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Subject: Ergonomics

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Date Posted: 13:44:09 03/14/01 Wed
In reply to: K 's message, "Dressmakers/Seamstresses" on 15:49:47 03/10/01 Sat

I am experiencing some back pain when embroidering for long periods of time and I think it might be related to the height of my sewing machine table and the chair I am sitting on. Does anyone know a good formula for chair and table height? Any other suggestions?

-I'm not sure if there's a "formula", but the head tailor at one of my first tailoring jobs - years ago - was adamant about our chairs and machines being at the proper height to save our backs. When sitting, your knees should be at a 45 degree angle. If you are having to bend your neck or lean forward at all when sewing, raise your machine. Also - very important - sew with both feet on the peddle. Using one foot can throw your back out of alignment.Hopefully you are using an industrial machine so that you have the oversized foot peddle. Home machines, with that tiny peddle and no height adjustment, are notorious for causing back problems!

-I worked for a retail store for a while, sitting on a folding chair and using a home machine set up on a banquet table. My back was a mess! Now that I have my own business, I'm anal about my machines and chairs being adjusted just right!

-Sometimes it is not the height of the table and/or chair, but the angle of your back when sewing. Most people end up leaning forward to see what they are doing. Before you go and buy another table and/or chair, first try putting something around the size of an art gum eraser (the tan ones) under each side of the bottom of your machine in the back. This will tip your machine forward slightly which should allow you to sit straighter in your chair while having your back supported by the back of the chair. This may be enought to eleviate your back pain. If it doesn't work for you, then look for a new table and/or chair. I always like to try the easy and/or cheap solution first.

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[> Subject: Keeping a Seamstress

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Date Posted: 13:15:46 03/15/01 Thu

I'm the parent who posted below about our experience with dresses. While I'm not a professional seamstress, I have done enough sewing to realize what a difficult task an ID dress is (the waist seam wouldn't even fit through my machine). I am concerned about the way some parents treat the seamstress and would like to have suggestions from seamstresses: what can parents do to support the seamstress and keep her sewing for our school? (Unfortunately, throwing some parents out of the school is not an option :-) . . don't you wish you could sometimes? ) Are there things we can do to help the measuring process (aside from stopping the dancers from growing!), to insulate the seamstress from the most difficult parents, etc. If I hear one more parent say "I could make that dress myself and do a better job" I think I may go ballistic. I made my own wedding dress, but I wouldn't attempt an Irish Dancing dress. Help!

-This is a difficult one to answer. Some very basic, but large points are: Be on time. Payments and appointments should be there when scheduled. Be polite. We are service providers, not sub-servient. We often have other deadlines to work around, not just yours, and family obligations also. Be appreciative of the work being done. It is a lot of work to make and alter these garments. Don't complain that the bodice is 1/2 " too long, and then, after it is altered, complain that it is too short in a month when you daughter grows! Don't tell me I am being ridiculous to want to be paid for an alteration. Mt time is valuable, at least it is to me! This is just a start. I am sure we can all come up with some more ideas.

-I agree with the above poster, and would like to add to it.
Please try on your daughter's dresses at least once a month. We all know that kids grow, so don't be caught off guard at the last minute. Any seamstress that does good work tends to stay busy, and around Oirachtus, Nationals, and St.Paddy's performances, things really get hectic. Please don't wait until the last minute, then be upset that we are already booked up. I once had a mother call me two days before the St. Paddy's day parade, who was shocked that I didn't have time to knock out a dress. I was told "But it's ONLY a dress!" Most of us are sewing every available minute at those times. We also have families which are important to us and need our attention. If your seamstress works out of her home, respect her privacy. Just because we're here with our families does not make it appropriate to call or show up at any time of the day or night. I've had customers call as early as 7am, and as late as 11 pm, and show up unannounced on a Sunday afternoon when I had a houseful of company and was having a barbecue! I've been told by a customer "Considering you work from home, I thought you were available at any time." Not true. I try to work appointments around your work schedule, and often take appointments at odd hours to accommodate you, but please realize there is only so much I can do.

If you decide to purchase a used dress because the price is right but the size is way off, or it is in poor condition, don't expect your seamstress to work miracles. If I can salvage it, I will, but if I say I can't fix it, believe me, don't argue. I have no problem at all with you taking it to another seamstress, as I have my standards and will stick by them. I don't want a dress going out of here that I wouldn't want my own daughter or a friendís child to wear. Yes, I realize that Irish dance can get rather expensive, and I feel for the families that have a hard time affording the costumes -- If I didn't sew, I'd have a hard time affording it too. But sewing is my livelihood, and I depend on my paycheck -- just like you do. Payments need to be made on time.

Please don't say "But I just need...." when I have already told you that I'm booked. Twelve other people have already told me that, and it doesn't give me more time. If you call, wondering how long it will take to get a dress at that time, don't expect to call back a month or two later and get the same time frame. If you order a dress, get a due date promised, and stick to it - don't call back expecting to get it early. If I can, I will, but it is not always possible no matter how hard I try. It's always a good idea to check with your seamstress before purchasing a dress that needs altered or repaired before your child can even wear it. I'd much rather be honest with you and tell you what can and can't be done before you even spend anything. It's much better to know if it'll cost you too much to make the dress wearable (or if it's even possible), than to end up spending your hard-earned money on a dress you can't use.

If you want to order a solo dress, make sure that you get your teacher's approval if it is needed - please don't make that my problem. Some teachers have very definite ideas on when and what kind of a dress they'd like to see their dancers in. Make sure that you have ordered what you and your teacher want. After the price has been set and fabrics ordered, is NOT a good time to change your mind. If you have to do this, realize that you will incur additional costs, and the dress may have to be pushed back.

If you have an appointment and can't keep it, please call and say so. I understand that things happen, but please let me know out of courtesy. I may have other customers coming, and it is awkward and disruptive to have someone show up while I am working with someone else, or in the middle of something.

Above all, please treat your seamstress with a modicum of respect. Yes, we are in a service-oriented profession, but we are human too and have feelings. I've sewn for a living for over twenty years, but still cringe when a customer feels the need to "explain" to me how to do my job. If I didn't do a good job, then I wouldn't be working up to sixty hours per week and turning people away.

I'd never even seen an Irish dancer until about three years ago, but am totally enthralled with the Irish dancing community. And what a strong one it is! I've made good friends of parents, dancers, and teachers alike, and enjoy my job and 99% of the people I sew for. It's just that 1% that drive us nuts! I didn't mean to write such a book, but I'll now step down off of my soapbox, slide it back under my cutting table, and get back to sewing, so that I've got a few more dancers ready for Oirachtus. Thanks for listening.........

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