Life in the Tailor Shop {Tuesdays with Tina, part 9}

This entry is part 9 of 22 in the series Tuesdays With Tina

If you are new to this series, catch up first and then come back and read.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Tuesdays with Tina

Me: So you went to work in a tailor shop? You didn’t work for your mother?

Tina: I learned some stuff from my mother but you learn better when you learn from a stranger. You need to have that healthy fear, that discipline. Because with your mother you might say, “Oh mom, I don’t want to do that…!” but you wouldn’t say that to someone else. I needed to go out, to learn the world of work, be with other people.

Me: So you did this at 12 years old?

Tina: No, I was 16. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a seamstress. At twelve I quit going to school and went to work but at 16 is when I started sewing at the tailor shop. It was a large, well-known tailor shop. There were about 10-11 girls who worked in the shop as well as a few ladies who worked from home. They would take the work home with them and sew at home.

Me: What was this tailor shop like?

Tina: It was an apartment in an elegant part of Naples on Via Chiaia. La Signora Aprile lived upstairs and the shop was on the ground floor. You would enter and the first room was the salon where la Signora would receive customers and they would choose the patterns. Further on, on the left was the kitchen where there were also two or three irons where we would iron and then there was the girls’ bathroom. A little further on, in what would normally be a bedroom, was the fitting room where the clients could try on the pieces and the seamstresses would make the necessary adjustments. The room next to that held tables – one long one where la Signora would cut out the patterns – and two other ones where the girls would sit on either side of them and sew.

Me: How many sewing machines were there? Enough for each girl?

Tina: No, not at all. There were a few. Two in the kitchen. We would take turns using the machine. Some of the girls would be basting, others ironing, some fitting together. There was a lot of hand sewing.

Me: What were the sewing machines like? The old fashioned pedal kind?

Tina: Hmm…I don’t remember. Yes, I think one or two of them were. I started there when I was 16, in 1958, and I left when I got married in 1966 when I was 24. I was there for 8 years. Some of the other girls were older than me so they left before me, when they got married. Bernarda, Matilde, Lina, and many other girls were there. It was good there. Each day we would say the rosary.

Me: Really? Every morning?

Tina: No, in the afternoon.

Me: How many hours did you work?

Tina: I would have to be there by around 8:30/9:00. We would take a break at 1:00. Sometimes I would go home for lunch, other times I would stay there. Sometimes during the summer we would go from Via Chiaia to Piazza dei Martiri. We’d sunbathe in a boat. Sometimes we would take the elevator (back then I still took the elevator) to the top floor (8th floor) and would sunbathe on the terrace. We had about an hour off and then we would work until 7:30. I didn’t earn very much. Very little, in fact, because I was an apprentice.

Me: Was there a specific time period for being an apprentice? Four or five years?

Tina: No, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t a school. It was up to you to learn. The more experienced girls would show us, “Ok, now do like this…” and you would do what they said to do then show them so they could check your work.

Me: When would you get a raise? Did you have to be able to do certain things or was it just up to la Signora?

Tina: You had to be pretty good. She would occasionally give us a pay increase but I left before I reached “the maximum” because I got married. Many of the girls were engaged and had been for 3, 4, 5 years. I wasn’t engaged and I remember that one time la Signora said, “Titina, see how we are? It’s going to be just us in the end! When everyone leaves it will be just us!” Oh great! She was good friends with my aunt, my mother’s sister. That’s how I ended up there because there was a connection. She didn’t want the husband to smoke so he would send either me or Annamaria to buy two cigarettes, actually three. “One you can keep and the other two are for me.” So he would smoke, hiding from his wife.

Me: They sold cigarettes singly?

Tina: Yes, yes. You didn’t have to buy the whole package. You could buy two, one, five cigarettes from a pack.

Me: How old were you when you started smoking? When you worked at the tailor shop?

Tina: Yes. I was always fascinated by smoking because my father smoked. He was the only one. Mamma never smoked. Rosalba, Gianni, Anna (Gianni’s wife)all smoked at one point. Everyone smoked it seemed. Partly because no one knew the damage smoking made. You would see it in the movies and it looked so glamorous! It was a ritual: casually put the cigarette in your mouth, light it… We were attracted by what we saw.

Me: Bad influence from the movies!

Tina: The television came later. I think we bought our first one around 1960 or 1961. 

Series Navigation<< School and Work {Tuesdays with Tina, part 8}Life before television {Tuesdays with Tina, part 10} >>

About Sheila @ Making the Most of Every Day

I'm a wife, mom, and a homeschool teacher. I'm always behind on housework and paper pile sorting. I'm fond of this crazy life but not of melted cheese. I want to follow hard after God, making each day really count. I like to run, read, cook (and eat!). Thanks for joining along on my journey!

2 thoughts on “Life in the Tailor Shop {Tuesdays with Tina, part 9}

  1. This is just fascinating Sheila! I tried sewing when I thought I wanted to be a clothing designer – and I hated it. I can’t imagine doing it all day!

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