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The art of editing and sewing

Want to become better film editor? How about practicing the craft of sewing. Seriously. There’s a lot to learn. In the early days of cinema, the craft of film editing (note that at the time, film editors were not considered artists), was the domain of women. Memorable films like The Birth of a Nation, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, The Ten Commandments, Lawrence of Arabia were all edited by women.

A reason for this was that film editing was considered akin to sewing and so it was thought seamstresses would make good editors.

There's a lot of similarities in between the art and craft of sewing and film editing
There’s a lot of similarities in between the art and craft of sewing and film editing
Sewing project: Trouser converted from regular fit to slim fit

I set out to evaluate this claim and sometime between documentary editing projects, I got my hands on a sewing machine. Learning the craft was a breeze with tutorials online. The first task I gave myself (a relatively easy one) was to convert a regular fit pair of trousers into a slim fit. This is the outcome pictured! And I’m quite happy wearing the trousers 😉 Since then, I’ve also created some easy-fit tunics for myself you see in the picture above!

In the process, I’ve learnt sewing and editing do have a lot in common. There’s the obvious – both involve cutting something large (fabric or film) and then joining the bits (film clips or fabric) together creating something new (and hopefully pleasing) in the process. A stitch out of place and you’re left with a jarring jump-cut or a puckered seam.

It would be easy for a clueless editor or tailor to create a Frankenstein. But in the hands of a master you end up with something pleasing to the eye.

D. W. Griffith worked with Margaret Booth who was the first female to be given the label of “film editor” and later became editor-in-chief at Louis B Mayer’s studio.

Margaret Booth Editor
Margaret Booth at her work desk. She was the first to have the title Film Editor at MGM Studios

Legendary editor Walter Murch (my guru!), in his book The Conversations, gives a possible reason for the dominance of women in film editing. Film editing was not considered an art. It involved long hours of menial work, following the director’s orders and required a degree of precision and attention to detail when cutting frames. Film was actually cut with scissors and stitched together for the final cut. Later, editing machines like the Moviola were invented. These bore a remarkable resemblance to sewing machines in their structure.

Says Murch: It (editing) was a woman’s craft, seen as something like sewing. You knitted the pieces of film together. And editing has aspects of being a librarian, which used to be perceived as a woman’s job.

He goes on to say that with the advent of sound in film, men started looking at the job of the editor, because sound was somehow perceived as a “man” thing.

I think there are many traits a film editor can learn from the craft of sewing. Patience for one (it can be quite frustrating attaching collars and sleeves, trust me!). Attention to detail and a passion for precision in the cutting process. And of course, the willingness to try out new ways of putting the pieces together to create new designs.

Do you sew and edit? If so, I’d like to hear your experiences. Even if you’ve not tried it, let me know what you think of the idea you can learn useful traits from sewing that would be useful in the edit suite.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hey Gasper. …this was a very informative blog entry. Thank you….

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