, 47 tweets, 13 min read Read on Twitter
This is your occasional reminder that robots can't sew clothes, and that every garment you own - yes, even that $5 t-shirt - was stitched together by a person.
I get it. I think the ubiquity of clothing makes it easy not to think about how the garments got there, where they came from.

But yes. When you go into a store - H&M, F21, Macy's, Bergdorf's -- every piece of clothing you see was assembled by a person.

Yep. I wish more people took time to understand where their clothing comes from.

Sewing machines need to be operated by skilled people.

An overwhelming majority of clothing manufacturing is done on industrial sewing machines operated by sewers.

Exactly. The variables inherent in sewing -- the quality of the fabric, the type of thread/stitching required, the applications of trims, etc. -- is why commercial clothing production can't be don't by robots.

A very, VERY good way of starting to understand the clothing manufacturing process is through NPR's Planet Money T-Shirt project. It's a good introduction to the mass market garment industry. This video in particular is pertinent to this thread:

They "come up" with this idea every few years without having had any insight or experience into what sewing actually entails.


Yep. If you put an "unskilled" person on an industrial clothing production line, in about five minutes they'll either put an industrial needle through their thumb or slice off their fingertip on a serger.

Per piece, It's going to be a fair amount, compared to the per-garment waste in industrial sewing. But you're also sewing in units of one (or a few)... not in the multiple thousands.

Listen... the budgets behind the "requests" I got while I was in design school.... *heavy eye roll*

Now... what this information means in terms of making decisions as a consumer is totally up to you and your personal ethics. There are no perfect purchasing choices.

I'd say if you think about anything, consider how you feel about paying $5-$10 for a shirt made by a human.
Whew! The fabric alone!

You don't learn how to do that from a first-day orientation video, that's for sure.

Again, there are no perfect purchasing decisions.

If you buy something specifically made in the U.S., you can be relatively sure that the person who made it got a decent wage...

but the price point will be higher than others, and not everyone can afford to shop in that range.
If your clothes are made overseas, that's not necessarily *inherently* evil...clothing manufacturing is often a path to economic independence (chiefly for women) in developing countries.

But you have utterly NO way of knowing whether the working conditions are great or abyssmal.
(This also why I'm slow to jump on companies when it turns out their clothes were made in subpar factories -- there's so many layers in the production process that it's entirely possible for a company to believe they're using ethical labor only to find out they're not.)
And if you make clothes on your own -- well, you're going to spend a hell of a lot of your time and money on sewing. And there would still be questions about the fabric origin.

(Contrary to common thought, making your own clothes is NOT cheaper. It's often way more expensive.)
It takes foreeeeeeeverrrrrrrrrrrrrr 😫😫😫

Tangent - I'll never forget seeing a forum post where a woman wanted to have a "Sew my wedding dress party!" the night before her wedding.

She thought it would a "great activity" where her friends would come over and all help make her gown the day before her ceremony. Chile...
It's very, VERY hard! There are so many factors at play.

Eh, I wouldn't say that. The garment industry is more than fast fashion. Like any industry, it needs to reckon with the realities of limited resources, and consumers also need to understand what the demand for impossibly cheap clothes creates.

This is such a good activity!

And for a school curriculum, it might be cool to look closer and examine the manufacturing strengths/advantages of each country.

*crackles knuckles, prepares to type*

I'm sure you mean well, @haskinstheodore, but the answer here is NO.

Which you'd realize had you continued to read the thread.

@haskinstheodore That's not what thread count means.

Thread count refers to the number of yarns per sq inch of fabric, i.e. how tightly it's woven. But yes, a person is responsible for running the weaving loom, installing the elastics and sewing the edges of your sheets.

I didn’t know this about basketweaving! But yes, totally for crocheting too. Anytime I see fully crocheted garments, I’ll like, WHEW!

But yeah... You can tell me that robots can sew when you find me a coverstitch machine that works. 😂😂😂
Can't wait to see the robot that can insert hair canvas, install an invisible zipper and attach a hook and eye.

(Hell, this is not even sarcasm. 😂)
(Besides the fact that devices and soft goods are completely different) Garment/textile production is the oldest industrialized manufacturing sector, but has yet to be effectively automated. A good exercise would be to consider the technical reasons why.

Yep! Just so many variables!

There's a very cool company called Shima Seiki that's a partnering with my university. They've been working on a program that knits whole garments via machine. But still... working from yarns rather than yardage.

I really want y'all to understand this is not the dunk y'all think it is. Sewing is so dependent on the senses (sight and tactility, dexterity, sound) that tech would essentially have to develop a fully functional AI human to do it effectively.

Everyone who's parachuted in with a Google search to argue with me keeps citing one company that's made one machine which remains ineffective at production. It has yet to effectively handle fabric and can only tackle the simplest of garments. It's an experiment at this point.
There's another company innovating at 3D knit production in an exciting way, but still requires a human hand for design and ops. It also seems more appropriate for small-batch/sample-making, rather than large-scale production.

Also, knits don't make up the whole market.
So even though Shima Seiki is doing some very cool, innovative things with knitwear, they a) are improving on older, traditional knit production processes and b) still don't entrust cut-and-sew processes to machines.

Because machines can't cut and sew.
a) This is the same one t-shirt machine that folks keep googling to try to make a point.

b) T-shirts aren't complicated garments.

c) This machine cannot address the sheer size, variety and production load of the garment industry as a whole.

Folks keep running to my mentions with this same "Sewbot," without considering that *maybe* people in the garment industry might already be aware of *effective* emerging technologies.

There's *one* 2017 piece in Apparel News about automated machines. They have yet to pan out.
Also, please make sure the things you're about to send me regarding automated sewing machines aren't just parroting the manufacturer's press releases.
Thank you.

I think folks are willfully underestimating the amount of skill required to manufacture apparel.

Yeah. I didn't even talk about sizing and grading, which affects every. single. component. of a garment.

But yeah. Install a zipper fly correctly on the first try and then come talk to me about automation.
Things I would like you to do before arguing with me about this tweet:

- install a zipper fly
- sew a vent into a lined skirt
- cut out the components of three-part cup bra
- sew in an invisible zipper
- finish silk chiffon with a french seam.

This right here.

Everyone who wants to argue keeps linking to a machine that can only do t-shirts (and *maybe* jeans?). The breadth of wardrobe for human needs spans galaxies beyond those two basics.

A fantastic vid from @zoehong: "Why Are Clothes So Expensive?"

Take a look at this and consider the question at the end.

If you've read this far and want to know a little more about why today's "sewing robots" aren't cutting the mustard, see here:

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