My great-grandmother, Anna, was a talented seamstress (and part of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union — growing up, I remember my mother teaching me the song from those commercials in the seventies.) After reading Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion for an upcoming BUST book review, I’ve been feeling a wave of nostalgia for my great-grandmother’s craft.
Overdressed primarily focuses on the rise of “fast fashion” stores, like H&M, that push new garments out nearly every week. These stores rely on making copious amounts of cheap clothes to boost profit, at everyone’s expense — environmentally, socially, and financially. What touched me most about Overdressed was the discussion of the old Garment Center in New York City and the loss of craftsmanship in our clothing. We no longer know the person that makes our clothes and earning a living as a garment worker in the States is virtually unheard of.
My great-grandmother and her sisters were seamstresses for most of their lives. When sewing, they would patiently undo mistakes, just to do them over again and again (and again). I think they sewed every single wedding dress in my family up until my generation. Growing up, my mother always had designer clothes because my great-grandmother knew how to copy the styles. When she got married, melodramatic fights ensued as my great-grandmother and her sister, Josephine, argued over who would sew which part. It was a rite of passage.
Sewing requires an extreme amount of patience, a virtue that’s long gone for the most of us modern Martino women. From my grandmother on down, none of us learned to sew like my great-grandmother did. However, Overdressed got me thinking that it’s time to pick up these lost skills. Since reading the book, it’s become a personal goal of mine to get myself a sewing machine and, little by little, learn how to tailor and “refashion” my clothes so that they’re unique, quality, and long-lasting. I can almost hear the echoes of Anna’s excitement, “Oh, she wants to learn to sew. How wonderful!”