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Secrets Of Sewing Machine Repair

Secrets Of Sewing Machine Repair

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From the 1970s onward, fashion commentators have often noted a marked plurality of styles, compared to the former singularity of fashion houses' diktats; a development engendering fertile environments for alternative, niche fashions, and retrogressive styling. Thus secondhand clothing has come to be seen as offering potential for expressing individual and more autonomous style.

The early 2000s have seen widespread fashion trends reflecting early twentieth-century styles and the decades after World War II. In such a fashion Zeitgeist, the cultural and economic capital of secondhand clothing, or vintage as it is latterly termed, has vastly increased. Secondhand clothes' stylistic appreciation has created new markets for its retail: for instance, in designated concessions of urban fashion multiples, within the high-fashion collections of designers including Martin Margiela, and on auction websites, such as Ebay.

The international recirculation of used clothing is not as straightforward as simply the export from richer to poorer nations: specific markets present more demand for particular items, for example Japan imports a considerable percentage of the world's trade in used designer denim jeans and sneakers. In these ways the state of the secondhand clothes trade could be understood as diversifying in economic potential and enjoying a favorable shift in its industrial, public, and cultural profiles.

See also Recycled Textiles; Secondhand Clothes, Anthropology of; Vintage Fashion.


Allerston, Patricia. "Reconstructing the Second-Hand Clothes Trade in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Venice." Costume 33 (1999): 46-56. Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion, Desire and Anxiety. I. B. Tauris and Co., 2001.

Ginsburg, Madeleine. "Rags to Riches: The Second-Hand Clothes Trade 1700-1978." Costume 14 (1980): 121-135. Often-quoted and very thorough. Sanderson, C. Elizabeth. "Nearly New: The Second-Hand Clothing Trade in Eighteenth-Century Edinburgh." Costume 31 (1997): 38-48. Stanisland, Kay. "Samuel Pepys and His Wardrobe" Costume 37 (1997): 41-50.

Transberg, Karen Hansen. "Other People's Clothes? The International Second-hand Clothing Trade and Dress Practises in Zambia." Fashion Theory 4, no. 3 (2000): 245-274.

Excellent overview of international trade.

Lynda Fitzwater

SEQUINS. See Spangles. SERGE. See Denim.

SEVENTH AVENUE When a famed street is both conceptual and geographic, as Seventh Avenue in New York City is, commenting on it becomes many-pronged. To David Wolfe, the creative director of the Doneger Group, a major buying office, Seventh Avenue is a state of the mind, the creative epicenter of American fashion. He believes that where it once was a vital apparel and distribution center, it now functions as a showcase for designers and manufacturers. To Wolfe, "It is more than a street or a neighborhood, it is the geographic symbol of the power of American style."

In the 1930s, the Garment Center, as this area was called—between 6th and 9th Avenues from 30th to 42 nd Streets—was the city's largest industry, and the fourth largest in the country. Three-quarters of ready-made coats and dresses, and four out of five fur coats worn by American women, were made here.

Surprisingly, over the years, not that many books have been written about Seventh Avenue, the reality, but one author (and manufacturer) who tackled it was Murray Sices, who in 1953, could still write in his tome, not surprisingly, called Seventh Avenue, "Seventh Avenue in the city of New York, between 35 th and 40th Street, is not merely a geographic location. It's a legend. It's the birthplace of miracles. It's the fast-beating heart of an industry whose bloodstreams course through America. ... Here with almost 4,000 firms crowded into a few square blocks, you have a concentration of apparel manufacturers such as the world has never seen elsewhere."

That was then, this is now, and there have been many changes, most of them disastrous for Seventh Avenue and its environs. In 2000 alone, citywide garment-making jobs fell to 60,700 down from 70,100 in 1998. There were 3,260 apparel-making shops in 2000 as opposed to 3,591 in 1999, according to Grain's New York Business Magazine. The publication reported in 2001, "Voluntarily or not, garment workers in New York are mobbing the exits." Industry watchers were shocked at what was happening, especially those who thought the employment drop had bottomed out in the late 1990s. Historically, however, there has been a loss of manufacturing jobs going back more than thirty years. Gone are many wholesalers and textile companies as well as companies that supplied everything. Garment manufacturing has dropped along with everything else, from buttons to zippers and other necessities for a complete garment; even jobbers have disappeared and positions in showrooms also have evaporated.

Also there is the major question of rents that have reportedly increased in double or triple digits. Cheap imports, too, have become major culprits in the changing face of Seventh Avenue.

On the slightly brighter side, even though manufacturing of apparel is down from the 300,000 workers at its peak in the 1950s, clothing accounts for about one-fourth of the manufacturing jobs in the city, and it's still a most important entry into the business world for immigrants from everywhere. Seventh Avenue and its surrounding businesses probably will endure, because designers, even in the age of the computer, will still need workers nearby to whip up small runs of high-end clothing.

However, that segment of the business is also no longer so significant. At a time when conglomerates have swallowed up many of the major department stores, and specialty stores and discounters swamp shopping malls, the ability to ship quickly is no longer so vital. Bud Konheim, the head of Nicole Miller Inc., one of Seventh Avenue's stalwarts, still refers to himself as a "quick turnaround guy," and retains his belief in "Made in the U.S.A." through thick and thin.

In the early 2000s, Grain's reported that the New York Industrial Retention Network would release a study showing 60 percent of apparel leases in the garment district will expire momentarily, putting the entire local industry in a negative position.

Even though everything is changing, there is still plenty of excitement just walking Seventh Avenue and the adjacent Broadway buildings like 1410 Broadway or 550 Seventh Avenue. Models still run to do a day's work at a manufacturer's showroom during New York Fashion Week. The Tower of Babel voices from different cultures still are part of street life and lore. There are still plenty of small cafés doing takeout, or one can sit and have bagels or more exotic fare served fast and furiously.

Plenty of New Yorkers, including the mayor and other politicians, want to keep Seventh Avenue and its environs as vital as they have ever been. In 1993 the Fashion Center Business Improvement Center was inaugurated, its mission to promote garment manufacturing, but ten years later BID's concept had changed. The idea is to perhaps create for the district (running roughly from Fifth to Ninth Avenues and West 35 th to 41st streets) a 24-hour seven-day-a-week place with diverse and residential units, including a fashion museum and more retail stores. BID's design center will add to the neighborhood's continuing unique personality, and allow it to remain, if not strictly a garment manufacturing area, a fashion district.

Gerald Scupp, the deputy director of the Fashion Center (which has its street of famous designers, called the Fashion Walk of Fame, similar to Grauman's Chi nese Theatre in Hollywood which has its famous actors' hand- and footprints) notes many initiatives have failed, but he believes, and the report suggests, that abolishing special zoning that restricts non-manufacturing uses and keeps rents low for manufacturers could work. There will be those who will object, however.

Rent alone does not explain the declining job numbers, nor do cheap imports, for some manufacturers have defected to cheaper spaces in Brooklyn and Queens, but even this has not been entirely satisfactory. Another factor is the sub rosa conversion to office space with city officials looking the other way, rather than upholding the special district concept, according to Adam Friedman, the network's executive director. He notes the city stopped inspections in 1993.

Also taking a toll on legitimate design houses in New York City are manufacturers who violate the law by not paying overtime or taxes, so many of their workers do not show up on official job statistics. If all workers were truly accounted for, the number of city garment workers might double, according to Louis Vanegas, district director of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor. But even Vanegas agrees the uncounted jobs are declining and don't really account for the precipitous drop in manufacturing.

So, what will happen to Seventh Avenue and its environs if jobs decline at historic rates? According to the BID report in the early 2000s, only about 17,000 of the city's 50,000 apparel manufacturing positions will be around by 2010. However, as of early 2004, fashion-related businesses still make up the majority of the district—64 percent or 4,245—but more of these are showrooms or mixed uses. Other tenants range from printers, ad agencies, theaters, and an unknown number of illegal residential tenants who are tucked away in lofts and other spaces. Actually, the area is becoming more residential legally, and BID supports the idea. Many property owners would love to see zoning laws changed.

That the problems of Seventh Avenue remain is borne out by a Woman's Wear Daily article on June 10, 2003 headed "U.S. Makers Fading Away." The piece, by Scott Malone, notes, "The withering of the nation's production base has gotten to the point where even the makers of high-end apparel, who typically were able to digest the higher costs of domestic production because of their higher prices, have begun to break into camps on the question of whether making clothing in the U.S. will remain a viable strategy for the years to come."

The article maintains that the same economic pressures that pushed most mainstream apparel manufacturing out of the country are taking hold in the top-drawer designer market. "Eventually all that will be left in this country will be a small clique of sample makers."

But all is not lost for the Seventh Avenue of the early twenty-first century. The article makes clear there is still a shrinking group of high-end designers whose dresses carry three or even four-figure price tags who contend that domestic manufacturing in New York continues to make sense. These businessmen argue that being close to their factories allows a higher level of quality control and a faster rate of turnaround than is available overseas. Bud Konheim, "the quick turnaround guy" of Nicole Miller says, "The advantage of being domestic has nothing to do with cost." What keeps half of his company's manufacturing here are garment-district contractors. Konheim says, "You can get cheaper prices by going offshore, but then you've got a longer lead time; you have to make your decisions earlier, and you have to cut bigger quantities, so you have a lack of control. And, lack of control, in this marketplace, is very dangerous because some orders you take are not real orders. You have people canceling." He adds that domestic manufacturing is viable only if a brand's fashions are sufficiently distinctive so that retailers can't get a similar product elsewhere.

Another major manufacturer, who is also a highly prized designer, Oscar de la Renta, whose firm has long been on Seventh Avenue, still makes the majority of his line in the United States. For him also, quality concerns are a key reason for staying here. The firm's mixture of local and foreign sourcing has not changed since the early 1990s.

Famed handbag and accessories firm Judith Leiber continues to manufacture on West 33 rd Street because so many of its workers have been with the company for a long time and their talents are specialized.

However, one of the problems of the apparel industry decline is that so many of the businesses that supported companies like trim suppliers or firms that stocked replacement parts died because of lack of customers. Konheim said his company has to contract many operations overseas including beading, embroidering, and hand knitting, because it no longer can find domestic companies doing that work. Ironically, at a time when going global has caused so many problems for unique Seventh Avenue and its environs, the cachet of a "Made in the U.S.A." label remains high in Asian markets as well as in the United States and throughout the world, so there is hope.

Nowhere where apparel and its appurtenances are created is there the excitement that was and is Seventh Avenue with its polyglot charisma, its smells and street noises, its buying and selling, its rushing and stopping, its garment racks flying down the street in competent hands. Clothing is manufactured around the world, but no one has a Seventh Avenue except New York, New York.

See also Fashion Designer; Garments, International Trade in; Leiber, Judith; Ready-to-Wear.


Curan, Catherine. "More Fashionable Garment Area Plan."

Cram's New York Business (10 March 2003). Fredrickson, Tom. "Garment Area Jobs Stripped." Cram's New

York Business (26 March 2001).

Malone, Scott. "U.S. Makers Fading Away." Women's Wear

Sices, Murray. Seventh Avenue. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1953. Outdated, but provides interesting earlier background information on Seventh Avenue.

Margot Siegel

SEWING MACHINE Just as the needle marked the beginning of humanity's first technological and aesthetic efflorescence, the sewing machine affected not just tailoring and dressmaking but manufacturing technology, intellectual property management, marketing, advertising, consumer finance, world commerce, and technological leadership. Even more fundamentally, and largely unexpectedly, the sewing machine became a new kind of product—it was both commercial and domestic, and, in appearance, both industrial and ornamental. The continuing development of machine sewing is in part the story of the changing balance between household and factory.

Like the personal computer over 125 years later, early commercially successful sewing machines combined a number of separate innovations into a new system for which an immense latent demand existed. In fact, the crucial single innovation, made by Elias Howe Jr. in his patent of 1846, was a system based on a radically new curved, grooved needle with an eye at the point end. Instead of making an easily unraveled chain stitch that emulated manual work, it engaged thread from the needle with another in a moving shuttle to create a stronger lock stitch. It was the first machine with a significant advantage in speed over hand sewing, but was limited to straight stitching and could complete only a limited length of material at a time. Another inventor, John Bachelder, remedied the Howe machine's drawbacks with an improved design patented in 1849, allowing continuous sewing of material with a needle moving up and down on a horizontal table. Isaac Merritt Singer made a series of other improvements in 1850 and 1851, making curved stitching possible and replacing the hand wheel with a treadle.

While no single inventor controlled all the patents needed to make commercially successful equipment, Singer and the others were able to settle the claims of Howe and to include his original patent in a pool. For a substantial fixed fee per machine, partly distributed by the corporation to its patent holders, any manufacturer could produce sewing machines without infringement.

The American setting was essential for the sewing machine's success in the 1850s. A French tailor, Barthélemy Thimonnier, had secured French government support in the 1830s for establishment of a firm using his wooden-framed sewing machines to produce military uniforms. A crowd of journeyman tailors had wrecked them as a threat to their livelihoods. In the United States of the 1850s there was no comparably powerful and politically active craft organization. To the contrary, America was already leading the world in production of ready-made garments; even before the Civil War, companies were using standardized measurements and patterns to remove the most skilled and best-paid parts of tailoring from the manufacturing process. Jacksonian Americans hoped ready-made clothing of mechanically spun and woven fabrics would limit visible class distinctions in public life, closing the gap between the custom tailoring of middle- and upper-class men and the rough workman's clothing called slops. In 1835, one New York firm was advertising for three hundred male and five hundred female tailors, and another for twelve hundred "plain sewers."

Such manufacturers embraced mechanical sewing rapidly, as it increased productivity by up to 500 percent. From 1853 to 1860 the number of machines sold in the United States rose from 1,609 to 31,105, reaching 353,592 by 1875. But domestic applications soon overtook industrial uses. Isaac Singer, a former actor, pioneered a national and international sales campaign to introduce his machine into the home. Singer's associate, the attorney Edward Clark, developed the first national sales organization and the first widely accepted hire-purchase plan, successful even among buyers who could have paid cash. Since women of all social classes were expected to sew and repair women's and children's clothing, it appeared to offer a great savings in time. Its high price actually helped make it a prestigious purchase, usually on prominent display—one of the first manifestations of an industrial aesthetic in the home. (The Singer machine contained over one hundred pounds of cast iron, among other materials.) Yet working-class women who could afford payments also saw it as a means of self-sufficiency; for young women it was an attractive alternative to domestic service.

Clark and Singer established luxurious sales rooms for displaying machines and their use, spent millions in advertising, and established global sales and service organizations, the first of their kind. Economic historians have suggested that the vigorous marketing by Singer and other firms spread information that, in turn, stimulated new improvements of the machine in a virtuous circle. They have also noted that the Singer Company continued to use conservative, European-style craft production systems after its rivals had adopted interchangeable parts, making the change only when sales volume demanded it. Despite this delay, the sewing machine industry became a new foundation of productive techniques that helped U.S. industry challenge Britain's dominance in mechanical engineering.

The sewing machine reached maturity relatively quickly. The 1865 Singer New Family machine was sold into the twentieth century, and some home sewers still swear by the robustness of related surviving models. After the original patents expired in 1877 and the combination of patent holders was dissolved, prices continued to drop. Sears, Roebuck and other new merchandisers aggressively promoted well-built and relatively inexpensive private-brand machines. While this strategy helped maintain real-dollar sales and widespread home sewing machine use, it also hastened the decline of the sewing machine's status. Meanwhile technicians and inventors who worked in sewing machine production were turning design and production skills to new generations of devices, including typewriters (which offered similar challenges in precise alignment) and phonographs (which also used rotary motion and the needle).

Motor-powered machines began to appear in the 1910s, but until the 1930s many potential customers outside major cities still lacked home electricity. The great change in the early twentieth century was in attitudes toward home sewing and the machine. The increased availability, improved styling, and higher quality of ready-made women's clothing turned the sewing machine from a timesaver to a money-saver. Homemade clothing began to be stigmatized. In the 1920s, domestic management shifted from making to selecting things. Electrification of factory sewing machines reinforced this trend by increasing productivity and reducing the prices of ready-made clothing. And the expense of materials wasted by mistakes discouraged neophyte home sewers. Ironically, electrification was welcome in part because it made it easier to hide the machine on a closet shelf between uses.

Expanding career opportunities for women after World War II made the domestic sewing machine a niche appliance, sometimes used as a fallback during price inflation and for mending. With the rise of sold-state control, using programmable integrated circuits instead of or in addition to mechanical controls like cams and with the globalization of the apparel and footwear industries, sewing machine production moved in the later twentieth century first to Japan and then to China. The division of labor in industry encouraged the multiplication of special-purpose machines, of which Japanese firms in the 1990s offered over one thousand models. High-speed production is posing a new range of technical challenges; needles, threads, and fabrics must be designed to work with advanced equipment. (Some economists believe that stronger thread for machine sewing was one of the twentieth century's most productive innovations.)

In home sewing, computerization has encouraged not output but creative control, in that a new variety of stitches and functions are available. High-end home machines can exceed the cost of some industrial machines in price. The attraction is no longer saving time or money, but creating apparel and home furnishings with designs unavailable in the marketplace. In the global economy pioneered by the sewing machine, household and industrial sewing have parted ways again.

See also Needles; Seamstresses. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Burman, Barbara, ed. The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption, and Home Dressmaking. Oxford and New York: Berg,


Connolly, Marguerite. "The Disappearance of the Domestic Sewing Machine, 1890-1925." Winterthur Portfolio (1999): 31-48.

Cooper, Grace Rogers. The Sewing Machine: Its Invention and Development. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1976.

Godfrey, Frank P. An International History of the Sewing Machine. London: Robert Hale, 1982.

Hounshell, David. From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

Jensen, Joan M., and Sue Davidson. A Needle, a Bobbin, a Strike: Women Needleworkers in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984.

Edward Tenner

SEYDOU, CHRIS Chris Seydou (1949-1994) was a pioneer in promoting African fashion designers on the international stage. He created clothing that drew on his roots in Mali, West Africa, yet his designs evaded neat categorization as African. Seydou was well known for his adaptation of African textiles, including Mali's bogolan fabric, to haute couture. Seydou's bell-bottom pants, motorcycle jackets, and tight miniskirts made of distinctively African fabrics caused a stir in Mali and drew attention to his work abroad. Seydou's designs have been published in numerous French, German, Ivoirian, and Senegalese as well as Malian fashion magazines. He showed his designs in Europe as well as Africa, and worked with internationally renowned designers, most notably Paco Rabanne.

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