Sunday, July 10, 2011

SouthStar Visits the Smithsonian

Our apologies to those of you who were inconvenienced this past week as we closed for summer vacation - actually, we closed even a little earlier than advertised! There were too many orders coming in to get out of town in an orderly fashion! Being a small outfit serving a lot of customers, it's tough to get a breather so sometimes we just have to shut 'er down. We appreciate your patience.

Not that we weren't working for you anyway... we were still processing and shipping some orders, taking some inventory, and working on new and better things for the second half of the year.

But the highlight of the week was a long awaited trip to Washington D.C. for Independence Day!

The picture you see at left was made from the Capitol steps at the annual concert on the lawn, "A Capitol Fourth." Perhaps you saw it on PBS. It featured Steve Martin and Josh Groban among other great performers, including Little Richard bringing in the fireworks in this photo. Seeing it on TV is great, but believe you me, it's worth a trip to Washington some July 4th for the greatest shot of patriotic pride you'll ever get. Just prepare for the heat and crowds and potentially having an eye put out by all the little flags people of every stripe and accent are waving. It's truly inspiring.

Now, we couldn't just make a trip to D.C. for fun. Sew Biz is serious-biz, so we had to investigate the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and see if the sewing industry was represented fairly there, if at all. By golly, I must say it sure is! I was amazed at how much I found on display at the Smithsonian pertaining to our beloved line of work.

In fact, I spied a bona fide industrial sewing machine right off the bat upon entering the lobby, the Juki shown at left. Now, of course, this is the Smithsonian, an institution run by academics who are not necessarily known for showcasing America without some jaundice. So I was a bit miffed that my first find was a machine used to showcase the Labor Department's crackdown on so-called "sweatshops" in Los Angeles, but at least it was a sewing machine in the Smithsonian!

And no doubt there was more than one person in the masses that thronged through the museum that day (to escape the heat on the mall if for no better reason), maybe even one of the Thai immigrants "held in captivity" referred to on the placard below the machine, who pointed out this Juki to their children or grandchildren and said, "That was my ticket to freedom for you." And I wouldn't doubt that there was a SouthStar customer or two who've noticed it and said, "Oh look, that's just like the machine I use!" Anyway, sweatshop machine or not, it was encouraging to see it gracing the very lobby of the Smithsonian, so onward I pressed.

Next I found this toy sewing machine, an example of the mass production of toys in the 19th century, making better toys available to more children. Interestingly the display notes that real sewing machine manufacturers made the toys as a sideline when business was slow and as sales increased, eventually changed over to year-round production of the toys. Not a bad idea for you sewing entrepreneurs out there to keep in mind when the phone doesn't ring--how about creating toy versions of your products to sell at craft shows??? Or doll clothes? Some things about business never change...

Hey, and how about that thread clip in this display!

It's a Gold Seal #104N! These items are part of a rather extensive and well produced exhibit, including a lot of video, focusing on the growth of Los Angeles and the big part that the fashion industry played in it. You can find most of these things in the technology section on the 2nd floor east, I think, if I remember correctly. In any case it's the entrance floor and these exhibits are on your left as you enter.

Another extensive exhibit involves the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine company, an early pioneer in mass manufacturing of industrial sewing machines. There are many very interesting photographs of the workers and managers and the physical plant and side exhibits about doing piecework at home and so forth. My picture didn't turn out well enough to show here, but there's even an early sewing machine motor on display nearby right next to a DC motor invented by the famous Nikola Tesla in an exhibit about Thomas Edison! By this time one is getting the message that sewing really has been a foundation industry for the United States.

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was far more about the sewing business at the Smithsonian than I ever expected, and more than I can show here. But I finally did want to mention the Kevlar exhibit. Did you know that Kevlar was invented by a woman, the kindly little lady shown at left, Stephanie Kwolek?! There is a very good exhibit about Kevlar, showing many of the products made from it and its advantages over normal protective fabrics and metals. I just wished they'd asked me so I could have thrown some wisdom in there about how hard Kevlar is to cut!

So, the bottom line is, don't pass up the Smithsonian National Museum of American History if you're ever in the D.C. area - it will reinforce your pride in what you do!