30 Years working in the RagTrade


This photo is me, operating a Gerber Cutter.

I will take you down a path of how the garments you buy in a fashion parlor start from the beginning with the rolls of untouched fabric, waiting to be made into garments.

When I started working in the rag trade in the early 1970’s, the material was laid up by hand, on long tables, following an order by material type, color, style.

Hopefully, the person laying it up, never stretch the material so you got the right tension, and the garment would end up the right size, not two sizes too small, or an over-sized garment, (not true to size).

Then it was cut by an Eastman knife going up and down, through the layers of fabric.

Everything would be okay, as long as the person that graded the pattern and draw it up on paper did not make a mistake.

Also that the person cutting the lays of fabric cut on the right lines correctly.

Hopefully, when the machinist sewed it up, all piece of the garment fitted together.

How I started working in the Rade Trade
I worked for 30 years, starting as a machinist and working my way through pattern grading, by hand, not a plotter, to a cutter.

Since all the factories were closing down one by one, and as it became uneconomical to operate like this, they just closed down or went offshore.

Early in the 1990 things really started to change, all the imports off cheap clothes, from china and the islands, factories looked for new way’s to make a profit and cope with all the rising wages.

Plotting Computer machines that draw the patterns on paper, and had a better accuracy and less mistakes, but still there was a need for more if the rag trade was going to survive.

Factories were closing down everywhere.

So Classic Fashions in New Plymouth New Zealand invested in this great Gerber cutter imported from the USA.

Classic Fashions was a ladies outer garment clothing firm which made dresses, skirts, ladies trousers and blouses.

What is a Gerber Cutter?

The Gerber stored cutting setup files for quick retrieval to accelerate future cut jobs on a computer.

It had graphical operator interface and easy-to-use on-machine control panel on a computer that simplifies operator training and use, which I learned to use, it was the start of me being a computer addict.

Cuts by a laser beam, all kinds of fabric from the most delicates to the hardest of vinyl.

We had long tables which were set up with vacuum under them so when the layers of fabric were finished laying up by hand, they were moved down the table to the Gerber cutter to be cut.

The Gerber cutter, travels across the floor on tracks like a train and moves from one table to the next, it was operated by vacuum, the plastic was laid on top and the vacuum sucked the material down under the plastic and held it very firm.

There would be a person at the head of the Gerber cutter as the lays of fabric was being cut to take of the pieces of the garments as they were cut, bundle them up and of to the markers to sort out and hang the piece on hangers, which would be ready for the machinist to sew up.

So the Gerber solutions for apparel and retail dramatically improve the turn around times and significantly reduce material waste and labor costs but the factories still when on closing down until 16 march 2002.

Classic Manufacturing, one of the last clothing factories to close down in Taranaki NZ closed down.

30 years of working in the Rag trade was over, at the age of 62, I semi-retired as clothing manufacturing had come to an end, as they left and took their factories off-shore or to Auckland.

Now in 2016 there are no clothing manufacturers in Taranaki, I am not sure if there are any in New Zealand at all.

That my story of 30 years working in the rag trade, (as we called it).

Did you ever work in the rag trade? Please comment, would love to know.

13 thoughts on “30 Years working in the RagTrade

  1. Interesting read that provides some excellent insight into the evolution and dwindling of the rag trade. It sounds like you’re only showing the tip of the iceberg and there is much more that you can tell. If that is the case, there may be a lot of material, from which you can create interesting patterns! Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, there’s a lot I could write about in the thirty years, this about learning to use a Gerber Cutter was my biggest challenge, to do this right and not have a mess up and lose thousands of dollars, lucky I never made a mistake.
    Thanks for taking a interest in this post.


  3. Fascinating thank you for sharing. I worked in the rag trade both as a seller and a machinest. I studied Art and Design at College and worked in a small dressmaking shop run by a mad french woman whose mood changed quicker than the wind, but it was a learning curve. We did repairs, sold material, and she did the dressmaking. I loved it, the smells of the fabric, the sound of the machines. I did make some horrendous mistakes though. Once I overlocked a gentlemans trousers together, oh lord, it took all her skill to sort that one out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you had some fun during your life with, working in the rag trade and for a dressmaker, the overlocked gentleman’s trousers must have been a big shock when you realised what you had done.
      Do you still sew?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do but just for myself now, I like to dismantle things and then sew them together in different ways or sew pieces of another garment to each other, creating sometimes lovely garments, sometimes ooops its for the bin then.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I grew up in a textile town. New Bedford, Ma. Home of Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffet sold off all the textile machinery and abandoned the building that once employed 10,000, weavers, loom fixers etc. I worked in the dress trade driving truck to the different factories in New Bedford and bringing them to the distribution center.
    One time I was 50 dresses short on a load. They all had price tags of $110 US. The boss told me that if the numbers couldn’t be accounted for, I would have to pay the wholesale price of $300. $6 per dress. In the end, the Portuguese kid counting the dresses made an error when he translated the number from his language to English.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciated your comment very much, it’s great to hear stories from the readers, especially like this one you wrote, as other readers don’t know about half the problem that workers had to put up with in the earlier years of the RagTrade.
      You were very lucky that it was a counting error, as you know, you didn’t take them, I wonder what you would have done, as I’m sure you wouldn’t have taken this lying down.


  5. This was a great post, Elsie. I enjoy learning more about you and where you worked. I didn’t know the cutters were laser. All I ever saw had blades.

    Back in the late 1980s, I worked at York Shirtmakers in Belton, South Carolina, USA. The part I worked on was the collar band of men’s shirts. I had to attach it to the collar and then it went to its next stop. It was a production job. In addition to doing that, I had to correct the mistakes of the other folks. Since I wasn’t making production, I wasn’t allowed to talk like the others were allowed. Those that were allowed to talk were the ones making the mistakes that I was having to correct. It was a very frustrating job. I remember when they let me go because they’d rather have the job done fast than right, I got sassy with the supervisor (who needed her job). I was mad and rude because I needed the job, too, and here she was firing me. I told her, “That’s okay. I just took this job to see how the other half lived.” The look on her face told me that I had most certainly struck a nerve. It was a very arrogant statement, but in reality, I did not look down on those textile workers. That type of job had fed generations of my family.

    I love to sew, though I haven’t done it in years. I made lots of things for my kids when they were little. I am in the process of re-setting up a sewing area and plan to start making christening gowns and other baby items. It is unlikely that I will ever be a grandma in my lifetime, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying making baby clothes. Maybe I’ll be able to make it into a business. I don’t know. But I am going to have fun making these things for as long as I can. 🙂

    Have a blessed day.


    • Thanks very interesting, as I said the chain gang, you couldn’t do your part of the garment when others didn’t do it right.
      All the best in your sewing business.
      One day you may have grandchildren, here’s hoping, it’s a very rewarding time in your life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Chain gang” is a very good description of it, too. Thanks for the smile. 🙂

        Thank you also for the best wishes. I have been looking over patterns this evening, trying to decide what I want to use as a practice piece. It has been so long since I’ve sewn anything, I’m just hoping that I can still do a decent job of it. Maybe its like they say about riding a bike, you never forget how once you get back on.

        I see so much joy on the faces of other grandmas while talking about their grandchildren, I know it would be a wonderful title to have. I would dearly love for someone to love me as much as I loved my grandma and she loved me. Grandmas are very special people. 🙂
        Have a blessed day, Elsie.


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