Thursday, 9 July 2015

What's in a name?

Seamstress, sewist, sewer?

If you frequent online sewing and craft communities or you're an avid sewing blogger, you might encounter a variety of terms used to describe the hobby. I have been visiting sewing forums for years and I've come across some interesting opinions on what one should call themselves. There are sometimes huge drawn out debates on this subject, which I feel is kind of silly, but it's clear that terminology means something to people. How you identify yourself can reveal a lot about your skill set and tastes in sewing.


Seamstress

Seamstress is often defined as a woman who sews for an occupation. For this reason, I rarely use the term to describe myself. Some people believe the word seamstress literally means someone who sews, yet most dictionaries use it to describe a professional and not a hobbyist. When I've called myself a seamstress in the past, people would often assume that I make clothing for a living. It always lead to people requesting that I make them things, which drove me bat-shit. I reserve the title seamstress for people who are professionally trained, can alter and fit clothing to any body shape, and sew as an occupation. Some synonyms for seamstress are dressmaker, seamster, sempstress, and garment worker.

Tailor

Tailor is a lot like seamstress, it describes someone who sews and alters clothing for monetary gain. It is often used to describe men who sew or someone who sews primarily men's clothing. I seldom see this term used within sewing communities, probably because it's a more professional title.

Sewer

Pronounced "sew-er", this word literally means someone who sews. I personally cringe when I read the term sewer. It's a homograph, a word that is spelled the same but is pronounced differently and has different meanings. In this case sewer can also be read as an underground waste management channel. The sewing version of sewer isn't included in most modern dictionaries and like sewist is a slang term. There isn't anything wrong with using this word to describe yourself, however, if you're a blogger like me and have an international reader base, it might be in your best interest not to use it as web translators will probably interpret it incorrectly.

Sewist

Sewist is a slang word that's emerged in online sewing forums and communities. The origins are hazy, but it might be a combination of the words "sew" and "artist". It's used to describe someone who sews leisurely and for themselves and/or their families. Sewist is the term I identify with most often. The reason for this is because it has a more relaxed definition; I feel it can apply to someone who might sew occasionally or is just starting out, or sews for the sake of pleasure. That describes me perfectly. I mostly sew for myself and for fun. I realize this term is abhorred by grammar nazis, usually the older generations, but the English language is meant to evolve. We sure as hell aren't speaking the same way as we were 500 years ago, so sewist is here to stay!


Conclusion

In writing I find myself using the words seamstress and sewist interchangeably. Due to the language barrier it might be better for me to continue using seamstress but I worry it gives off the impression that I'm more experienced and professional than I actually am lol (and it would be very apparent in my garments *blush*).

Which is the term you choose to identify with most often and why?

Best,

12 comments:

  1. I hate gendered words, especially the ones that imply that the female version just isn't really up to par. I don't use the words actress anymore for instance, I call them all actors. 'Tailor' sounds professional. I'd never heard 'sewist' before, but it sounds like 'hobbyist'. 'Sewer' is just horrendous...

    I emailed you a while back, first as a response to yours, and then another one from a new email address- Did you get them?

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    1. I try not to use gendered words too, although it's difficult to phase them out when everybody uses them lol. I'll use seamstress to address someone if that's what they'd like to be called, it's just not what I prefer.

      And yes, I got your email. :) I just got back from vacation, I seldom had a wifi connection up there, it was driving me a little batty. I'll email you at your new address from now on.

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  2. I like seamstress but only because it is the only one that makes sense to my ears really. Sewer sounds like sewer… like ninja turtles style sewer hahaha.

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    1. lol I don't know anyone who uses sewer but I giggle like a little girl when I hear it. Now I'll always thinking of TMNT.

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  3. Thanks for this post, I have recently come up with the same problem. I used seamstress all the time, but have male friends who sew as well. Sewer is out of discussion because of the Super Mario connotation. I will use sewist in future like you!

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    1. You're welcome! :) I've heard a few guys using the term seamstress before but I think most men find it a bit awkward. Sewist and sewer are gender neutral, which is probably why they've picked up in popularity.

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  4. I guess I never really thought this through before, but I would have to go with Seamstress or Dressmaker. I prefer Dressmaker because it sounds like you actually design and make the whole outfit. Where as Seamstress can also be someone who just alters or hems clothes. If that makes any sense?

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    1. The title of seamstress in the working world is usually someone who mends and alters clothing, so that makes sense. I think dressmaker suits you. :)

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  5. Hm...what do you call a male...uhm...you know, what's the male equivalent of a seamstress? Is it seamster or something? Nah, sorry, I've just never thought about this before...

    I definitely wouldn't call myself a 'seamstress' or a 'tailor' because they sounds too professional for my skill level and 'sewer' sounds downright terrible. 'Sewist' sounds weird, but I guess, it's still the best term to describe someone who only sews as a hobby, like me.

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    1. It would be nice if there were better and clear cut definitions, a lot of the terms I used here are gendered or really specific. A garment worker to me is a factory worker, and sempstress is a variant of seamstress which means a woman who sews. Surprisingly seamster is sometimes defined as "someone who sews" but sounds equally as awkward as sewer or sewist lol, all those terms sound like slang to me. I guess there isn't a really good, proper sounding term for people who sew as a hobby.

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  6. maybe for hobby people 'sewing diyer'? XD i actually didnt know there were that many names for people who sew O_O

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    1. :D If we want to get really specific we could call them "people who thread fabric together" but it probably won't fly with most hobbyist lol.

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