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Museum Blog

Does handmade today mean the same thing it did in 1910?

Have a look at this c. 1910s cotton blouse as the MAG's Associate Curator of Clothing & Textiles, Katelin, reflects upon the meaning of "handmade," today and 110 years ago.


Hi, my name is Katelin and I’m here today to talk about a tiny detail on this c. 1910s blouse that might help you reconsider the clothes you buy and wear today.

This cotton blouse has a loose fit and is meant to be worn tucked into a skirt. What we can see here that would normally be hidden under the skirt is a little tag that says “Handmade.”

Now, you are probably used to having multiple tags in your clothes, which are actually regulated by law, but in 1910 it was not regulated and a lot less common. If a garment did have a tag, it usually just had the name of the manufacturer.

The tag on this blouse reminded me of the branding that is used today to talk about “artisanal” or ethically made clothing. The thing is that almost all clothing is handmade. Sewing clothing requires a lot of manual dexterity and skill, and because of this we haven’t been able to come up with machines to do the job for us. Even clothing from a big store in the mall is handmade and most articles of clothing in your closet passed through several sets of skilled hands before they got to you. The difference between what people call “handmade” clothing and industrial made is usually the conditions in which these people work.

While “handmade” in 1910 meant sewn with a needle and thread, this is not what “handmade” usually means today, and it worth remembering that almost all clothes you can buy today, whether they come from the home of a local maker or are manufactured in a factory overseas.

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