"needlewoman, woman who sews or makes seams," 1640s, with -ess + seamster (also sempster) from Middle English semester "one who sews, one whose occupation is sewing," from Old English seamestre "sewer, tailor, person whose work is sewing," from seam (n.) + -ster.
The -ster ending is feminine, but in Old English seamestre also was applied to men, and the Middle English word was used of both sexes, though seamsters were "usually female" [Middle English Compendium]. Evidently by 17c. the fem. ending no longer was felt as such and a new one added (as in children, etc.), and seamster thence was applied to male sewers.
updated on March 15, 2022