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Sewer vs. Sewist

Oct 11, 2012
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Merriam-Webster cites the first usage of the word "sewer" meaning "one that sews" in the 14th Century.

This may be opening a can of worms, but I’m curious. How do Threads readers refer to themselves in terms of their sewing hobby? Are you a “sewer” or a “sewist”?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and others, the first known use of the word “sewer” to mean “one that sews” occurred in the 14th century. Over time, a variety of terms have evolved to describe those who sew garments. Sewer remains the dominant term, but sewist (combining “sew” with “artist”) appears to be gaining popularity, especially among sewing bloggers.

It may seem like a newfangled word created merely to provide a hip label, but the earliest printed usage of sewist was in 1964 in Annals of Science, Volume 18, published by the British Society for the History of Science (although it was not used in a positive light). “Sewist” does not yet have an entry in any dictionary, but when has that prevented a word from being adopted into common usage?

Many people who sew dislike the word “sewist”. The reasons I’ve read and heard vary, but most seem to strongly believe it to be a non-word and a hack-job on the English language. But language is in a constant state of evolution. New words and terms are coined and adapted to help us describe various aspects of our rapidly expanding cultures, societies, and technologies.

Perhaps the sticking point for the anti-“sewist” sewing population is simply that a term describing people who sew is already in widespread usage. Do we need another one?

Those who prefer “sewist” might argue that they do, even if you don’t. Perhaps “sewist” infers a more contemporary approach rather than a traditional one? There is also the close resemblance in writing between “sewer” and a word of the same spelling that means “a subterranean conduit that carries off sewage.” “Sewist” at least can’t be mistaken for that word.

Luckily, there’s room for us all, whether we identify as “sewers” or as “sewists”. We all love to create through sewing.

How do you describe yourself as a person who sews and a sewing enthusiast? Are you a sewer or a sewist?

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  1. Deewood June 13th

    I don't care for titles because you would have to carry so many I love being a sewist because I love the artistry and creativity that comes with it, such as Quilters are more sewist than seamstress. As a seamstress seams like you are limiting your abilities.

  2. User avater user-2070270 May 18th

    I learned to be a seamstress, and I still like that term better than any other. I accept that sewer is more inclusive but, like Sewinator, I associate it with "the sewer" . . . bleah! So, of the options now available, I prefer sewist. I think has a competent ring to it, actually. If it were up to me, I would coin a new word; seamster, one who works with seams.

  3. ThomasGops May 5th

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  4. Ynzr March 23rd

    I like sew-er, hyphen makes the distinction w the end of the drain.
    Think I'll try that.

  5. Ca93 March 13th

    Sewist always sounded like a combination of hobbyist and sewer to me and so I think of people using that term as less professional, just sewing for fun. Maybe that was reinforced by its wide usage of bloggers? Anyhow, I don't mind how anyone wants to describe themselves but I do tend to take sewists less seriously. I have no problem at all with sewer. Considering how widespread sewing skills once were, an earlier term actually implies greater knowledge and skills, at least in my mind.

  6. Kat42 March 9th

    Doing income tax and looking for my title as I've just changed professions, and people, I am NOT putting 'Sewer' on the form as occupation. Can you imagine? nope. uhuh.
    You folks who are hobbyists, that's all well and good but those of us who make our livings with the thread and needle might like to have a title that people don't look at on a non sequitur paper and say "what the heyyy..?"
    I like Sewist, because I sew leathers as well as fabrics, so textile or fabric artist doesn't work either, and I don't make clothes,well, not often. I make, more like build, item specific cases and bags, usually custom. I make the patterns too.
    Words become words because we use them. Remember 'truthiness'? Artist who sews works for me.

  7. User avater AHH September 22nd

    People who are offended by the word "sewer" need to get their head out of the gutter. The two terms (one who sews, and the other - what's at the end of your drain) although spelled the same, are pronounced completely differently from each other. The English language has several of such words - spelled the same, pronounced differently, mean different things.
    "Sewist" sounds like you're trying to make a political statement, and sounds pretentious (like you're trying to sound like you're somehow 'more' than all the 'sewers' of the past and don't want to be associated with them). Having said that, if I saw a poster for an exhibition of someone's work that used 'sewist', I'd think they were being pretentious and aloof and wouldn't go to their exhibit. At 60+ years of age, I don't support arrogance from anyone.
    If you want to engage in an age-old craft, have the sense to respect the tradition - that includes traditional terms.

  8. User avater wicked_stitcher September 3rd

    Hey! Let's not overthink this - we're needle artists!

  9. User avater wicked_stitcher September 3rd

    i am not hidebound about titles and words, so standing on ceremony is not my motive for preferring the simple word sew. If I want to indicate the breadth of what I love about quilting, sewing and the constellation of tricks and artistic tendencies I have, then I say that I am a needle artist, since my interests are broader than any one "thread," as it were. I say I love the needle arts or I pursue the needle arts. Never once has anyone I've used this phrase seemed puzzled by what I'm saying about my abilities. There.

  10. User avater Margherita June 13th

    Guess I'm old fashioned because I strongly dislike the term sewist. I don't like sewer or stitcher or any of those other terms. I refer to myself as a seamstress. I also use the terms, tailor, quilter and crafter.

  11. Tosca2 April 16th

    seamster or stitcher, sewist? never.

  12. User avater LindaCRH February 10th

    LOL. This question is easy for me. Let's look again at the definitions:

    Sewist: a relatively new term, combining the words "sew" and "artist", to describe someone who creates sewn works of art, which can include clothing or other items made with sewn elements.

    Sewer: an underground conduit for carrying off drainage water and waste matter.

    Now matter how you pronounce it, the spelling is exactly the same as a very unpleasant word with a very unpleasant meaning. I choose Sewist. No Brainer.

  13. user-3616558 October 21st

    Not "sewer" not "sewist" ... SEWISTA.

    Like barista or fashionista. Combines art with technique.

    I'm a sewista, how about you?

  14. CoastalSeams August 9th

    Two years later here :-) I'm happy to have people claim whatever labels they want to claim; and I respect people's choices. I call myself a sewist because I am "one who sews". At age 61 I am just old enough to have been on the tail end of label discrimination in the employment world. That is, when the difference between seamstress & tailor, waiter & waitress, actress & actor, business analyst & secretary came down to one thing: Salary. So while I am very happy to be a woman, when it comes to other labels I avoid gender-specific terms as being not relevant. I'd be happy with "sewer" if it wasn't also the term for sewage. Even though I'm a passionate sewist for decades, I don't claim the label of fiber or fabric artist. But I am very happy to use that term for those who do! As for new words, I love language and know that we people to be part of its evolution :-)

  15. User avater NiniS July 23rd

    I'm an editor with a vengeance for biased language, so I refuse to use the sexist word seamstress. The term sewer works well when talking, but has obvious problems in print. Sewist and seamster are both good alternatives. Seamster has made it into my Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary app, but sewist has not. Annoyingly, the M-W app says seamster is usually used for men. That's not how to eliminate sexist language. Inclusive language is the goal.

  16. User avater sewistyle November 16th

    I obviously prefer sewist despite the novelty of the term. As someone who has spent decades in the Fashion Industry the term provides separation for those who labour long in factories, shops and home based businesses from those who are sewing for personal style. As noted, the English language, like art and style, is constantly evolving. We gladly embrace terms like hobbit or spoof (see OED website) but hesitate over sewist. Bloggers, and textile artists alike are simply creating separation between the task and the art. I love it.

  17. User avater bluefly August 3rd

    Well, sewist is simply not a word. If it were, it would of course be an adjective. Stitcher, sewer or seamstress all work for me, but definitely not that non word!

  18. Musicat October 25th

    I agree with Serral. I've always used the word seamstress. Sewer is too easy to confuse with the word of another meaning and sewist sounds silly to me. I've been around long enough that I'll just stick with what I've always been.

  19. User avater BJ_sews_on October 19th

    Seamstress, sewer... and now sewist! I'll take any of them as long as I can keep sewing. This argument reminds me of an old art school debate on whether crafts were really art. Artists often felt that anything that wasn't an original creation couldn't be described as art.

    So often, we put our own creative spin on an idea we've seen and it evolves into something new. That's the best part of being a sewing artist, so I'll accept sewist as another apt way to describe what we do.

  20. User avater Djonee October 17th

    Honestly this is the first time Ive read the term Sewist. Though im living in modern times, there something to be said about historical terms..I like seamstress,and sewer .And i too like the motto @trixienoe.

  21. georgiana October 16th

    I really dislike the word sewist. Fabric artist is much better. I don't know how anyone can mistake sewer (one who sews) with sewer (drain). One has to look at the context of the sentence.

  22. bakertoo October 16th

    I like sewer. I like the medieval origins of the word. It can have the unfortunate similarity to the drain analogy, and I kind of think that is funny, a little fun word play! I have an annoucement from a gallery near me that I have tacked to my cork board above my sewing table, that is for a fabric artist, having a show of her stuff, and it simply says Sewer, in black letters on a dingy grey background! It makes me smile when I look at it, and I like that it reminds me of the way we define ourselves and how we can break out of the box a word or a term can enclose us in. Sewist is fine too, and I don't think just because it isn't an official word and not in a dictionary, it should be disregarded. Language evolves with us and by us, and it takes to a new place in defining who we are. It makes me think of the first quilters, who took the quilt to a new place beyond the utilitarian, and made quilting an art form. That was a hard sell to people(I would say mostly men at the time), but it is a given now-art quilts are the norm. And I think I like seamstress too! I guess I like anyway a person defines themselves, as long as they keep on sewing!

  23. Serral October 16th

    My grandmother was a professional seamstress. I like the word because it connects me to the history of the craft that I continue to learn. Historically sewing guilds were considered valuable craftspeople. The artistry of good sewing, regardless of the final product, has always been evident.

    We don't call master carpenters a new name despite the evolution of new tools and techniques so why do i need "sewist"? The sewist term seems part of a linguistic trend that includes the redundant and increasingly ubiquitous "istic" and "esque".

  24. wolfkit October 15th

    I have a problem when anybody puts an 'ist' or an 'ism' on the end of any word. It makes them look like the narrow minded extremists that most people are who use these terms to describe themselves.

  25. Trixienoe October 14th

    While reading recently I happened across a very old word for seamstress, or one who sews...Sempstress. I like it! My Motto: "Yes I sew, No I don't fix broken zippers or hem pants. I'm an Artist".

  26. User avater kathyann October 14th

    I can understand the issue people have with "sewer," but I'm with elizabethdee above who says "sewist" seems too self conscious. If I were to tell my kids I was a sewist, they'd roll their eyes at me, and most people I know wouldn't know what I was talking about. When someone asks about my hobbies, I tell them "I like to sew clothes."

  27. beadfisher October 13th

    Seamster. I like it that it sounds like a rough tough teamster rather than a wistful wishy washy sewist.

  28. reinraleigh October 13th

    I like sewist. It's modern and as kmarsden says, it is good way of combining and describing one's skills as an artist who sews.

    As a free-lance writer for several sewing publications, I do to use the word sewer, but hate typing and seeing it in print. I automatically think smelly, stinky. I do proudly state that 'I am a person who sews' and of course, if someone asked if I were a sewer, the non-smelling kind, I always answer yes!

  29. kellybird1954 October 13th

    Simple - I sew, she/he sews, they sew. It's easy to conjugate conrrectly and there is no question about what is being done.

    Sewist sounds contrived and sewer can be misread.

  30. User avater NancyinA2 October 13th

    I use "seamster." I really dislike "sewist." Maybe "sewwer"?

  31. User avater Juleo October 13th

    I'm with @elizabethdee on this one. I refer to myself as someone who sews, never a sewer. I'm interested in the word 'sewist' though, I wouldn't mind seeing it catch on but for the moment it feels too new and contrived for me.

  32. User avater elizabethdee October 12th

    I don't like either word. "sewer" is too easily misread for its other meaning, and. "sewist" sounds (to me, this is just a very individual reaction) self-conscious . And no way am I a fabric artist. I prefer to rephrase: I sew, she sews, a group of people who sew.

  33. user-2195564 October 12th

    I like Sewist. When I write the word Sewer, it always reminds me of a drain, and not a good smelling drain. The drain that runs off the house and carries away household waste is also known as a sewer.

    I am a Sewist, or a fabric artist.

  34. User avater 2boys2dogs October 12th

    I prefer sewer over sewist, but I wouldn't use either to describe what I do. We used to use seamstress, but I'm not fond of that either - seems a bit old fashioned and geared towards someone who sews just clothing. I actually think we need another term to describe what we do - fabric artist? textile artist? There has to be something better.

  35. User avater kmarsdenjohnson October 11th

    I like the idea of sewist, an artist who sews. What is the definition of seamstress?

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