The Maligned Seamstresses of Seattle

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sewing display2

Sewing machines in downtown clothing boutique.

I’ve always thought of sewing as a rather benign profession, whether talking about seamstresses, tailors, or quilters. But an early summer trip to Seattle shed a whole new light on how the occupation has been co-opted to conceal socially questionable behavior.

Seattle boosts a mysterious underground, leftover from its early days when it was built too low to withstand the flooding it would ultimately experience. During that time the town fathers decided to take a census, including a question regarding occupation. Imagine their surprise to find that Seattle had a thriving garment district all within a small area of the city! Many women listed their occupation as “seamstress”, yet townspeople had been unaware that so much fashion was being created in their midst. There was much discussion and disbelief, and the town fathers followed up by taking a count of actual sewing machines. Probably to no one’s surprise, there were far fewer machines than ladies. But in an ingenious move the cash-strapped city levied a “sewing machine tax” and thus took advantage of the situation while turning a blind eye to the perhaps nefarious nature of the true occupation of these citizens of their fine town.

The "seamstresses" gather in the parlor.

The “seamstresses” gather in the parlor.

As the years passed, Seattle found ways to rebuild on higher ground and attracted more diversity in its workforce, becoming the city we think of today – a city known for coffee and technology. And while these may be more legitimate pursuits, they may not make such an entertaining story for tourists of the future.

Seattle's Underground

Seattle’s old city, now underground.


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