A couple weeks ago, I posed a question over on Instagram:
As someone who sews, what do you call yourself?
And I got quite a mixed response!
So today, let’s take a look at the different terms used to describe someone who sews, so that we can better choose the right word for ourselves!
What Is A Seamstress?
Seamstress is recognised as a term used for and by women who sew for a living, whether this is working in factories ‘seaming’ clothes, or from home with a small sewing business.
Historically, they didn’t necessarily have the skills to make garments in their entirety, though I don’t believe this to be true nowadays – I’ve met plenty of seamstresses in the fashion studios I’ve spent time in, and THEY can sew entire garments with extreme skill!
What Is A Sewer
Sewer is great when you’re talking out loud. And a lot of people over on Instagram told me they use the word sewer to describe themselves in the context of sewing. Yet on paper, it looks like we’re talking about a way to carry off drainage water and waste matter. 😬
Some people therefore switched things up and started referring to themselves as a ‘sewist’!
What Is A Sewist
The term sewist is a new, modern word that was used to describe people who create sewn works of art, such as wall hangings etc. There is now a big section of the sewing community however that use the term instead of sewer to describe themselves.
That said, I did encounter several responses who said that the term sewist was created and pushed by sewing magazines, and that they themselves would never use it!
What Is A Dressmaker
Historically a dressmaker was a woman who sews dresses for others – a dress maker – but the term has now evolved to include women who make clothes.
A lot of people refer to themselves as a dressmaker if they make clothes only for themselves (and maybe family and friends too) while those who make clothes for others and are paid, refer to themselves as a seamstress.
What Is A Seamster
I had never even heard of the term seamster myself, but I am told that supposedly, seamster used to be the way to refer to a male seamstress who was paid! I’m assuming this is therefore the term used for men who work in fashion studios and factories as seamstresses, being that a tailor is completely different!
What Is A Tailor
Tailor was in times past the term used to refer to men who make tailored items of clothing, such as trousers, jackets and waistcoats. It is now acceptable for women who work in tailoring to also be called a tailor. (One of my female friends from uni is now a tailor!)
With more women interested in tailoring, and wearing tailored clothing themselves, a tailor can be described as someone who makes made to measure tailored items.
There’s a lot more to tailoring than sewing – fit is even more important in tailored garments, so a tailor needs to know all the tiny measurements on a body, how to cut patterns, how to get the most out of different fabrics, and how to sew – often by hand! – impeccable stitches.
There’s a reason why Alexander McQueen was so amazing – he trained as a tailor before going on to design womenswear!
Sewist vs Seamstress vs Sewer
I think it’s safe for me to say that I am not a tailor – I love tailoring, and often return to my tailoring notes and projects from university to double check certain things when sewing my own clothes.
First and foremost I am a fashion designer and creative pattern cutter – but that doesn’t cover my sewing sessions really does it?
So for personal sewing I would refer to myself as a sewist (I’m down’ with new-fangled terminology!) and when sewing for income – sample making etc – I guess I would use the term seamstress. It just makes more sense to me.
What are your thoughts on this? As someone who sews, what do you classify yourself as? Let me know in the comments below!
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Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.