prefer not to think of myself as that.

  17. I usually say, “I like to make ___” or “I like to ___.” Since I make many things (forwhoitsfor.blogspot.com), I don’t like defining myself by just one hobby, but I do hate the word “crafter.” As you mentioned with some of the terms above, it feels very dated, and I think it makes me sound much older than I am!

  18. meliselaboutiqueuse says:

    I call myself a couturière, but that’s probably because I’m French! 😉

  19. Rebecca Matthews says:

    I usually say “I sew” but I also use sewer. I’m not fond of sewist, it sounds wrong to me. I wouldn’t say knitist either!

  20. Karen Knighton says:

    I love the term sewist and gave no objection to seamstress either!

  21. Chloe says:

    I’m enjoying this discussion! In my professional world (Canadian theatre), those who sew are stitchers, sometimes sewers, those who draft the patterns are cutters, or in men’s wear tailors of course. But what really strikes me is how different terminology is from shop to shop, sometimes even within the same city! As an individual making her own clothing, if it comes up, I just say I sew, to keep things simple.

  22. BMGM says:

    I’m a maker. I make stuff.

  23. SarahStar says:

    I like ‘dressmaker’ myself because as someone else mentioned we have more skills than just sewing seams! I suppose ‘sewist’ is more accurate (I don’t make too many actual dresses, after all!) but tend to agree, there is something I can’t quite put my finger on that’s linguistically unsatisfactory about ‘sewist’!

  24. Nakisha says:

    I also cringe just a tiiiiny bit at “sewist”. Much in the same way that I do “sistah” (black women often refer to each other this way!). It’s just a niggling “thing”. I say “I sew” or “I make my own clothes” or “sewer”. I usually don’t write “sewer” unless talking to another sewer! 🙂

  25. I prefer “sewer” to “sewist”. I feel it sounds nicer and less like an economist, or scientist. Pity that it doesn’t really work when written. Seamstress, to me, sounds quite old fashioned. But to be honest, I usually just say that I sew.

  26. Ruth says:

    I tend to think I am a dressmaker. The word itself implies a woman, but actually has no gender. And “dress”, as in “he dressed quickly and left”, could be any garment. I hate “sewer”. I couldn’t help doing a double take and then taking offence the first time I saw it on the internet. My work doesn’t stink like a sewer, and neither do I.

    I live in Istanbul. In Turkey, whatever you sew, whether you are male or female, you are a “terzi” and nouns don’t have gender in Turkish. There is also no gender in the 3rd person pronoun: “o” means he/she/it. So this problem never arises in Turkish. Only sometimes you ask your friend if the terzi was male or female.

    But needleworker seems a pretty good term to me, since I also knit (and very occasionally embroider or crochet). I think I’m going to adopt that one. On my computer all my pdf patterns and my internet favourites are stored in one overarching “Needlework” folder.

  27. Kay says:

    Karen, I like the term ‘hobby sewist”..the term ‘maker’ doesn’t work for me as I don’t knit or craft… I just like to sew. ‘ Seamstress’ would not work as it makes me feel that I’m telling the world I sew for a living…. I add the term ‘hobby’ in there just so people don’t assume my ‘expertise’ and/or ask me to sew for them.

  28. This is a very interesting topic to me. I also am constantly ill-at-ease with what to call myself in regard to sewing. When I hear the word “seamstress”, I immediately have a mental picture of a woman with sweat on her brow huddled over her sewing machine with a customer in the background saying how they don’t like something she just made to their specifications, lol. I get asked a lot if I sell the things I sew, to which I quickly reply, “Heavens, no!” All of this goes back to sewing being my own personal outlet – not my skill that others can use to their benefit. I’m the same way with knitting. I know some people think of it as being “selfish”, but I look at it the way Julia Child did about running a restaurant – I want to make what I want, when I want, and the way I want it. I don’t want to make the same thing over and over again. I know some people out there who enjoy that, but I am not one of them.

    Anyway, sorry for the tangent. I quite like the term “Sewist”, mostly because it’s new. I feel that sewing as a hobby is starting to be looked at differently now. Most of us aren’t making everything we wear out of necessity like women in the 30s, and we certainly aren’t doing it because it’s cheaper like in the 60s. Sewing today is a personal statement. It’s a group of people saying, “I don’t like what I am offered, so I will make what I like.” We are taking responsibility not only for how we look but also where our clothing comes from. We are developing a skill we enjoy while still producing something of value (even if it is only valuable to us). This is why I believe “Sewist” is our proper description. It’s new and different just like our approach to the act itself. Plus, I don’t think it’s fair that we should describe ourselves as something that could be misconstrued as an underground cesspool when taken out of context 🙂

  29. onedabbles says:

    I agree with many of the comments above. I tend to say, “I’m making a …’, or ‘I sew.’ I don’t think of myself as a sewer/sewist/knitter ‘cos I dabble and don’t create enough things! However, in speaking I say ‘sewer’ as in ‘fellow-sewers’ and I write ‘sewist’ because of the possible confusion. Unambiguous meaning is a good thing but do we lose intricacy and subtlety? I’m torn between being thrilled that language adapts and slightly ticked off a la Professor Higgins that there was a perfectly good word already, why can’t we just use that? It feels like the minions in ‘Despicable Me 2’ laughing at the word ‘Ramsbottom’ – ‘Bottom – hee hee!’. I didn’t like ‘sewist’ in the beginning because I thought it was an affectation but now I realise it was solving a problem.

  30. Phnip says:

    The word Sewist really irritates. And I wouldn’t say I am a sewer. I don’t hear anyone in the UK using these words. At a push I might say I am a stitcher though I don’t think I ever have. If someone asks what I do in my spare time I say dressmaker or quilter or embroiderer or fabric artist or simply that among other things I like sewing. In my patchwork class when I get confused with a complicated block I tell the others I am really a dressmaker and everyone understands that I make clothes. The big question is: why do we feel the need to label ourselves? Vegetarian, mother, Scottish, Christian, dyslexic … do any of these labels tell the whole story?

  31. I think ‘sewist’ is the only word I actually do like, although I agree with some of the previous comments that it sounds a bit professional. The problem I have with ‘dressmaker’ and ‘seamstress’ is that they’re too restricting and only account for a specific area of sewing. They also sound a bit old fashioned and stuffy. I don’t like ‘needlework’ either because it reminds me of cross stitch which is not what I do.

  32. Jen (NY) says:

    I am just a person who sews.

    I confronted a similar problem in college some years ago when I moved from painting to photography. A wise teacher told me that I wasn’t a photographer, but rather, an artist who made photographs. Generally, I prefer not to use the –ist and –er words to describe myself. I feel that they express boundaries and limitations upon my person, rather than the fluidity of the acts. It is, however, somewhat confusing for others when they ask me what I do…

    Thanks for addressing the words. I’ve wondered what other people’s perspective was on this.
    ~Jen

  33. Susie says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken a name for my hobby out loud, hough I do like the word sewist, as I think of it being a conjunction of sewing-hobbyist. Until I read the comments, I never thought of it being associated with a more scientific career. “Sewer” recalls thoughts of waste and associated pipes.

    I probably have written sewist and seamstress many times to describe what I or others do, though I do tend to associate seamstress with a professional (dressmaker). Even though I grew up in the American west, have never heard the term associated with prostitution! My apologies for offending anyone by calling her “an accomplished seamstress!”

  34. I don’t mind being referred to as a seamstress. Words do change meaning over time, and the current meanings seem to get the point across that I’m a woman who sews, even to people who don’t sew themselves. If I try to get all fancy with a new gender – neutral word that never was associated with a lower paid profession, but that word requires paragraphs of explanation to get the meaning across, then it isn’t an effective word at all. I’ll save my energy for sewing.

  35. Ros says:

    I always say sewer. I’m afraid I think that sewist sounds ridiculously hipster and pretentious. I’m not a seamstress because I don’t get paid.

    • Ros says:

      And, having read all the other comments, I find it very hard to believe that anyone could actually confuse ‘person who sews’ with ‘drainage pipe’ in the context. The more often it’s used to mean ‘person who sews’ the more likely it is that will become the first association.

  36. AnotherKaren says:

    I avoid using ‘seamstress’ or even ‘dressmaker’ because they both imply that sewing is done by women, and I wouldn’t like to exclude blokes.
    I don’t use ‘sewist’ because (a) none of my friends would have the faintest idea what it meant – it’s so new, and (b) it reminds me of people who are skilled at working or operating things: machinists, violinists, cyclists, radiologists, artists…er bigamists (how did that get in there?) …typists, etc etc.
    So my word is gender neutral, understood by my sewing friends, and sits nicely with my other roles and past-times (mother, sister, gardener, walker, baby-sitter, knitter, blog-follower, golfer, reader etc etc). I’m a sewer.
    Which is unfortunate because, when written, I can confuse readers into thinking I have a hobby involving effluent and drains. Ah well. I didn’t say it was perfect, did I!

    By the way, where does the term ‘tailor’ come from? Could I call myself a sew-or?

  37. I am definitely a dressmaker. A seamstress is one who sews by machine for the most part. A dressmaker approaches sewing as an art, using a machine but with more of an emphasis on handwork. At least that is my interpretation! It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

  38. marthaeliza says:

    I’m a “crafter.” Like many people involved in the fiber arts, I follow many pursuits: sewing, knitting, spinning, felting…, but don’t consider myself an artist. And since I was raised by a second-wave feminist, nothing can end in “man” or “ess.” Growing up, we even called cassocks “ottopersons” to avoid referring to them as ottomans (this was done tongue-in-cheek, mostly to torture Mom).

  39. Fadanista says:

    I rarely describe my hobbies (or fads, as my friends would define them) but if called upon, I would say that I sew and knit. I have been fascinated by the discussion, and agree that sewer is probably the most apt term but isn’t good when written down. For some reason I have an almost visceral aversion to being called a “dressmaker”, but think this is because it infers sewing for a living, which clearly I don’t do (no one would pay me to make them stuff!).

  40. onejolie says:

    To me, seamstress is someone who has made sewing their career. I don’t rate that high in the world of sewing! I like the term sewist, but I tend to just think of myself as someone who sews. I also knit, cook and take care of dogs! (Oh, and the husband!) Overall, I’m not picky about what people call me. I try to assume they mean something nice and not get upset needlessly!

  41. rillafree says:

    I had no idea these terms were so unpopular! I used to sew for a living and gladly called myself a seamstress! I was proud even to call myself that, because to me it meant I was able to use my hands for a living. Growing up in ye olde Devon, my Dad was a builder/carpenter my Nan was a knitter and I knew a lot of Lace makers, so maybe terms that signified a trade of some sort were more valued. Something you can barter with or exchange for a favour. Who knows, but it seems funny to deny a title that refers to a passion! I like sewist too!

  42. ooobop! says:

    Hope you didn’t get a whole, Karen! My Email signatures carry the words, graphic designer and ‘sewist’. Interesting how a few people have mistaken the word for ‘sexist’!! At least it draws the eye!

  43. Chris says:

    What an interesting conversation! I guess I always thought a seamstress is someone who sews for a living, so I call myself a sewist. But of course English isn’t my first language so I might have been mistaken all along.
    Oh, and I never knew that one mustn’t stop knitting mid row (she says, looking sheepishly at her current two projects, both of them interrupted mid-row… I think if I look closely enough, I even have one or two UFOs which were well and truly abandoned mid-row)

  44. I think I am a home sewer or home dressmaker. I sew for pleasure not work, based at home. Think I’d feel a fraud to call myself a seamstress.

  45. Lucym808 says:

    I like ‘sew-er’, as I’m not even remotely good enough to feel suited to the label ‘seamstress’ or ‘dressmaker’. I’m not even sure I’m a sew-er – I sew things, sometimes. ‘Sewist’ just sounds wrong grammatically, somehow. ‘Seamstress’ is a lovely word, but it does conjure up images of rather prim ladies in 1950s dresses. And what would be the male equivalent?

  46. I agree with Ros that sewist seems hipster and pretentious. I’ve mentioned the current online use of itto my irl friends and they roll their eyes as in how ridiculous to use sewist instead of sewer just because the spelling is also the spelling for a plumbing word.’
    I think the connection is rather funny myself 🙂 Australian’s don’t take themselves (and what they call themselves) too seriously.

    I call myself sewer, (online as well as irl) seamstress, or dressmaker fairly randomly. Although I don’t make my living from sewing, people seem to understand my words with the same meaning I’m giving them. They don’t seem to think I’m a prostitute, or a poor bent-over old lady desperately trying to finish a blouse to pay for some more coal for a fire. They understand I love to sew a lot.

    Although, I did use ‘sewist’ on my blog a few weeks ago, refering to other sewers/whatevers, and the world didn’t end! Nor did I sound as twee and ridiculous as I was sure I would. So maybe in the end it just doesn’t matter that much anyway. Languages are not just allowed to change, but need to change. We have a new thing – an online sewing community made up mostly of hobby sewers and some professionals. Maybe we do just need a new word to convey that context.

    • Laura says:

      Ugh, I agree. I hate sewist for those reasons. I usually just say ‘I like to sew in my spare time’

    • Emma says:

      Have to agree, maybe because I’m Australian too 🙂 English uses a number of words that look the same but sound different, or sound the same but look different (dessert, desert, eye, I, etc.) and it’s usually easy to understand what someone’s talking about using context. On a sewing blog, if someone calls themselves a sewer, I’m not going to think they’re suddenly having delusions of being plumbing.

      I find “sewist” pretentious and hipsterish, also “maker”. I like sewer or seamstress. Also sempstress (I just like the look of the word) but it’s seriously old-fashioned and I would feel weird actually using it.

  47. Sassy T says:

    Ooo I will buy that, in fact in a few minutes since I am in B’hams Bullring.

  48. Sheree says:

    I only found the word “sewist” when I started reading blogs. Where the hell did that come from, I thought. Much prefer sewer.

  49. Hmm, there is also needlewoman, which like seamstress is sexist, so I think Sewist is the new politically correct term. I like Hobby Sewer as I am not a professional, or “Needlecrafter” which implies the creativity involved and would cover knitting too. That does leave crochet practitioners out in the cold with their hooks though! Maybe we should just be ‘creatives’!

  50. redsilvia says:

    I like saying “I knit” and “I sew” because they’re action phrases, I do something but am not labelled by it. I use sewist sometimes because sewer has an unfortunate connotation. I don’t use seamstress because it just rubs me the wrong way. Nothing wrong with it, I just don’t like it on me.

    It’s funny how things like a label can put your back up. I’m a flight attendant and it sets my teeth on edge when someone says stewardess because they’re usually trying to be condescending (unless they’re 80 and not good with change). I live in San Francisco and if someone says “Frisco” they’re immediately branded as uncouth and given side eye. Not just by me, but by all residents. But in the end they’re just relatively harmless words usually said in ignorance and should just be allowed to wash over oneself.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post and congratulations on being featured!

  51. Ali says:

    Well done!!!

  52. Congratulations Karen!! Well deserved honour.

  53. Cheryl says:

    The term sewist is irritating to me because I instantly see visions of militant feminists who want to be sure you know they are NOT mere seamstresses.

    Growing up in 4-H sewing classes, well before the feminist movement, I had aspirations of being an accomplished seamstress someday. Lovely little sewing books referred to us girls as “budding seamstresses.” Those were the days!

  54. Amanda says:

    I read about you in the mag! It was so funny because when I turned over the page and saw you I actually thought to myself…”oh how exciting it’s Karen” as if I had known you all my life and you are one of my best friends! Isn’t it funny what blogging does!! Congrats anyway…that is a great achievement.

  55. I don’t label what I do, I’ve sewn my own clothes for so long – its just part of me. Seamstress, dressmaker, sewer, it doesn’t bother me at all. I bought Jane’s book when it came out and yes there was a big fuss and backlash. I find many ardent feminists feel that sewing & domestic skills does put us in our place (kitchen table, domestic servitude) – on the other hand I have the ability to turn cloth into clothing and wear unique clothes that fit. And if I find my self in the kitchen, it is only because I have chosen to place my self there and it is my kitchen, my home.

    • That’s one of my pet hates – seeing sewing and other traditional woman’s work as being anti-feminist. It’s actually devaluing women. ‘Traditional’ women’s work, such as sewing, cooking and childrearing is extremely valuable and important to society and should be appreciated as such, by feminists as much as anyone. (Politicians too would be nice…)
      That’s part of why I am proud to be a seamstress or dressmaker or whatever you call it. Or not, in your case 🙂
      It’s an incredible skill, and one that I personally bring a lot of talent too as well. I’ll be damned if anyone can claim I’m less of a feminist for being so handy with fabric and thread, or for being a mother, or for any other ‘traditional’ woman’s work I do.

  56. I like seamstress. It has a lovely old-fashioned feel and I think it sounds quaint. I hate “Sewer” and am not too keen on “Sewist”, too hipster for me. Plus, I am also a huge Terry Pratchett fan and it is always fun to keep people on their toes. 😉 xx

  57. Gosh you appear to have opened a can of worms!! I am a seamstress because I am a wardrobe mistress at work…but at home I am just a sewer that sews ….looks like you had fun a tilly’s…?
    bestest daisy j x

  58. For me I don’t like label seamstress , to me it feels like a job title of someone who has trained for it ( my godmother trained in Paris with a real seamstress and dressmaker) and I definitely have NO training, I’m a sewist and blag my way through it! Although if you ask my Husband, I’m just a mad woman obsessed with fabric and sewing.
    Oh, I would love to get my hands on a copy of that book, I hear the originals are really expensive.

  59. alice says:

    Congratulations Karen on the magazine feature! So rightly deserved 🙂

    I don’t mind being called either really, though I often feel that I am not suitably qualified to be called a seamstress, as I don’t sew professionally. “sewer” is a term that I don’t particularly like, for obvious reasons…

  60. Gina says:

    When I first began sewing and talking to other people who sew, I was truly baffled by the hatred for sewist. Maybe I’m a hipster? I try not to use it because I know it sets some people off, but it really is my favorite term. I have no qualms with it sounding too professional, because sewing is difficult, and not just anyone can do it. I used to be a big stamper/cardmaker, and when I was doing that, I could be called a crafter, but it took me a while to learn how to sew and even longer to learn how to do it well and how to properly fit. I would prefer being given credit for what I see as high-level skills that took me an investment of money and time to develop. I’m working on finishing a PhD in literature, and in that field, we refer to people as “Americanists” or “postcolonialists” or what have you, so I suppose the “-ist” comes naturally to me.

    As far as sewer, it’s okay, but I don’t prefer it because I don’t like the connotation with waste drainage. It’s not that I think lots of people will be too stupid to understand the difference between a person who sews and a waste disposal system; it’s that the term automatically calls the image of the latter up in my mind because that’s the first and most common usage of the term. I don’t like the association, though I am obviously aware of the difference.

    I agree with others regarding “seamstress.” To me (and to Merriam-Webster), that’s a term reserved for people who make a living off of their sewing skills.

  61. Erin says:

    Like many people here I usually say I sew and knit. Or simply I made that. The whole seamstress/sewer/sewist thing doesn’t bother me at all but I don’t feel the need to define myself.

    That said, I’m trying to wrap my head around “fashion designer” as I hit the home stretch in my fashion design & construction studies. I realize technically it would be appropriate but I feel that a. I’m not quite at that level & b. way too many people out there call themselves that when they truly aren’t. I mean, I’m not in a position to compare myself to the Greats, but don’t want to be included with those who shorten a hemline with fusible but have no clue how to use a sewing machine, let alone draft & grade a pattern.

  62. Kath says:

    It’s interesting that so many people don’t use the word ‘seamstress’ because it denotes someone who is a professional/does it for a living. I used to use sewist but I like to think of myself as a seamstress as it conjures images of taking sewing seriously, and producing things that are ‘wearable in public’ and I feel proud that I can do that.

  63. Nicole says:

    I don’t mind seamstress when I’m sewing things, just like I don’t mind knitter. I do, however, mind spinster! 🙂 I hear the terms “fiber artist” a lot, which encompasses all of my crafts (another name I don’t like – crafter, crafty…it makes me think of glue sticks and glitter). I don’t know that I see my knitting, sewing, and spinning as art, so artist doesn’t really fit with me. My favorite title is probably “creator.” This works for knitting, sewing, spinning…all of my favorite activities.

  64. Sid says:

    Wow, so many different ideas about how we talk about what we do, whether it’s a “hobby” or for business. I like stitcher, sewer, and seamstress, and say those to myself when I think about what I do. I don’t have a negative feeling about sewist, and the reason I wouldn’t use it is I don’t feel it rolls of the tongue in a smooth way! It feels like an awkward word to me! But if someone asked me, I would say stitcher and sewer. I like to think of myself as a jumped up little stitcher, from the series The House Of Elliot!

  65. Najah says:

    I like being called a seamstress. It’s got a feminine feel to it. Not to mention that it’s made up of the words “seam” and “stress”, an all too true reality for the unpicker of stitches.

  66. Amy says:

    I have that book and I distinctly remember my mum tutting with disapproval when I squealed with delight unwrapping it for Christmas one year. She saw all the recipes and craft projects as anti-feminist, I saw them as empowering. I guess she’d come from a generation that had to fight their way out from the kitchen and embraced consumer culture wholeheartedly, whereas I feel my generation is almost the opposite – I really value my quiet crafting time and the power of being able to make something beautiful or functional for myself.

  67. Maxi says:

    I don’t really like the word ‘sewist’. It seems like just another made up word for something that already had a perfectly serviceable name, ie; sewer. But each to their own, and if someone prefers to use it, then all power to them. I don’t refer to myself as a seamstress because, as others have said, it brings to mind the notion of doing it for a job which I don’t do. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with the word, and as my Nan was a seamstress, it evokes memories that make me smile.

  68. Alessa says:

    Hah, I knew it wasn’t imagination that I always have the feeling that it’s easier to express something precisely in English than in German! Schneider/in is the translation for tailor, seamstress, dressmaker as well as cutter, sartor and couturier, so in my mother tongue I’d call myself a Hobbyschneiderin (although to be honest I more often say “I sew in my spare time. Yes, I made that dress myself.” 😉 ). I use the term sewist on my blog, because I’ve also read Terry Prachett. Now that I think about it, I also like the term dressmaker. But “sewist” also sounds a bit like there’s an ideology behind it. Sewism – I believe in sewing! 😉

  69. I am a maker of all things. I just say ‘I like to make stuff!’ I don’t use the word sewist, it sounds like you are only obsessed with that one thing for someone like me who makes allsorts. Jo x

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