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The Fabric of Factory Life

Eloise Bellard- Piecework at home in New York City

March 01, 2011 My grandparents came to this country from Sicily in the early 1900's. Like so many other immigrants at the time, they left Italy hoping for a better life here in America. Finding work was difficult especially for the unskilled. My grandmother and great Aunt helped support the family by taking in piecework. Instead of going to the factory they sewed at home for extra money. Both women worked all day by the window in the front parlor of their flat. The bundles they were given usually contained garments requiring fine needlework and lace work to be sewn onto the garments. The more detailed the work of course the longer it took. No matter how intricate the job or how long it took them to complete the job they were paid by the bundle. They earned no more than one or two dollars a week between the two of them if they were lucky. It was tedious tiring work to say the least. They could have easily been victims of the Triangle Factory if they had decided to go to work in the factory instead of doing their work at home. So many of the victims of that fire were Italian Americans like my grandmother and her sister. I was only 10 years old in 1961, when several articles and other stories appeared in the newspapers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. I can still recall my grandmother and father discussing the fire and how horrific it was. For them it was still a very emotional event, even fifty years later.
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About this Blog

This blog accompanies the library's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire exhibit, "The Triangle Factory Fire: A First Draft to History in Images and Print," which will run starting in March 2011.

Do you or someone in your family have experiences in the garment industry? Did grandparents work in a garment factory in New York City or another part of the United States? Perhaps they took in piecework to sew at home for extra money. Perhaps they marched in support of improved working conditions. Perhaps they were even involved in the fire itself.

What about internationally- do you know anyone who worked in the garment industry abroad? The issues of low wages and poor working conditions still face millions of workers around the world.

We'd like to post your stories about friends and family who worked in the New York City garment industry around the time of the fire and in later decades. We are also interested in stories about other factory life experiences around the U.S. and internationally. Submit your stories! Join the community!

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