Out of Context

Sewing Isn’t Rocket Science


Colorado Mountain College encompasses 11 campuses across Colorado’s Western Slope and serves more than 20,000 students. From getting a bachelor’s in nursing to becoming a ski lift mechanic, the academic pathways are diverse and pragmatic, with much of the curriculum oriented towards Colorado’s ski and outdoor industries. In the Fall of 2023 CMC will add a one-year certificate program in “soft goods manufacturing.” It is a program looking to introduce students to sewing through emphasizing the wear-repair-reuse skill set needed by the local private sector. 

Good for CMC. You have to start somewhere, right? I think it will be interesting to see what expectations the students bring and what direction they choose to pursue after experiencing the program. Do students want to make a living by sewing? Are they looking to open a sewing factory? Perhaps students are interested in creating products that others will ultimately produce?

Each of these choices opens up an entire world within the universe of making things with needle and thread. Manufacturing sewn goods isn’t rocket science; it is much more complicated than that. The breath of expertise in textiles, design, patternmaking, cutting and sewing is huge. The difference between making luggage and producing underwear might as well be two different languages. There is an endless array of fabrics, sewing machines, pattern making techniques, cutting and sewing operations that are mixed and matched to create different kinds of products. The design, development and production all end up being highly organized around the specific products that are being made.

Sewn goods education is a great idea, but it must be emphasized that the sewing world breaks down naturally into three very different, yet symbiotic disciplines; vocational, technical and creative. Vocational training covers the machine operators, mechanics and manual cutters. Technical training is needed for the pattern makers, digital cutters and automation folks. The creative community encompasses everything from designing textiles to drawing fancy backpacks. A healthy sewn goods ecosystem has all three elements functioning together.

However, I applaud Colorado Mountain College’s heuristic approach to teaching sewing by starting with repairing soft goods. It is a practical, sustainable and experiential way to go about learning your way around a sewing machine. The most talented seamstress I’ve ever met, when asked how one might go about learning to sew, would reply tersely, “Take things apart and put them back together.” Nothing teaches construction methodologies like repairing clothing and gear. You learn how everything is made. It is a good place to start.

I believe sewing most closely resembles being a plumber. Although what you create ends up being routine and banal, the path to get there is unbelievably complex, hands-on, and creative exercise. And much like plumbing, professional sewing requires an apprenticeship.

Disclaimer: Mr. Gray’s sewing actually does resemble plumbing in ways that he’d rather not share. The publisher may not agree with his opinions or analogies.