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Memories from a 1960s vintage sewing factory by Claudette Donat on 02-21-2010

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"I lived for a time in Fall River, Mass. where garments, shoes, handbags factories employed young girls who made very low wages, many foreign born or from immigrant families. I was about 19 then. I was too young to work on the sewing machines, as there were sometimes unpleasant accidents involving cutting or sewing machines. This was quite an experience, and one which prompted me work my way to get a finer education- no matter to what ends I had to do to accomplish that.

For a real short time, I worked in such a factory where production sewing was done. I was young then and got a job in the pattern dept. I stood at a long table where there was fabric yardage cut and the patterns were made of heavy paper- this paper was almost like sand paper, with holes for the dars and sew marks. My job was to take an eraser and dip in chalk dust and "stamp" over the cutouts so the chalk marks showed marks on fabric for the sewers who worked on the industrial machines. This chalk brushed off with little effort.

I also worked awhile as a "bundler" at that establishment. Bundlers took folded 3 yards or so print and solid type fabrics. The fabrics were all in tidy folds. We had lists to prepare and different fabrics to gather from various rows of bins the exact type and colors required. The list was the quantity to tie into large bundles sent out to variety stores, like Woolworths, or other small sewing stores. The gathered fabrics were often used for quilting or home sewing.

I remember that at the time, I was disappointed to be hired at this factory and they would not give me a job sewing...the only spot was one that paid piecework wages, as I was so young. I'd hoped they would take my home sewing as a trainee spot. However, they hired only trained and experienced industrial sewers, and most of those were foreign ladies. These ladies had long shifts that worked almost round the clock. I had met a girl who lost a part of her hand on one cutting machine in that factory. The light was dim, the air from small windows stifled and the term, "sweat shop" was no understatement. I once made huge, paper flowers for window displays in store fronts in the same area. Giant sun flowers made of special wild sunny yellow color paper and leaves! Oh my, that was something!

All that was a far cry from the later jobs I worked in NYC, but I will never forget how this experience affected my life..."

Claudette Donat

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