Recalling Past Events to Improve the Future: Let’s Make, Alter, and Repair Our Own Clothes

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, April 2, 1913:  About the same as the other days.

Triangle Shirt Factory Fire--March 25, 1911 (photographer unknown)

Triangle Shirt Factory Fire–March 25, 1911 (photographer unknown)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’d like to thank Kristin at Finding Eliza for sharing a link with me that I found fascinating and provided the inspiration for this post.

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today I’m going to write about an important issue both a hundred years ago and today: poor working conditions for garment workers.

On March 25, 2011 I wrote a post about the hundredth anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City that killed many workers. The public outrage over that fire led to many safety and labor improvements in the garment industry (and other industries).

To commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, The Sewing Rebellion website included a downloadable pattern for the shirtwaist that was made by the Triangle Factory.

The Sewing Rebellion points out that many garment workers in other countries still work under very poor conditions, and encourages people to emancipate themselves from the global garment industry by learning how to alter, mend and make their own garments and accessories.

What goes around, comes around. It’s intriguing to think that instead of buying new clothes each season, maybe we could again learn how to make and alter our clothes.

17 Responses

  1. I would love to be that self sufficient. We have nothing on our grandparents, I do buy second hand a lot, I know it’s not the same.

    • Times have changed so much over the years. I know that I’m busy doing so many other things, that I don’t have the time to be as self-sufficient as I’d like.

  2. My grandmother sewed in a sweatshop in chicago. It was the same as the ones in New York, but luckily there wasn’t a fire where she was working. Eventually she worked her way up in her field, but this how she spent her late teen years and early twenties and she lived as a boarder while her siblings were home in the suburbs with their parents.

  3. Terrible tragedy and shocking that workers, just like here in Oz, are now being priced out of their jobs by foreign imports … :-(
    Love that Shirtwaist blouse… thanks for the pattern Sheryl. I’d be making one for myself if my now tubby physique was back to what it was 10 years ago… ha ha ha :-D

  4. I remember watching a documentary awhile ago on this terrible accident, it was so horrible I started crying. My great grandmother didn’t work in a clothing factory, she worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire, England. The conditions were just as dangerous there from what I’ve read, we’ve come a long long way.

    • I hope that your great grandmother was fortunate and was never injured while working in the factory. The conditions in so many of the factories were bad back then.

  5. My mother made most of her clothing (and mine when I was growing up). Having lived through the Depression, she wasn’t one to waste anything.

  6. I wonder how one of those shirtwaists would look on a less than svelte figure, such as mine. I guess 100 years ago people were often heavier and wore shirtwaists. If I wasn’t so not wanting to sew these days, I would try it. And thank you for mentioning my blog :)

  7. I’m with Kristin re the shirtwaists. I stopped sewing when my figure spread…it was more reliable to try something in the shop and decide whether it suits me. And then, too, I’d have to give up FH and blogging due to time constraints.

  8. Bravo concept. When my Aunty K and I were looking thru ship manafests for 1899, there were a lot of seamstresses and tailors. It’s a lost art to be sure.

  9. This post made me think of the whole incident in, what was it? I can’t remember, but some sort of clothing or textile factory in a foreign country collapsed from a fire or earthquake. As you can tell, I don’t know much about it! But yes, there are a lot of people who, even with today’s technology and such, still live in terrible, inhumane (?) conditions.

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