Heather's Little Sweatshop - The Day After

The camera pans down the stairs to the kitchen. A stray beam of sunlight illuminates the wreckage. Garish lime green fabric is strewn everywhere. Threads litter the floor. In the background, a tap drips.

Welcome to my nightmare, as the saying goes. Shockingly, it's not over yet, but the end is glimmering on the horizon. I have only the bibs to go, then the final assembly. I figure my wage has gone down from $20 an hour to $15, and it will be $10 before I'm done, but that is somewhat due to my inability to forgo niceties such as clipping thread ends.

I did discover that long tedious seams are not so mind-numbing if they are curved - applying bias binding to the 60 inch circular hems was a bit of a challenge in the technical sense. This reminds me of how I can do thousands of stitches by hand in an embroidery while loving every moment - I actually have to think about each stitch, and keep the hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills going.

I asked James, who used to work for a company that optimized assembly-line production about this. He said that the mind-numbing boredom induced by doing the same thing over and over and over was a safety concern, so it was recommended that workers be switched to different stations on a regular basis. They might still have to be on the same station for days or weeks though.

I also remember reading the book  Rivethead many years ago, written by Ben Hamper, a guy who worked the Flint, Michigan GM assembly line, and who described all the tricks the workers would devise so they could either stay awake or finish more quickly so they could catch a nap. It was a way of gaining some control over his place in a massive corporate system.

Well, Heather's Little Sweatshop is no massive corporate system, just a self-imposed yet still oppressive dynamic between me, the client and the clock. Anything I can do to be more efficient, or make my workplace more pleasant renders the whole enterprise more bearable.

The original model that I was given to copy.


  1. I feel your pain! Once upon a time on Bowen Island i made little sacks for a local gourmet kitchen---1000's of the damn things, same thing over and over, got to the point where it took me 12 minutes for each one, but gawdz it was stultifying. Worked at a cheesy stripper's apparel factory too, cutting the same cheap knit mini dresses with the neckline down to here and the slits up to there, all day long. The employee discount was good though :)

  2. I once made at least a dozen choir vests. Since so many other moms said they couldn't sew, I got suckered into doing most of the work. And yeah, you learn all kinds of efficiency tricks to make it easier! Not even any pay as incentive either. Just happy school kids!

  3. Louisa - I think happy school kids would be a greater incentive for me than money, not that I don't need the money, just that it dirties the whole process somehow.

  4. Anonymous8:10 AM

    I find that I have to bribe myself to finish tedious work (marking exams for example). For example, finish marking 10 exams = reading 10 pages of an enjoyable novel, or watching 30 minutes of an exciting movie. Takes a little discipline to stick to the work/reward ratio but it works. Best of luck finishing those ooh-la-la aprons. Jean-Pierre


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