Have you heard of Sew Queer? Started by Shannon of Rare Device, Sew Queer is “a series exploring the intersections of sewing and queer identity”. Participants share posts using the hashtag #sewqueer, curated by the account @sewqueer on Instagram. Check it out if you haven’t already – I’ll wait! *Twiddles thumbs, looks up trinkets I don’t need on eBay*
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Y'all, over on the @rare.device blog I've got a new #sewqueer post up, this time about making formal wear and going to weddings as a queer, demisexual spinster. There's ALSO instructions for how I hacked the @cashmerette Harrison shirt into this awesome tuxedo shirt to wear with my McQueen-inspired kilt skirt. Pop over there for the link ❤️ . #sewing #queersewing
How good is it? It was Shannon’s post about Sew Queer on the Sewcialists blog (and her follow-up, Stitching Love) that inspired me to get off my bum and finish this post I’ve been neglecting for a few months now. That is, a consideration of the language we sewists use, and how that language works to include or exclude potential members of our community. Shannon wrote:
Marketing language, even by indie companies, is sometimes exclusionary or reliant on assumptions about their audience. This might be as simple as casually referring to customers or fellow sewists as “ladies” or using common naming strategies like “boyfriend cut” jeans or shirts. When releasing menswear patterns, companies often fall back on language that suggest that we (presumed female) sewists make items for the “men in our lives,” refusing to see a number of possible makers or recipients! I’d love to see companies and bloggers think more critically about how to use language that invites, rather than excludes.
I agree that language is integral to the tone our community sends, and it’s so important to utilise language that is inclusive to all. This post is largely a compilation of observations by other talented members of the online crafting community, but I felt it was worth putting together to make a case for more inclusive language use.
Take, for instance, Abby of While She Naps’ continued requests to relabel gendered signage such as “Husband’s Lounge” and “Man’s Land” at quilting events. For two years, she has brought up the topic with Quilt’s, Inc. and for two years, they have ignored her insistence that the language we use in the crafting community really matters. I’m sure the organisers of the event perceive it be a quaint joke, but consider the message it sends to the quilting community.
If you are a male quilter who attended the shows hoping to share his love of the craft, what message would those signs send to you? What if you have no partner, are queer or gender-nonconforming?
As Abby points out, words have meaning, and these signs reinforce the tired old trope that quilting (and by extension, other crafts) are secret women’s business, exclusive to those who happen to be heterosexual XX-chromosome possessing people with husbands who begrudgingly drive them to quilt shows.
This isn’t the only example of gender reinforcing-language in the sewing world. Beginner sewing classes at my local community college are advertised as “Sewing for Mums”, as if dads, people without children and others have no interest in learning how to sew.*
As I live in a small town which is about 10 years behind trends, this was disappointing but not surprising. What did shock me was when online knitting magazine Twist Collective devoted a whole feature to “his and hers” patterns in their Fall 2016 issue, apparently unaware of the implications of their piece, or the prominent place LGBTQI+ pride holds in the online knitting community.
Even the euphemisms we use to describe elements of our hobby can paint a broader picture than we sometimes intend. I’ve observed a tendency towards language which describes sewing for oneself as a selfish or secretive pursuit – one where fabric purchases must be explained and stashed away, and time spent sewing your own clothes (as opposed to, say, your children’s) is such a deviant activity it deserves its own hashtag.
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Day 11 of #miymarch17 is 'Selfish' and we're supposed to post about our next 'selfish sew' and do you know what? Fuck the term 'selfish sewing'. I sew as a hobby, in my free time. If you think that spending my time and money on something I enjoy just for me is selfish then GTFO. I mean it. I really hate this term because it's so retrograde, like it's somehow a bad thing to make things for yourself. 'Selfish' is a very loaded term and I don't see it being applied to traditionally masculine hobbies, like no-one ever talks about selfish golf. But because sewing is more traditionally a woman's hobby we have to be noble and self-sacrificing! It's another example of how we're expected to do unpaid labour and enjoy it! No thanks. Fuck that shit. I sew for me and if I make something for someone else it's a gift of my time and love, and it's a choice I make rather than an obligation. My next project is going to be a dress for myself in this lovely Vlisco cotton. #sewing #sewcialists #feminist
Perhaps what I find most disconcerting are comments such as, “my husband lets me indulge in my hobby.” This kind of language is strictly gendered, implying that benevolent male partners merely tolerate their partner’s passions, and with one disapproving word could put a stop to their little indulgence. Comments such as this are one of the reasons I have unfollowed most of my crafting Facebook pages.
I believe these stereotypes and the language that supports them are harmful in two ways: they exclude those who do not fit this narrow worldview, such as men, LGBTQIA+ folks, single/unmarried women, those who do not identify with any gender, and anyone who objects to such exclusive language. And positioning craft as a typically “feminine” pursuit feeds into the broader idea that “women’s work” is less important than those activities which are socialised as a “masculine” domain.
Whether you object to this language or not, it ultimately harms the crafting community as a whole. You only have to read the raw reactions from those who feel marginalised by such language to know that these stereotypes push away willing and talented contributors from the crafting world. As one commenter points out, “if we continue to exclude groups that are different than ours, we will become extinct.”
I would love to see crafters of all genders and orientations recognised in the crafting community, and for new sewists, knitters, crocheters and the like welcomed with inclusive language. There is really nothing to lose and everything to gain by considering the feelings of others in how we speak and write.
What do you think?
*I often see these signs while I’m at Spotlight with dad, so…yeh. Take that, community college.