Gender roles in the crafting community

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*

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.

Image of “Husband’s Lounge” and hilariously stereotyped reading material within from Kristen La Flamme, artist and quilter. The first image originally appeared in It’s time for Quilts, Inc. to change the name of the Husband’s Lounge on While She Naps.

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.

A man and woman couple in matching handknits. Title, what's mine is yours.
It was REALLY hard choosing the most obnoxious picture to share with you, and I’m not sure I got it right.

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.

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

A post shared by also known as dolly clackett (@roisinmuldoon) on

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.

 

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

29 thoughts on “Gender roles in the crafting community”

  1. This is a really interesting post and topic! I saw one of Abby’s posts about renaming the rest lounge (?) at quilting shows – didn’t realize there were others.

    Inclusive language and imagery is really interesting to me. Personally, growing up, I did not expect to be included in anything in mass media, and I still do not to this day. I appreciate being represented in spaces I inhabit, but even with many people like me* desiring and requesting it – change is slow because nobody cares or really values us, and we know this. So it is interesting to me when other feel inclusiveness should be the norm and at the forefront of people’s minds; I guess I couldn’t imagine being so bold. But it wouldn’t be impossible or terrible to make all sorts of spaces inclusive, so maybe one day that will happen.

    I will say that I see more and more indie sewing brands making big pivots to be more inclusive, which is super awesome. I also see some larger brands doing the same – so maybe that one day will be sooner rather than later.

    Great post, Siobhan – it was great to share your thoughts and also aggregate those of others. 🙂

    *I’m not queer, but also not what people think of when they picture a crafter or sewing blogger.

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    1. Ebi, thanks for your comment ❤️ I really hope that one day you see more of yourself reflected in not only the sewing community but mass media. I was considering at one point to see if I could incorporate diversity of ethnicity in this piece but it’s such a big issue it wouldn’t have been done justice with another topic.

      The overwhelming whiteness, thinness, straightness, and able-bodiedness (I don’t even know if that’s a word!) in media is disturbing to me, though I guess it’s probably easy for me to express because I have the privilege to be able to say such things without being labelled a troublemaker, ungrateful and angry (except sometimes in matters of disability). As a straight cisperson, it’s probably almost too easy for me to talk about gender roles, as opposed to someone who has been fighting this cause their whole life, has been treated in ways I can’t even imagine, and is so, so tired.

      So in the same vein, I can see why you would appreciate and desire but not expect representation, or why you would find interesting the boldness which comes with my privilege. And I think you’re right about the indie brands – they are typically much better at finding a wide range of models, as opposed to the Big 4, which won’t even put a black woman on the cover of a pattern inspired by Hidden Figures, and continues to print culturally appropriative designs. Much love.

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  2. I agree. I see many men sewists, much more talented than I am, who are prolific sewers! What must they think of those signs?! My husband has no interest in anything I do. (I often think of myself as an Asexual amoeba! LOL!) So I sew, buy fabric/patterns online having them shipped to my home, he pays no attention. I sew a lot to save money on my teens clothing. And to use up a stash that’s older than my adult kids in their late 20s. I do love to sew for me, and I don’t feel selfish in the least doing it, I feel I deserve it. My body shape does not conform to patterns. Thus I’m never truly satisfied with my garments!! I am altering them constantly! OY! (slapping my forehead) Maybe there’s a hidden psychological thing in there. hmm. Oh yeah that’s right! Pattern makers never take into consideration that my triangle shape is not that uncommon! Its not me.
    I love Shannon’s boldness in speaking out. She often enlightens me to things I never noticed, but should have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is the perfect description of Shannon’s writing! I can’t confirm this as true, but I did read that sewing pattern blocks were developed decades ago and are very rarely updated (as opposed to RTW companies). I suspect a lot of their fit has very little to do with the shape of contemporary bodies!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm, partly, but also just that there is absolutely no way to produce ANY block that caters to all our differences. Two people with identical measurements can be totally different shapes because the flesh is carried differently. Different companies’ output will suit us just as certain shops’ stock will. We ALL need to take adjustments into account, the great thing is that as makers, we bloody well can! [Plus no size labels yay!]

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, absolutely. I just wonder if sewing pattern companies, being so much smaller and therefore with less to spend on development, have been a bit slower in adapting their blocks to the changing shapes of their target audience. It would be far easier for a massive RTW clothing chain to spend the $$$ researching and developing blocks than a pattern company which only employs a handful of people (even the Big 4 aren’t really that big). This is just my little theory!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I don’t think any of them do, bar extending the size ranges slowly upwards. A size 12 when I was a teenager was a 34″ bust. By the time I had young teenagers of my own, slim little things both, neither could squeeze into my size 12 wedding dress, although current sizing made them both size 4-6 at most. All madness. I’m tempted to market tape measures with no numbers, just coloured markings!

            Liked by 2 people

  3. Now the blog post- the language of crafters particularly [more so than garment makers] can be cutesy in the gag-making extreme, in itself largely the territory of the conservative cis-woman imo. I wouldn’t go near a quilting event for anyone’s money, but surely the ‘manland’ could be ‘quilt free zone’ or some such? Meh.
    I’ve been on several FB groups or fora where there certainly seem to be plenty of folks of all types, and by and large, there’s an open and friendly atmosphere. There are exceptions though, and I had a strop and left one where too many members were getting arsey about ‘allowing’ men to join because then they couldn’t ‘feel safe’ in posting any pics of them in their makes for fitting advice. [Then again, these morons frequently posted pics where they were wearing their clothes backwards while griping about fit] The blow up there happened because there were new members who were queer who felt very vulnerable with the argument.
    I’ve only recently been informed of the vile homophobic and anti-feminist stance of the owner of ‘Sense and Sensibility’, a harmless looking pattern company, which turns out to have a full-on Stepford ideology. [Sorry if everyone else knew that, I’m old] I was even more surprised when, on the FB group where this was discussed, the queer moderator came down in their defence, saying they are good friends of here. Weird. How do you defend that kind of vituperative SHIT?
    Shut up Fairy, you’re rambling. OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ramble away! Honestly, Facebook groups are a fascinating (and at times disturbing) insight into allllll sorts of folks. The gross comments I mentioned often occurred in fabric buy sell swap groups, most of which were already a bit odd anyway. Please, tell me more about how your husband “lets” you do things.

      I had no idea about S&S patterns. Does that make me older? Do tell about the controversy. Dunno how much internalised homophobia you’d have to possess to be able to defend that behaviour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s all most unsettling- I have one or two of their patterns [small company] and actually pattern tested for them for the first time last year. She seems very nice…then found this out. Her site is ‘Ladies against Feminism’ [I kid you not] and they have some NASTY bible-justified shit on there. Hurrah for the patriarchy! Stepford lives! Breeding like crazy and indoctrinating their horde of home-schooled kids into their belief system. NARSTY. I don’t care how ‘nice’ she may be, she believes some sick shit.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. See? I told you it’s some BAD SHIT. I’ve binned her patterns and will be ceremoniously burning the [cheapo] dresses I did for the pattern testing. It was an interesting experience, but I’m not going to be seen to use any of her shit, no way. I started to get really angry, then just went with boycotting, it’s less damaging to my psyche. I will be blogging about it though, it just needs to ferment a bit longer.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. I have found the site, but am afraid to open it and read. My blood pressure will likely spike and my head might explode. As always, I love what you have written today. You always make me think.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. One of my current bugbears is people referring to saving ‘their pennies’ to buy crafting materials as if they are children with a piggy bank.

      A lot of knitters in a Facebook group I have an ambivalent relationship also refer to hiding wool purchases from their husbands. Makes me feel icky.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I said this on Instagram, but I really am so happy that you wrote this post to add to this conversation! Since I started sewqueer I’ve had a couple of conversations with folks who have just started dipping their toe into sewing and felt nervous about finding space for themselves in a community that didn’t seem overly welcoming to them. So changing the way we talk about sewing feels really urgent and important to me right now (if only to aid in my one-person crusade to get all of my friends to sew, haha).

    Also I laughed really hard at your comment about finding the most obnoxious picture of his/hers knitting patterns, oh my god.

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    1. Hahaha, I shared another image on my Instagram when the issue was first published – an extreme close up of a couple with matching beanies, noses almost touching, about to kiss. There’s another of them wearing matching jumpers by a lake – he kisses her extended hand while she dips her chin shyly. Both have their other hand in their (almost-matching) jeans pockets for some reason. You can see there was some really tough competition there.

      I’m glad Sew Queer has led to people seeking you out to have those conversations. I mean, it’s not good that they feel unwelcome, but having that safe space where people can discuss those feelings is an amazing first step.

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  5. One year I made a NY resolution that if something a business did annoyed me, I would write to them and tell them. It was prompted by my going to the Lincraft website and them asking me to take a short survey. The first question was ‘who do you knit for?’ and the available choices were ‘my husband; my children; my grandchildren; charity’. Not even a ‘myself’! Let alone any acknowledgement that the person answering the survey might not be a straight older women with offspring. Crikey.

    I was really pleased with the Ottobre ‘family’ magazine which… I just realised it’s called ‘family’ so that might be undermining the point. Anyway it’s their new venture with patterns for the demographics underserved in their regular mags (teens and people assigned male at birth). The text was very much implying that the people making the patterns are making it for themselves. It was really refreshing. I probably should write and tell them that I appreciate it!

    And finally, I can’t STAND the ‘selfish sewing’ thing. I do occasionally call it ‘selfless sewing’ when I sew for others but that’s because it happens so rarely and is so boring that I basically want a medal. Not to be super het-passing about it but I knew my dude was a keeper when he made some comment about me renting out a room in the house when my roommate moved out and I said ‘no, that’s going to be my sewing room’ and he said ‘oh well of course, that’s way more important!’ And meant it. Up until that point he was basically on probation because I refuse to have someone major in my life who doesn’t think that the things that are important to me are objectively important and worthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guess that’s the last nail in the coffin for Lincraft. They’re such trash. Knitting something takes FUCKING FOREVER, you best believe I’m knitting for myself.

      I like everything about Ottobre, including their large size range. Glad to see they are producing different patterns that don’t have the usual cringeworthy “sew for your man” label attached. I might actually throw my phone across the room the next time I see “mansewing” pop up as an Instagram hashtag.

      Your last point is so important. Through writing this post I’ve had people reach out to me, comment etc. about some really awful trends in the craft community, many of which revolve around women whose partners are so unsupportive they feel they have to hide fabric purchases, make up excuses to sew etc. It’s just awful.

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      1. To be fair to Lincraft this was almost a decade ago and they did respond very nicely and take the survey down. Idk that they changed anything about their general policy though. They’re now the only craft store I have easy access too and it’s AWFUL. Even worse than Spotlight and I don’t say that lightly!

        Mensewing?? [gags]. Sounds like a human centipede situation to me.

        It makes me so so sad and angry when I hear about people whose partners are dismissive of the things they care about. I don’t care how nice someone is to you otherwise, that’s an indication that they will always prioritise themselves over you when it comes down to it. I demand RESPECT dammit. At a bare freaking minimum. I wish society taught us that we deserve better.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it’s a sad thing that men get discounted when it comes to craft yet I believe that most would enjoy it if it was more open to them. I say this because during the craft faires mostly marketed at women you only see a few males around (usually trailling after females carrying bags) but at museum lates where the craft tables encourage everyone (i think the pop up bars help too) there is usually a good balance of genders enjoying themselves.

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