Crazy Ladies of the Day: Seamstresses of ILC Special Projects Division

NB: Crazy Lady of the Day is an occasional series I write about remarkable women who break all the right rules and, through their stalwart commitments to their own dreams, communities and means of expression, work to realize their own visions of how the world could be better.  By my lights, to be a crazy lady is the highest form of praise. 

Update: I just saw that Spacesuite: Fashioning Apollo will be turned into a film by Warner Bros.  Bravo to Nicholas de Moncheaux for writing this compelling history, and showing that design history IS history!  


Studying the history of design, I often come across incongruent or unlikely stories of collaboration, collaborations in which the efforts of one person/group have been under-acknowledged and are deserving of much wider recognition.  One of the most exciting of historical inequities brought to light in recent years is the incredible story of the seamstresses from the Special Projects division of International Latex Corporation (manufacturer of Playtex bras and girdles), a story brilliantly told in Nicholas de Moncheax's Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo (MIT Press, 2011).  ILC seconded its best and brightest lingerie seamstress to their top-secret "Special Projects Division," where they meticulously sewed the spacesuits worn by the Apollo astronauts.  The designers of the suit deserve much praise for their highly imaginative (and ultimately pivotal) designs, but I was particularly moved by the way in which de Monchaux restored the names and faces of some of these incredibly talented women to the history of design (and histories of science, space, twentieth century studies, etc etc) through his remarkable book.  The embodied knowledge these women brought to their work, the innate understanding they had for both material (the Apollo suit was made up of as many as 21 layers of textiles) and the body (the suits had to conform to and confine the astronaut in order for it to perform) made enormous contributions to the space program.   Hazel Fellows, pictured below, is but one of these amazing women.  You can learn about more of them, as well as systems design, corporate espionage, and any number of other topics in Spacesuit.

 Hazel Fellows, crack seamstress at ILC's Special Projects Division sewing a spacesuit for the Apollo lunar missions

Hazel Fellows, crack seamstress at ILC's Special Projects Division sewing a spacesuit for the Apollo lunar missions