Sewing: community bags

One of the counties near me is the poorest in Massachusetts. The local fabric stores are running a sewing drive to produce reusable grocery bags for the many needy families that need them. The trouble is, they need something like 18,000 bags for all the families with a proven need for them.

So I’m using my time to make reusable grocery bags for people. The trouble is that it’s easy to make one, and kind of boring to make six or sixteen or 30.

And it’s a bit of a backwards planning problem. The ban on single-use plastic grocery bags goes into effect in the county on January 1. The average person can assemble five (5) of these bags a week. There are 19.5 weeks between now and January 1, so if all goes according to plan and I don’t run out of fabric or have an off week, I can produce 98 such bags between now and January 1. That’s sixteen families equipped with bags, and part of a 17th…

But there are 3000 such families.

We need about 200 seamstresses, tailors, sewists, sewing enthusiasts, quilters, costumers, and fabric artists to produce 18,000 bags. And around 9,000 yards of fabric, ideally pre-cut into half-yard stretches, if not into the 18″x18″ outsides and lining, and the handles. I know the number is more like 184 sewists, yes. But I’m making allowances for people who can only produce 1-3 bags a week, instead of five.

And it’s not that there aren’t 200 sewists in the county. It’s less than 0.5% of the county population, so 200 sewists is reasonable… I mean, we do keep a rather nice fabric store in business, after all. It’s that we’ve returned to cottage industry, or at least to the level of cottage industry, because there’s ZERO value assigned to the labor of the craftspeople who will make the bags. It’s a hour and a half to make one… “please donate 7 and a half hours of your time a week for twenty weeks.” One hundred fifty hours… with the minimum wage around here, that’s equivalent to asking people for $1800 in donated wages.

And yet we wonder why the sewing mill workers went on strike when their wages didn’t rise from fifty cents a day.

Update: I updated the number of hours worked from 2 hours to 1.5, because as I thought about it, I realized that there were some economies of scale. You don’t have to cut the parts for bags, one at a time, for example. And you can cut the parts for all the bags more or less all at the same time, for a single week, if you have a dedicated cutter at a large-enough cutting station. But now you’re moving from one-off cottage production by amateur sewists to a miniature factory that is trying to produce several dozen bags a week.

3 comments

    • I don’t know. I found out about it through “The Textile Company” in Greenfield, MA. The store is in Power Square, south of the old railroad line…

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