Sewist? What kind of a Frankenstein word is that? Words are my livelihood. So why was I surprised by this one?
Once I was aware of sewist, the word seemed to be everywhere. It’s a popular term in sewing magazines and with bloggers.
I've been sewing for almost fifty years (yes, that's 5-0!) and I've seen a lot of improvement in home sewing over time. Could it be time for new designations for people who sew?
I wanted to know where sewist had come from and I started an investigation into its roots. The beginnings of the popular use of the word ‘sewist’ seems to stem from just after the turn of this century.
In hunting for the word and its earliest references online, the most reliable sources were no earlier than 2004. And it was common enough that people in forums began questioning its validity by 2006. Janome has a machine called Sewist. I’m still digging to find an origin.
Let me digress a moment. The word kept bringing a picture of John Wayne into my head, because of the movie, “Shootist”. For kicks I looked up the meaning and etymology of ‘Shootist’ which it turns out is a real word from the mid 1800’s.
a marksman with a pistol or rifle.
a gunfighter, as in the Old West.
I also discovered some interesting things. I learned that in the 1800’s the authentically used words to describe hired guns were shootist, pistoleer, gunfighter and badman. It wasn’t until the 1870’s that the word ‘gunman’ first appeared in print. What is really strange is that the word ‘gunslinger’ didn’t appear till the mid 1920’s and it was in … a movie! It’s a made-up word to suit the silver screen and it isn’t even a hundred years old.
But back to sewist.
Admittedly, sewist isn’t in the dictionary yet. But when did that ever stop anyone from using a word? If humongous (which my spell check actually recognizes) can become a legitimate word, sewist is a shoe-in for real word status. English, unlike some languages, is still evolving.
In sewing forums emotions run high about this word. There is a sea of comments online concerning people’s feelings about this word and they run very hot and very cold. One woman described hearing the word sewist as the equivalent of a muffler falling off a car onto cement!
So what do people who sew wish to be called? (Don't forget to leave your preference in the comments section!)
The most commonplace titles for one who sews casually are seamstress and sewer. These both have difficulties though.
A seamstress is thought of as a woman who makes a living sewing. It is from the early 1600’s and one forgotten variation of it is sempstress. So this term wouldn’t be me, I’m not a pro, just a fan.
The word sewer (so-er) has unfortunate visual problems because here in the US we call the pipes underground that carry away waste a sewer (soo-er) also. Someone suggested using a hyphen for sew-er to try to save the word and clear up the visual misunderstandings.
There is also a small subset of folks that have begun adding an ‘a’ to sewist. Sewista. Cute-ish, certainly, but maybe a bit too cute for me.
There are also the very specific titles of tailor and dressmaker too. And hey, While we’re talking about titles, what about the long lost ‘seamster’ -- short for ‘seams master’? It is the male equivalent to seamstress (seams mistress). It is so far out of the vernacular that my spell check doesn’t even know it. In fact different dictionaries will give you varying definitions. We’ve forgotten more than we’ll ever know.
My daughter, Angel, of Fleece Fun, told me her take is that sewist is a term for hobbyists who sew. Wikipedia claims that: “Sewist is 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.”
I like the fact that it is an all-inclusive word. It takes in seasoned sew-ers ( 🙂 ) and newbies alike. And of course the convenient PC fact that it takes in both genders. I like that too.
I think one should describe oneself in reasonably accurate, but comfortable terms. So I’ll just go ahead and choose one or all of these sewing titles as needed. Perhaps there is space in my head and heart for new words and a new way of looking at myself.
For me I've come down on the warm and fuzzy side of liking this word, sewist. Personally, I think it feels artsy, free-style, pleasurable and yet precise. And hey, sewing can and should be all those things. Please feel free to comment below on which title you personally prefer!
Move over John Wayne, the Sewist is in town.
Sewist references/ artwork thanks: