Why are most of the innovations and improvements made in industrial garment production in the twentieth century yet to enter the home sewing industry?
(For information on the development of industrial methods click here.)
Here are some of the answers…
In the late 1880’s the USA lead the home sewing industry
Home sewing patterns
…in 1862 Ebenezer Butterick, a tailor in Massachusetts, … had the idea of cutting out a pattern for his wife to follow as she busied herself with the family sewing. This led to a great demand for such patterns of all kinds. In 1866 Butterick went to New York, bought a fashion journal there and started selling patterns by mail order – it is believe for the first time anywhere (History of 20th Century Fashion, ISBN 0 7134 8932 4, pg 26).
Invention of the sewing machine
…in 1851 in America Isaac Merrit Singer successfully introduced his …sewing machine (History of 20th Century Fashion, pg. 48).
Innovations and improvements in USA industrial garment production
The clothing industry’s wartime responsibilities (in World War I) resulted in substantial improvement in [the] structure and in the methods used in clothing manufacture. …many sections of the trade which had been using very primitive methods were updated. …. During the war [the sewing by one person of a complete garment] was, often for the first time, broken up into a series of consecutive operations, carried out by different workers, so as to make the best us of limited skills.[Innovations in industrial clothing fit and production in the United States during and after World War II] developed …well ahead of … the rest of the world (History of 20th Century Fashion, pg. 192).
Why industrial innovations have not entered the home sewing market:
1. Most of the people working in the industry have no idea that the sewing procedures used in industry are not available to the general public.
Those who do the sewing in the industry can’t imagine why anyone would use any other method.
Often people think the industry is keeping their procedures a secret because they think it would affect sales. Nothing could be further from the truth. The industry never worries about competition from home sewers. Their competition is from other clothing manufacturing firms.
2. Few people, even in the industry, know how to sew an entire garment together using industrial procedures
The entire industrial procedure involved with designing, drafting, grading to fit, cutting, and sewing is known by very few people. The industry trains their personnel to do specific jobs.
The personnel (sample makers) who do know how to sew an entire garment together using industrial sewing methods previously worked in the factory, learning first one operation and then another until they knew the entire procedure. Most never attended college. Most lack the skills and contacts needed to write and market books that would present industrial sewing methods. They and their families are dependent on the money they make in the industry. Members of the union, they have built up retirement funds and are unlikely to make a career change.
3. Much of the industry is now computerized
Personnel, even in the industry, are now so dependent on computers that knowledge of many of the industrial design skills, such as grading, are being lost.
4. People are resistant to change
Unfortunately people who have learned home sewing methods often have considerable trouble changing to industrial sewing methods, especially if they learn by memorization. People who learn by logic have an easier time making the switch.
5. There is a belief that industrial sewing is down and dirty
Often this is because affordable clothing has disappointed home sewers in the past. The industry does make a lot of trash. Poor people can afford it, the reason it sells. It also sells because many customers have so little knowledge of sewing, they are unaware that the clothing they are buying has been poorly made with inferior materials.
6. Most people have never seen high-end clothing that has been made in the industry’s designing departments
That is because samples of high-end clothing are often only shown to preferred customers who then order the clothing in their size. Sample makers in the industry are capable of making clothing so beautiful one would think human hands never touched it. This clothing sells for thousands of dollars.
7. In the past land-grant college programs have taught home economics (home sewing)
Many home economics graduates then became Agricultural Extension Service county agents who encouraged the teaching of home sewing methods throughout the country to adults and to children enrolled in 4-H.
8. One can’t learn information that isn’t available
Almost without exception all of the sewing books on the market present home sewing methods. Most fashion-education editors took home economics in college.
Even basic knowledge, such as to NEVER cut on the fold, or to reduce the seam allowances on the patterns before cutting the fashion fabric has not entered the home sewing market.
9. Many people think industrial sewing requires expensive industrial equipment.
Not so. It’s true that cheaply-made clothing needs expensive machinery to speed the work. However, the higher-end the clothing, usually the less complicated the equipment needed to make it. Most high-end clothing can be made on a treadle sewing machine.
10. For all of the reasons above and others, many people have given up ever making any clothing that fits and that they can wear with pride.
Learning how the industry sews enables people to make clothing they could never afford to buy, clothing that fits and lasts. Learning these skills is worth the effort. Fewer clothes are needed, the clothes look good because they fit and are designed for the person’s life-style. Learning to sew also helps to reduce a person’s carbon footprint. Currently the average American discards 40 pounds of clothing a year.
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© Laurel Hoffmann, 2019.