The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Stigma of Trade School

I find this article very interesting, and like a lot of articles today about trade schools it tells a similar story – that story is that a lot of kids who are bright, and some even have college degrees, opt for trade school, where most parents would shudder at the decisions of their children to do so.  This means that these kids who opt to go into a trade are usually doing so at the opposition of their parents.  But here’s another interesting fact – a quote from another article:

In Europe, theAtlantic says, half of all high school students are steered into trade school. As a former professor at a state university, I’d say that percentage is about right. It isn’t because my students weren’t capable of succeeding at a university; they were. It isn’t because they weren’t engaged; they were. It’s because they didn’t know what the hell they wanted out of a university education.

More Than Just About Money

Now, thinking about trade school as a place to go to earn a living, and especially avoiding the very inexpensive training/education expense, is a perfect place to understand what a person wants out of life. But there’s more to this trade school stuff than simply earning a living.  A lot of graduates from high school clearly do have an interest in a craft or trade and want to pursue it, but because of the stigma of trade school, they aren’t encouraged to do that.  Instead, they are told that a degree is better than doing what they clearly would prefer to do and what brings them great joy.  There is nothing like looking at a carpenter doing his /her job to realize that this task brings him/her great job and satisfaction.  That satisfaction can even be read in other tasks like metal welding in building structures, bricklaying, even solving technical plumbing problems.  I know this sounds a little like, “Oh yeah, Claire, I can see the plumber who comes to my door to fix the overflowing john is just elated with his work!!!”   Don’t kid yourself.  That fellow goes home to a beautiful home that is built like a castle and you’re paying for it!  Simply because a man’s hands are stained with wood stain, or grease or dirt doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy their work.  The work of making is a very enjoyable experience.  I know.  I experience it every day.

People think that working with brides and debs and other formal events is a nightmare in the making.  Actually, it isn’t.  For me, it’s participating in almost always the happiest day of a client’s life and for them to trust me to make this one of the best days of their life, is not only an honor, but I take it very seriously.  I get to make a girl’s dream come true.  I mean, really – who wouldn’t want to help make a girl’s dream come true.  Granted, I can’t defy gravity or read minds, but I can do almost everything else, and there is a great sense of satisfaction and joy I receive when I’m able to do that for a client…, I also get paid for it!

Learning A Vocation As A Vocation

But a lot of folks consider trade school (and I consider any Home Ec-ish type education in the trade school category, especially sewing), offers is an immediate job after only 2 years of study, and sometimes concurrent with high school education, meaning that the minute a high-schooler graduates, he/she has a job with a decent income without the expense or time of a 4-year party education.  At the same time, what a lot of trade school working graduates realize is that they are almost always forming their own company and learning a lot about the practicality of life, so that if they want to go on and get that 4-year education, it would probably be more like 3-years and clearly geared toward what they wanted to learn.

There’s another aspect here both articles touch on a little and that is that there is a craft almost always involved in trade school – whether it’s learning how to solve a plumbing problem, a carpentry issue so that it looks the best, or sewing a garment for a person who is difficult to fit, that brings a huge amount of satisfaction and joy.  I know this happens to me every time I finish a project.  I still marvel at how an idea or even a picture can turn into an object that I can touch and feel and of course wear and use.

But the stigma still exists.  The damaging number the women’s movement did on sewing has been nothing short of complete.  Today that stigma still exists.  Many people feel that sewing is like the left, and certainly not the right.

The truth that most people think about sewing is like some sort of fantasy that was created by the Unicorn Committee of Atlantis!  If you sew, you must wear hairnets and be weird and certainly not be pretty, modern or with-it.

It’s amazing who really sews.

These people are anything but fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned, and certainly aren’t ugly.  They are all accomplished, sharp and excel at their vocations, but they sew.  Some of them sew for empowerment (they can decide exactly what they want to wear), and Roberts sews because she doesn’t want her brain to get all mushy when she’s older.  Yep, that’s right;  sewing keeps you sharp because it uses that age-old tool to keep the little grey cells sharp as a tack:  problem-solving.

It’s Not All About Vocation

But OK – so celebrities, sew;  so what?  And OK it keeps your mind sharp – big deal!  How about it makes you a better consumer.  Those who know how to sew and know how a garment goes together make a far superior consumer and shopper than those who don’t.  They know where to look for mistakes, they know how clothes are supposed to be constructed, and they know what cheap clothes are cheap for a reason and usually cost way more than expensive clothes.  Huh?  Yes, I’m the queen of typos, but that’s exactly what I meant to say.


And The Economics Are Truly Scary

Cheap clothes are more expensive than expensive clothes.  The reason is that with cheap clothes – it’s like you’re renting them – for a really high price, while expensive clothes are something you own for a lifetime, at the least for decades.  This means that with expensive clothes you are purchasing far less and you aren’t shopping and searching (by driving from store to store or online), and wasting a lot of your time.  This is a statement from Balenciaga from 1950 (click on the picture – it’s really big and you can see the details).  The verbiage on the right is the translation with conversion to French Francs and then conversion to US 2018 %.  This is not meant to gloat or point a finger at rich people.  It’s meant to clearly put us in context as to what fine clothing costs.  The truth is that this is the only fine clothing that is available now to the consumer – that means that if you want something well-made, this is a way most available to consumers.  This is not ready-to-wear (RTW) or Prêt á Porter.  This is custom made clothing.  Now if you know someone who will sew for you, it will be a little less, but not much, because if that person is good, that person won’t sew for peanuts and certainly won’t sew in competition with Zara or Forever 21 or even Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman.

The sad lack of DIY’ers and craftspeople in this country and in Europe and the world, is at such a shortage, that when people want something nice, they are totally at a loss.  That goes for nice furniture, nice home accessories, nice clothing accessories and of course nice clothing.  It is as such a loss that the only source for well-made clothing is no longer even the upscale department stores that used to carry these up-scale clothes all the time.  Even the Chanel jacket in these stores is not lined, not well made and at best very flimsy and sells for a whopping $5000 and up.  This is plainly robbery.  And why?  Because the consumer has no idea what makes up a well-made garment or what makes a well-made piece of furniture or how a well-made house is built or even how well-constructed plumbing is made.

College Is More Of A Dead End Than Not

As if that weren’t sad enough, about 28% that go to college get a bachelor’s degree.*  That means that not only the chance of a real vocation has passed them by (by mentoring or attending a vocational or trade school), but that the rest of life will most likely pass them by as without either a trade school education or college education, relegation to a very low-paying job is assured.  So that’s almost 60% of students who attend college, won’t finish;  won’t get a bachelor’s degree, won’t even get the chance to learn a trade.  It’s a terrible waste of resources all because there’s this false belief that a 4-year college degree is the end-all, when in reality, for little or sometimes even no debt, a high-school graduate can attend a 2-year vocational school or trade school and walk into the market place and earn $56,000/year.  That’s a nice sweet income without 4-year college debt.

But the problem is, for some parents and even for some kids, to say that their child has a degree in sociology or education or music or social sciences or women’s studies is far more prestigious than saying that their child is a working carpenter or welder or plumber, even though the latter makes more money and is out of debt and has a great sense of satisfaction and joy in the job he/she has.

For me – when I had the chance to go back to work when the economy went south, I looked seriously at taking an office position that would have meant security, probably a lot of benefits, probably some status, and I thought long and hard about it.  If I took that office job, I would either be nuts, in jail and/or on drugs and/or alcohol.  It may have been what my parents would have wanted and my mother did tell me she was embarrassed to say that her daughter was sewing for people (until I started designing debutante and wedding gowns), but it came down to my happiness in life and I knew that no matter what I did, I wanted to do it well, and would be devoted to the job.  To be devoted to an office job was simply not even close to providing any sort of happiness factor for me.  I had been there and done that, including the office politics, the goading, the silly adherence to cost centers and all the other stupid malarkey that goes on in an office.  If I went into clothing design and made garments for people, I could watch a vision that was a couple of synapses in my brain turn into a real, concrete garment that would make a client look beautiful and feel beautiful.  This was a no-brainer for me.

I would really like to encourage people to re-think vocational and trade schools.  They aren’t for everyone, but neither is the 4-year college degree for everyone.  The happiness of a person is so valuable and to watch a student go into a vocation that makes him/her really happy has it’s own joy – not counting the money they can make in a market that is crying for craftspeople and tradespeople.


*This link is to a fascinating document outlining the lack of college education to educate a lot of students, and how vocational and trade schools can fill that void very well.  The interesting part starts on p. 16 (they say p. 9, but it’s p. 16 in the document)

  1. I understand your point. I have grandsons that aren’t that great school/wise but the goal is college.
    But to get into an apprentice program to be a carpenter, auto mechanic or plumber might be a good idea.
    When the car doesn’t run an auto mechanic is a valuable resource. So is a plumber when the toilet overflows.
    That college degree won’t get either one of those fixed by itself.

    • Margaret – part of the issue here is that there are so few people coming into these trades like plumbing, carpentry, auto mechanic, that when they do enter the field, they have so much business that they really don’t have time to concern themselves with whether they should have gone to college or not. College sounds like the “end-all” which it’s not – it’s one of many choices that are available, and when you make college the “end all” and “best” choice, that makes those other choices all that much more profitable and easier to enter into.

      I watch my Walt as he fixes a w/c and builds a new vanity, while his son has a problem with his fence cause the rabbits keep invading his yard through the fence. He has to call his dad to figure out how to solve the problem and then build a guard along the bottom of the fence to prevent the rabbits from chomping on his plants. His son, like me, is amazed at what his father knows and can do.

  2. I wanted to go to Le Cordon Bleu or Lesage. Yep, cooking or sewing. Or in my case, Bread/Pastry or Embroidery/Passamenterie. My mother was mortified. I ended up a secretary with a B.A. that took me 10 years of night school to get. And of course as the way with secretaries, once you hit 50….the boss wants someone young and pretty at the front desk. You find yourself at a computer in a corner with the file cabinets, hating it all. What a waste. I’m finally done with all that and am hacking my way through learning what I really wanted to do.

    After all these years, my mother says she had wanted me to be a teacher. This is a job I would never think of doing. So, if you’re out there reading this, go ahead, learn to make boats, fix diesel engines, embroider in gold, or make couture sweaters: go do it!

    Thanks for the great article.

    • Exactly – this is what happened with me – pushed to college, and then when I found what I wanted to do (which at the time, my mother thought was a “hobby” so it was OK to learn it), and THEN I went into business – sewing for others (in my mother’s parlance it was “taking in sewing”) made it look like we had no money and therefore I needed to do “anything” to earn money. Although I did start my company in the middle of an economic depression, I continued the company when the economy was good and have expanded it to teaching and instruction as well as still taking in my clients. And I’m happier as much now as I was when I first started my company.

  3. Claire, my son has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. I prodded him into taking a basic machining class at the local junior college between his junior and senior year. The year between his sophomore and junior years he took a welding class. He graduated from college and floundered because he had no confidence that he belonged in engineering. He then went back to the junior college and took more machining classes. He’s now employed as a machinist. I couldn’t be happier. In my family we make things. What you are saying is so right.

    • So glad your son has the prodding and encouragement to go back to doing machinist work. This is one of those careers that is so lacking in people applying that they are well-employed and well-paid! Glad he’s happy in what he does.

  4. Yes, yes, and yes!! So very true! The emphasis on college in America is sad.

    • Well, it’s like the “only” choice when you graduate from high school when there are not only many choices as good, but some that are even better out there.

  5. Amen! I attended a high school where 90% of graduates went on to college so it was assumed that I would do the same and I was miserable. After one year at university I convinced my parents that I needed a different goal. I successfully completed a course at secretarial school and had a great career and always had a good job which suited my detailed oriented mind. But sewing was always my love and I kept my toe in it sewing garments for limited clients. After marriage I stopped secretarial work and jumped into bridal sewing which worked out well while raising my family. Later I returned to office work but continued to sew for a select few. Now retired I am happy to sew for myself and enjoy teaching other this wonderful craft. Sorry this is so long but it’s just to point out that my 2 trades have served me so well and feel so grateful!

  6. Claire, Every parent should have this article available to them when their kids are in jr high.
    I think there would be a lot more happy and contented young people out there!

    My nephew is a prime example. His mother worked at a university so his tuition was free. He thought he should take advantage of that as did his mother. In the 70’s ADHD wasn’t recognized but he certainly fit the diagnosis! He struggled through college for 5 yrs and got a degree in accounting, worked for an investment and financial company until he was 57 when he was offered and early retirement option, which he gladly took.

    He had happily built decks and finished basements for friends and neighbors during his weekends all those years he was working in an office that stressed him out.
    Now he’s finally happily doing what he loves and still making good money!

    • Marlette – that’s my story – I was so pushed toward college, and when that really wasn’t what I wanted to do, I chose to go my own way, and it was a huge adjustment for my parents. I look today at my friends who had the “4-year” degree and I’m so much happier doing exactly what I want. And there are some that the 4-year degree is perfect – for me it wasn’t. But the important thing is that I finally got to chose what I wanted, and that’s what we should all want for our kids.

  7. My oldest son decided to go to the local 5 county vocational high school his jr and sr years. This allowed him to drive to that school in the am, in their computer tech program, take college classes at the community college across the street, and then get done in time to participate in his home high school’s golf team.

    He graduated with 30 college credits, paid for by the state. Another community college, an equal distance in the opposite direction,had a program that gave 2 years free to any student that had a qualifying high school grade. So, he took more computer classes. He has 3 (or 4?) college degrees.
    He is now employed at a hospital in IT networking (and had no college debt)

    To be honest, we originally thought he’d continue his education at a 4 yr college, but chose to go the route he’s taking.

    • Hopefully, he’s happy with his decision, and that’s really the bottom line. There are now instances of graduates from trade schools and vocational schools making so much better salaries than the 4-year graduate and sometimes more than the 6-year graduate (with the master’s degree) and even more college debt. It’s the college debt on top of the entry-level job salary that’s so overwhelming for the beginner in the job market. It’s like they are laden with a huge extra burden at the beginning when the beginning should be filled with hope and promise! He has to feel great that he’s fully employed in his field of choice without a huge debt!

  8. I realized that I did both technical and university at the same time. I was an engineering student who was good at the (then new) computer science work. But my school did some politicking and the program collapsed. In the end, I decided to get a degree quickly that I would enjoy earning. Sewing to the rescue.(I had been making my clothes for over a decade by then.) I ended up with an industrial (manufacturing processes) degree in textiles and graduated into a fabulous job/career. Eventually the industry went oversees and I did not go with it but loved it while it lasted.

    • Well, hang on – it may be coming back home. One of the factors that has sabotaged home-sewing has been the off-shore, slave labor cost of clothing manufacturing. Additionally, this has given the illusion that clothing is not considered that much of a valued part of a person’s assets because it’s so cheap and presumed easy to make. The off-shore slave labor has fostered the idea that clothing lasts as long and has much value as a paper towel or a paper napkin – the throw-away quality.

      I think that’s changing. For one thing, I think consumers are tired of throw-away clothing. For another, there’s growing discontent with fostering slave-labor, knock-offs and other low-end parts of the clothing market. And finally, I’ve noticed a lot of people who require resources veering away from overseas market resources. Vendors that I used for years have now started delivering cheaper, less-well-made goods. I’ve gotten to the point that I look to see where it’s coming from and if it’s overseas, then I don’t buy it. A lot of my fellow dressmakers and students are veering away from the off-shore market as well and prefer to purchase in the USA.

      All that lends itself to a return of this industry to the US. It may not be fully realized in my lifetime, but the US is one of the most creative, inventive and entrepreneurial people and with those attributes in a fair market system, it’s hard not to succeed. So hang in there cause that market may be returning!!!

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