As we head into the new year, my goals is to put my money where my mouth is: to shop for patterns and fabrics that support the ideals I believe in.
For me, that means:
- Buying or testing patterns from companies that use models and testers representing a range of ages, sizes and ethnicities
- Participating in online challenges that are inclusive (We here at the Sewcialists aim to run challenges where sewists of all genders, sizes, abilities, and budgets will be able to participate, and I hope for the same from others!)
- Supporting free or low-cost patterns that are accessible to everyone, but also paying for good drafting and high quality when I can
- Refusing to buy fabrics that appropriate other cultures, or are labelled things like “Navajo”, “Aztec” or even “tribal”, unless people from those cultures were actually involved in design or creation! (Buying and wearing traditional fabrics from authentic sources is a-ok in my book, but I know we all draw the line in different places on this topic.)
- Shopping online or in person from stores in my own country (If you are a Canadian like me, I recently posted a list of online shops in Canada!)
- Buying and sewing in an environmentally friendly way when possible
…and perhaps most importantly, letting stores, companies, designers and organisers know why I am choosing to support them! Personally, I think positive feedback is even more effective than negative. (As a teacher, I’m always trying to “catch a child being good” instead of nagging them about the same flaw over and over, and I swear it works just as well on adults!) Cheering on the good we see in the world puts everyone in a better mindset, and is an easy way to reward those who take the time to consider inclusivity.
At this point in the sewing community, we have a lot of options. Want activewear/jeans/t-shirts/etc? There are tons to chose from, and many of them are great! First off, I’d always suggest going with a company that drafts for your body type and size, or buying the best quality fabric you can afford, but beyond that, it can be hard to choose. Why not take a look at shops and ask yourself, “Does this represent the sewing community in all its glorious diversity?” If it does, support them!
How do you put your money where your mouth is? Please leave suggestions below, including stores, pattern companies, and sewing challenges that you feel are inclusive and worthy of support!
So glad you included cultural appropriation on this list. Anyone who has looked at my blog in the last three or four months knows that that is a really big issue to me. Personally, I won’t even give myself the oh-so-popular “created by a person from that marginalized community” out, for two reasons:
1) if I’m walking down the street in, say, a “tribal” print dress, people are only seeing the dress. They aren’t seeing that I hypothetically bought the fabric from a Native artisan. My clothing is hurting feelings & causing offense (potentially), & let’s be real–the likelihood of a person who is upset by the print on my dress coming up to me & asking if I ethically sourced the fabric from a Native artisan are vanishingly small. That’s why I say that intent doesn’t matter. I may not have intended to offend & hurt feelings…but I did. & that’s what counts.
2) All too often, the emphasis on procuring goods (be they fabric, knickknacks, whatever) from members of the marginalized culture showcased in the goods obscures the fact that all players in a capitalist exchange are not equal. Privileged consumers (white, European) have a loooooooong & storied history of exploiting communities of color for their resources, & in effect forcing them to turn their cultural artifacts into consumer goods. I don’t want to be a part of that cycle of exploitation, I don’t want to contribute to that.
So, if I find myself hankering for some print or textile or whatever, & it crosses my mind, “Hmmm, is this cultural appropriation if I buy it from, say, fabric.com or Alexander Henry?” or whatever, I don’t make the leap to, “It’s okay for me to have this if I buy it from a marginalized person!” I accept the fact that not everything is for me, as a white person, & that’s okay. I can admire the beauty of certain prints & textiles without needing to possess them for myself.
& then I fight for–& with–people of color & other marginalized groups in ways that don’t force them into a commerical relationship.
Just my two cents! (<—- Terrible pun on the topic of "putting your money where your mouth is".)
Thank you for making me think! I wouldn’t argue with either of your points in regard to First Nation, Metis and Inuit cultural items. I wouldn’t dress up in the grass skirt and bra from when I studied in Fiji for a term, because that’s closely tied to exploitative stereotypes, Where I start to get unsure is what to do with the huge stash of traditional Japanese fabric I have from living there for 5 years, or the piles of Indian silk and cotton that I brought home from a semester there 15 years ago. (Clearly I love squirrelling things away for later!) What would your take be?
I wish I had a clear-cut answer for you. I think I personally would avoid using fabrics that really scream cultural appropriation. But if you have some fabrics that are more neutral, like, say, a jacquard that might ordinarily be used to make a traditional kimono, but isn’t plastered with explicity Japanese iconography, I would just be very mindful about the way I used it. Meaning, nothing that evokes kimono.
I suppose the other option would be to give the fabric away, but that just kind of passes the buck without addressing the problem at all.
This is so well written! I often find it difficult to write exactly how I feel on things without sounding pissy at everyone but you’ve worded this just So right! A fabric shop here in Australia had aboriginal dot painting fabric that I ADORED but then I started thinking if it was even designed by an indigenous Australian and then I thought, well I should I try and source it from a local designer instead? But after speaking with many of my aboriginal friends who all weighed in with various opinions and suggestions I decided that as a white person I didn’t need to just barge in on their culture like that at all. Like you said, we can approciate it and love it without taking it!
wonderful comment, ciara!!
Thank you! I know this is a really difficult topic. People are so quick to take offense. I wrote on my blog about how I brought a culturally appaopriative toy up with my daughter’s preschool (it was a play tipi made from jungle-themed fabric). Saying it didn’t go well is an understatement. They wound up kicking my daughter out of school over it!
But I think that just goes to show what an important issue this is, & how it represents a whole host of evidence that society still has a long way to go on the topic of racial justice.
Yes to this! I actually [re-]started sewing and knitting in order to have clothing that lines up with my beliefs – i.e. that minimises exploitation of people, animals, and the planet. I choose certified organic fabric and yarns, even better if they’re Fairtrade too; or ‘vintage’ and reclaimed materials. More recently I’ve become interested in minimalism-type ideas for environmental reasons – knowing that excess ‘stuff’ is a problem for the world whether it’s made by me or someone else.
I’m so glad you’ve called attention to the problem of cultural appropriation in fabric design!! Many companies are guilty of this but I’ve particularly noticed it from Art Gallery Fabrics, and I don’t think I’d buy any fabrics from them because they’ve had so many culturally dubious collections. I guess I have a bit of a double standard there, though, because I do still buy from Lillestoff (German-made organic cotton fabrics) despite them having had a few dodgy “ethnic” designs.
Personally I do regard direct exploitation of people (through unfair work practices, forced labour, child labour, dangerous conditions, etc) and their land (through extraction of oil for synthetic fabrics, or very damaging non-organic cotton cultivation, and pollution of waterways from dyeing etc) as a more pressing concern than cultural appropriation, but they are both important and both stem from the same destructive and de-humanising mindset.
Thanks for bringing this topic up! I’ve written a lot about it on my blog in the past and I often feel frustrated that it isn’t talked about more in the online sewing community.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I think we all have to triage what we will care about most, and how we balance priorities – I teach ESL, and usually work with really isolated new Canadians in very rural communities, so for me, representation and culture is front of mind. I can’t argue with any of your environmental priorities though! 😉
I’m with Nina! I’ve been calling myself an eco-feminist since ’71 (I know! what sort of crazy date is that??) so I’m a freak about all sorts of things. It’s become so ingrained I wouldn’t know how to be otherwise. The whole issue of “cultural appropriation” however is new to me but I like that it’s now singing a song in the spotlight! I’m on a serious fast – fasting RTW (with the 2018 Challenge) and I’m with Nina in craving more minimalism in general. I’ve added a host of things to that fast – no fabric, patterns or (shoes 🙂 ) in 2018. If I meet this challenge then I’m extending it to my 65th bd which is Nov 2019. I have enough fabric and patterns (and clothes) to last me several lifetimes, never mind 25% of one. I’m slowing my sewing down – taking my time with each garment, doing all the fussy things my imagination sparks (Hong Kong seams, linings, hand-sewing, embroidery and other embellishments) to make each piece really a creative expression instead of just another garment to add to my pile.
High five for decades of feminism! It blows my mind when people are surprised that my husband identifies as feminist – like, really? It’s the 21st century. Who doesn’t believe in equality?
I hope you really enjoy your RTW fast, and enjoy the path to minimalism! It’s not a path that appeals to me, but goodness i’d have a tidier house if it did! 😉
Oh, girl. We talked about this. I bowed out of a certain year-long Instagram hashtag because while it didn’t exclude me, it was excluding people, and I have to participate in things that are inclusive as much as I can. Do I have blind spots? Oh certainly. And to be human is to be a hypocrite. We can never be 100% anything because we all make contradictory choices. I recycle, but I drive an SUV. I don’t buy RTW, but I have an ipad and an iPhone which have environmentally unsavory elements. I live simply, but I have 4 children… There are always choices. We must do our best. I’ve written extensively on this, and eco-burnout is real.
One thing that has really PO’d me of late is controlling a narrative that is not yours. I’m not going to write on miscarriage because I’ve never miscarried. While I may be supportive, I’m not going to write on being plus-sized because I’m not plus-sized. I can write on motherhood, suicide, being a survivor of abuse, substance abuse…because I have lived those. Controlling a narrative that is not your own is selfish and rude AF. I’m looking at a certain “omg, cosplay is SO WEIRD I don’t get it hahaha” post. I can write on cosplay as I design and engineer my daughter’s cosplay. If you are truly caring and want to know about something, a subculture, a lifestyle, a preference, you go to them, not sit in your ivory tower and laugh. You don’t get to control someone else’s narrative. /rant
Obviously I’m still sore. Lol
I definately support my local fabric store….both for classes and supplies. Being in Portland, I’m blessed to live around a lot of designers, so I’m partial to buying local patterns and fabric lines by other Oregonians. I’m in my local quilt guild…and buy items from other ladies in my guild, like I buy Gold Willow Waxes melting waxes because I know the owner. If not local, I do try to support our tribe. I prefer indie designers to Big 4, etc. Often when I write a national or international story, I try to weave in either someone local or someone in our tribe. I’ve included Queen B designs, as she’s local, I’ve interviewed Zoe of Me-Made-May, etc. I’m very partial to our makers tribe.
I hear you!!!! I’m *always* nervous that I’ll cross the line from facilitating conversation here to forcing a narrative that isn’t mine to tell. It’s hard!!!
As for contradictory choices – YES! I’m trying to tell myself this year that I don’t have to make all the changes to be more eco friendly… that making some small ones are better than nothing!
I just love you’re willing to have a conversation. You’re diplomatic. I think it’s key being willing to continue learning. I’m still learning and I hope I am always able to stop, and take a hard look at myself.
The point about not buying fabrics that appropriate other cultures is an interesting one. I haven’t noticed this from Art Gallery fabrics in particular that Nina pointed out, but I think any kind of labelling in general is an issue, especially when it is considered the norm, e.g. “African Wax Print” fabric.
I am also with Beckyjopdx about being a hypocrite. We live in a privileged part of the world and are lucky to be there. As you know my blog is about sustainable sewing, yet I travel a lot and generate air miles. I drink coffee in a reusable cup but this is just a band aid to stopping the coffee drinking and reducing demand by 1 person. I buy “Eco fabric” but the reality is I have enough clothes and fabric and I should just stop buying anything.
But anyway, I think the goal is a good one – you have defined your ideals and determined a way to action it #winning. I heard a line on the documentary Blue Planet II that I thought summed it up well. It was along the lines of saying we can only be expected to do what we can feasibly do.
That is a comforting and motivating quote! My personal challenge is that I love rayon and polyester knits, and I know both are bad for the environment… so I’m hoping I can reduce my impact in other ways be recycling scraps, wasting less, refashioning old makes, and buying locally so that the transport footprint is in bulk and hopefully lower. I’ve got a lot to figure out though! 😉
I don’t think labelling is necessarily a problem, provided it’s accurate. (“African wax print” could be problematic in that it’s vague – Africa’s a big continent.) Correct labelling might be attribution rather than appropriation – using the fabrics but erasing their origins would be bad!
AGF have had collections in recent years that were supposedly “gypsy” (e.g. “Bijoux”), Indian (as in Asian), Eastern European, Greek, Mexican, Scandinavian, Chinese, and numerous others just vaguely described as “ethnic”. There was one called “Indian Summer” that was marketed with a photoshoot of little kids playing cowboys-and-Indians and a quilt design called “Tepee Adventures”; I contacted the designer and she swore the tipi design was actually mountains, and the name of the collection was only about the weather phenomenon; check out the blurb for it right at the bottom of this page http://www.artgalleryfabrics.com/cgi-bin/fabricshop/gallery.cgi?Category=13 – “Oh! Was that a little Indian I saw?” – WTF?!
“What we can feasibly do” is obviously sensible but also wide open to abuse, right? I mean, most people I know would argue that ruling out all new non-organic fabrics was unrealistic, i.e. not feasible, but it is totally do-able. We all interpret feasibility in terms of our own ease and comfort, not actual possibility. That said, even small change is better than none at all.
Ok I see what you mean about that AGF collection – totally inappropriate.
As for what we can feasibly do, of course it is open to abuse, but I believe small change is better than zero change. However not everybody can afford for example organic fabric and even then organic is not without its problems. Also there are many reasons to sew and I suggest saving the environment is unlikely to be top of the list.
So sorry to derail this great conversation for a minute, but as a fellow Canadian who was just last week trying to find Canadian pattern designers and fabric shops and failing with Google, could you double check your link? It’s coming up blank for me. Thanks!!!
Fixed it! Now go forth and buy Canadian! 😉
Oh, something I totally forgot. I happened upon Friday Pattern Company last year. I made the Garamond top. Each pattern donates a 5% percentage of profits to a charity… So, that’s a good example of “money where mouth is” opportunity in our craft. I like that each pattern has a different charity associated with it…spread the love. https://www.fridaypatterncompany.com/about/
I hadn’t heard of them – thanks! Muse Patterns always donates a percent of sale for the first few weeks after launch, which is nice!
I dunno- I’m in Northern Alberta, and I’ve found our friends from all cultures- Native, international, etc, generally love it when I use fabric from their heritage or region, and even more when I ask about crafts and history. So that one hasn’t come up for me.
I agree I’ve been thinking a lot about environmental matters, and a lot about owning just a few things I love and will last instead of many things. Sewing things I love definitely aligns with my values there!
I think we can all agree there’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation. Gillian made a lovely skirt in African Wax Print fabric, but she didn’t make up traditional African garments to wear to a St. Patty’s Day parade. Gillian also started *conversations* about making the garments before and after to be sure her intent of appreciation and respect was clear and correct…and that’s really what we intend to do here, right? Keep the conversations going, keep them open, listen, and learn.
Marg, I’ve had the same experience in lots of countries where I’ve lived – many people love seeing their clothing and culture enjoyed by others! (One time my school thought it would “cute” to teach my tea ceremony and dress me up in a kimono to serve tea to parents at a school event… they quickly realised that I’m clumsy and it was never going to work! 😛 ) It sounds like you are doing it right by talking to people about their culture and knowing the history behind what you wear!
Can you give an example of a sewing challenge that is not inclusive? I’m racking my brain trying to think of an example. Obviously if a certain brand or store is running a challenge they’ll often make it about their products, is that what you mean?
Thank you for asking!
– For example, if a challenge only gives one pattern option, and that size range doesn’t cover plus sized sewists, it would be more inclusive to let people have the option of choosing alternate patterns!
-Similarly, challenges that suggest people buy a specific new pattern every month can exclude people who can’t afford that, but could have participated if they could use patterns they already have.
-Any challenge that is just about dresses or skirts by nature excludes men or women who sew but don’t like wearing skirts… so there I think the key is variety. Of course some challenges will be about traditionally feminine items like skirts of dresses, but then maybe the next one that person/organisation could be about tees or shirts or something more unisex.
Now, all of that said, my friend and I have dared each other to wear a Cashmerette pattern every day in February, and some other people have decided to join us… and those are all feminine patterns that aren’t cheap! So for me it’s all about balance, and offering choice – we’re both involved in organising more public and inclusive challenges, and if people want to join us they could do just a few days or a week.
Does that make sense? A long answer to a great question! I don’t think anyone excludes people from sewing challenges on purpose, but for someone who repeatedly doesn’t see them self included, it can start to hurt.
How does cultural appropriation affect food? Here in Melbourne we have a convergence of the dairy based food cultures from all of Europe and the soy/rice cultures from all of Asia (including India), with a lot of the different Arabic cuisines too. I make pasta, stir-fry meals, hummous, sushi & sashimi, as well as my own background of British style baking and roasting. It is common to combine techiques too – using a casserole pot to cook foods that would traditionally be done in a tagine (because my tagine broke). Or using a rice cooker to make risotto.
I will buy patterns from pattern companies where I am as certain as possible that their testers are not volunteers but properly paid staff or sub-contractors. I think this is one are where Jalie, BMV, Style Arc and possibly Grainline really shine. Everything is in-house with employees who are paid appropriately. Similarly with fabric or supplies. I will use companies local to me, with properly employed staff. That way I know at least some of the people involved in the textile industry were paid well.
Generally though – I am aiming to use as much stash fabric as possible, make bras (at last) and just enjoy the creative process.
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Wonderful fabric design. I love this.