The Engineering of Sewing
By Erin Winick
Engineering is in everything around us. We recognize engineering in bridges, buildings, and computers, but really, engineering is in so much more. Even our clothing!
I have loved sewing since I was a kid. My mom and I sewed Halloween costumes every year, ranging from making an Amelia Earhart leather cap and aviator scarf, to Hermione’s robe from Harry Potter. I sewed pillows and pajamas as a summer project in elementary school. As well, fabric and pattern shopping was fantastic bonding time for my mom and I.
I did not realize until college exactly how much sewing had prepared me for a career in engineering.
Sometimes girls are at a disadvantage in the engineering fields because of a lack of spatial skills and assembling of three dimensional items. This is often a product of the toys they played with and experiences they had early on, as they were not taught these skills as kids. However, sewing filled that gap for me.
At its heart, sewing is the construction of two dimensional shapes into three dimensional shapes. Sewing is all about putting together multiple flat pieces of fabric in order to create a full garment that fits around a body. And this is no easy task! The pattern pieces can be complex and you need to be able to visualize the final product from the start. Designers even have to create these patterns from scratch.
Essentially, you are creating a three dimensional model in your head, and then, by hand as well. Take a look at the clothes in your closet, particularly all of their different seams and shapes, and you might find a new appreciation for this task.
When one begins sewing for the first time, it is best to follow a pattern. But as a better understanding of the craft is gained, deviations from patterns allow you to develop your own creations. As you do this you are creating something brand new, which is what engineering is all about: creating new things and solving problems.
Sewing is extremely hands-on and gave me the opportunity to learn about the process of making and design. My love of making is what led me to major in mechanical engineering. Give me a few days of free time and I am clamoring to make anything I can. This is probably why my living room growing up was full of random construction projects and pads of drawings during the summer.
Now as a mechanical engineering student I have been able to take advantage of my passions. I have used my knowledge of fibers from sewing in my materials class. I have used my knowledge of creating three dimensional objects by hand in learning how to construct three dimensional computer models. I expanded on my knowledge of operating small sewing machines to learning how to operate large machinery like mills, lathes and 3D printers. Now I even get to combine my love of sewing with 3D printing as I am currently working on combining 3D printing and fashion for my company, Sci Chic.
On top of encouraging our kids to play with more building toys and science experiments, I would also encourage children, both boys and girls, to learn to sew. Not only does it teach useful life skills, but it inspires creativity, hands-on learning, and, possibly, paves the way for the makers and engineers of the future.
CEO Sci Chic
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