October 18, 2022

I recently found out what a tailor's bunion is. I was reading the KingCobraJFS subreddit and a commenter, noting Cobra's swollen pinky toe in a screenshot, suggested he has this condition. The name intrigued me, and with a quick search I learned that tailors used to sit cross-legged on large tables while doing their work. Pressure from sitting this way for hours on end would form the bunion, thus the name.

Knowing what I know of sewing, I understood the photo at first glance. They sit because standing is impractical for slow, tedious work. They sit near a window because eye strain from sewing in low light can be painful (most seem to be wearing glasses). Sitting on a table brings them closer to the light source and keeps all the sewing detritus (bits of thread, trimmings, fuzz, etc) from clinging to the garment.

The last few nights, I've thought of this image while trying to fall asleep. I thought about how I stood closer to the window while finishing a hem by hand or sewing a label in place. I try to stand tall and neutral to avoid my neck creaking, but this only does so much.

My friend Amanda and I met as undergrads, both studying anthropology. She took an osteology class but I didn't, and she recently remembered to me some analysis of early neolithic women's feet. The women sat in a certain position to grind grain on crude millstones, and a few bones built up extra bone matter to compensate for the added pressure and friction.

Milling grain must have been painful for those women. I haven't asked any tailors, but I bet their necks hurt. I'm thirty years old now, and extended bouts of hand sewing cause a glowing ache in my hands. Drafting patterns at a table for hours hurts my feet. "Working with one's hands" has special meaning to modern people, mostly because it stands in contrast to jobs of make-work abstraction. There's a presumed noble honesty in building something material, but this suggests the fruits of physical labor are more permanent than those of intellectual/digital work. They may be a little more permanent, but not by much. The garments I make aren't permanent, and neither are the hands that construct them.

By taking care to make a durable garment, I'm just fighting entropy. By taking good care of the garment yourself, you're fighting it, too. And by taking good care of our own bodies, we preserve our own utility.

Thanks for reading my thoughts! More will come later.