Granny Mansion Moment #26: The Knitting Mill – Alexandra Susan

In Alexandra Susan, nonfiction, photography on July 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

I recently attended an earring-making night at a brand new sewing/jewelry/vintage shop that just opened in Ridgewood, a few blocks from Granny Mansion. It was a lovely event, a stitch n’ bitch of sorts, where I was able to meet other local crafters and chit chat about a range of topics from needle sizes to neighborhood history.  Really it was one of the few times I’ve felt a community, a small town moment of solidarity, in New York City. I think this bonding came so naturally because I, along with the five or six other young, crafty women there, experienced the feeling of finally finding friendly spirited camaraderie on the desert island that is Ridgewood.

One of the most interesting bits of Ridgewood trivia that I learned from chatting with Moni, one of the owners of the sewing shop, is that the large corner building a few blocks further up on Woodward Avenue is where several designer brands like Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui are manufactured. The old brick building is very obviously a sweatshop– often when I walk past as the doors happen to be open I see industrial sewing machines and ceiling-high piles of textiles.

I was surprised and comforted to know, though, that the seamstresses working there, mostly from Central and South America who’ve not yet been able to receive legal immigration statuses, are earning about as much as a college graduate could ask– $14-18/hour. Moni learned this from speaking with the garment employees who’ve noticed her store pop up and stopped in to engage in the same sort of camaraderie surrounding sewing.

This was all very meta for me to discover, and very much brought the evening full circle. The reason being, that for about twenty years, Olga used to work in that same garment factory on Woodward Avenue.

She tells me many, many stories about how she genuinely enjoyed her job there, mainly because she felt comfortable in her work environment with other German-speaking immigrant women. In struggling with Alzheimer’s now, she often tells the same stories several times over– so I’ve heard her story of how she started at the “knitting mill” (as she knew it back then) first sewing on tags, and was then promoted to sewing on sleeves, at least a dozen times. My great grandmother worked there as well, and from what I can tell there was a very present solidarity among employees, not unlike the sisterhood I felt with new Ridgewood friends at the craft night.

Even now when she’s a few months away from being 90 years old, Olga still makes jokes about how she needs to go back to work at the knitting mill. And she’s several times offered to try calling up her old German boss to ask him if he can get me a job there.


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