Sewing is a popular hobby and craft that involves the art of stitching fabrics together to create garments, home decor, accessories, and more. People who regularly sew as a hobby or profession go by various names, with the most common terms being “sewist” and “sewer.” But what exactly is the difference between these two labels?
This complete guide examines the nuanced distinctions between “sewist” and “sewer” and provides a detailed overview of how each term is used. We’ll explore the origins and evolutions of both words, when to use each one, and some additional terminology for referring to individuals who sew.
The Difference Between “Sewist” and “Sewer”
At a basic level, “sewist” and “sewer” can both be used to describe someone who sews. However, there are some key differences:
- A relatively new term that has gained popularity in recent years, especially in the DIY/crafting community.
- Used to describe someone who sews as a hobby or creative pursuit, mostly by hand or with a domestic sewing machine.
- Connotes sewing for enjoyment and self-expression versus out of necessity.
- Perceived as a more fashionable, modern label.
- Gender neutral. Can refer to sewists of any gender identity.
- Traditional term with a long history of use.
- Originally referred to professional sewers working in factories, sweatshops, etc.
- Now used broadly to describe anyone who sews, either by hand or machine.
- Applies to sewing as a profession, hobby, chore, or skill.
- No strong creative/fashion connotation.
- Sometimes seen as an outdated or unfashionable term.
- Most often used to refer to women who sew.
So in summary, “sewist” is a more niche, gender-neutral term used by hobbyists/craft enthusiasts, while “sewer” is an older, broader label that can be used for professionals and amateurs alike. Both are valid terms for people who sew, but carry slightly different connotations.
History and Origins
To better understand the distinction, let’s examine the origins and evolution behind both terms.
Origins of “Sewer”
The word “sewer” (meaning someone who sews) has been in use since at least the 15th century. It comes from the Old French word “sewiere,” meaning seamstress. Back then, most sewers were professional tradespeople who made clothing, tapestries, and items for the home by hand.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, sewing was very labor-intensive and required great skill. Seamstresses and tailors were respected craftspeople who served their communities by stitching garments and textiles. The term “sewer” or “sewist” was not differentiated by gender.
With the rise of factories and mass production in the 1800s, “sewer” became more associated with low-wage factory workers, many of them women and children. The terminology had a more negative connotation during this period.
Today, anyone who sews may identify as a sewer, regardless of skill level or purpose. The term has regained some of its original neutrality. However, it’s still seen by some as old-fashioned compared to “sewist.”
Origins of “Sewist”
The term “sewist” emerged in recent decades as a chic alternative to “sewer.” The coining of this label is often credited to Seamwork Magazine, launched in 2013. Their goal was to rebrand sewing as a stylish, empowering hobby for modern makers.
The suffix “-ist” gave the term a more creative connotation, on par with words like barista, novelist, or guitarist. Adding the “i” also made the word gender-neutral and more inclusive.
While Seamwork helped popularize the term, some credit earlier uses dating back to the 1990s. The term gained momentum through sewing blogs and social media as enthusiasts adopted the label.
Today “sewist” is widely used in the DIY community to describe someone who sews for fulfillment versus necessity. It lacks the utilitarian implications of “sewer.”
Current Usage and Connotations
Now that we’ve examined the history behind both terms, let’s discuss how they are used in a modern context.
When to Use “Sewist”
The term “sewist” is best suited for those who sew as a creative hobby or to make custom garments. Typical usages include:
- A home sewist who makes clothes for themselves or family
- Someone who enjoys sewing gifts or decor by hand
- A sewist who shares DIY fashion projects on social media
- Crafters who quilt, embroider, or alter clothing as a form of self-expression
- Small-scale independent designers and Etsy sellers who make handmade items to sell
Sewists are passionate about the craft and want to identify with a modern, fashion-oriented label. Most sewists would say that sewing brings them joy versus being a chore.
When to Use “Sewer”
“Sewer” remains an appropriate generic term for anyone who sews, including:
- Seamstresses, tailors, upholsterers, and manufacturing sewers who work in the garment and textile industries
- Home sewers who make clothes and items for household use
- People who learn to sew out of necessity, like mending their own clothes
- Those who sew for utility rather than creative satisfaction
- Anyone who wouldn’t identify with the “sewist” label
For some, “sewer” has too many negative or old-fashioned connotations. But many professional and casual sewers proudly claim the traditional term. It simply means someone possessing the skill to sew, without creative or gender implications.
One key distinction is that “sewist” is now considered a gender-neutral term that can refer to sewing hobbyists of any gender identity.
“Sewer,” despite originally applying to both male and female sewers, is more commonly associated with women today. However, a sewer can still be any gender. Some men who sew prefer to identify as “sewers” or “sewists.”
Neither term inherently carries a negative meaning, but some consider “sewer” to be outdated or associate it with past exploitation in factories.
Others find “sewist” to be pretentious or unnecessary when “sewer” suffices. This comes down to personal preference and context.
Synonyms and Related Terms
There are a few additional labels worth mentioning:
- Seamstress/Seamster – A gendered term for those who sew professionally or have exceptional skill. Seamstress refers to a woman, while the male form is seamster.
- Stitcher – A more casual and gender-neutral term for someone who sews that focuses on the act of stitching.
- Crafter/Maker – Broader terms for DIY enthusiasts skilled in various hands-on hobbies like sewing, knitting, carpentry, etc.
- Machinist – Describes a skilled worker who operates sewing machines, usually in a factory setting.
- Tailor/Dressmaker – Sewers who make custom clothing and alterations professionally.
- Quilter – A sewist who specializes in quilting techniques to make bed covers and quilted items.
In summary, “sewist” and “sewer” are overlapping terms used to describe people who sew. While there’s some nuance between the two labels, both can apply to sewing enthusiasts and professionals alike.
“Sewist” is a more fashionable term associated with DIY culture, crafters, and hobbyists. “Sewer” has broader applications and a long history as a traditional descriptor. But it sometimes carries outdated connotations.
The meaning really depends on individual perspectives and context. One is not necessarily better or worse than the other. While the terminology has evolved, the artistry and skill behind sewing remain equally impressive.
So whether you identify as a proud sewist, a seasoned sewer, or simply someone who sews, both terms help demonstrate a shared passion for the craft. The label matters far less than the satisfaction of stitching beautiful, functional creations by hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some common questions about the terms “sewist” and “sewer” to help summarize key points:
What is the difference between a sewist and a sewer?
The main difference is that “sewist” often implies sewing as a creative hobby or craft, while “sewer” is a broader, traditional term for anyone who sews. “Sewist” emerged more recently as a stylish alternative favored by hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts.
When should I use sewist vs. sewer?
Use “sewist” when referring to hobby sewists who make garments, crafts, accessories, etc. for fun and self-expression. Use “sewer” as a generic term for all sewers or when referring to those who sew out of necessity or as a profession.
Is sewist more modern than sewer?
Yes, “sewist” is considered a more fashionable, modern label coined in recent decades to rebrand sewing as a cool hobby. “Sewer” is an older, established term.
Is sewist gendered?
No, “sewist” is now considered a gender-neutral term suitable for sewers of any gender identity. “Sewer” was originally gender-neutral but is more commonly associated with women today.
Are sewist and sewer interchangeable?
Sewist and sewer are often used interchangeably, but “sewist” implies sewing for creative enjoyment rather than utility or work. Context helps determine the right usage.
What other terms describe someone who sews?
Related terms include seamstress/seamster, stitcher, crafter, maker, machinist, tailor, dressmaker, and quilter. The terminology depends on factors like gender, profession, and sewing specialty.
Is one better than the other: sewist or sewer?
Neither term is inherently better or worse. Sewist became popular to add a creative connotation, but sewer remains a valid, traditional descriptor for all who sew. Personal preference determines which label someone identifies with.