Who We Are: Queer in the Sewing Community

Who We Are (15)

Hello Sewcialists! I’m Shannon, also known as @rare.device on Instagram. I’m so thrilled to be a part of the LGBTQ Sewists Who We Are series today! I’m many things, and it’s hard to disentangle the various and sundry terms I might use from one another because, like many of us, the way I understand myself is both about internal feeling and deeply informed by historical and political meanings. My sexual identity is both queer and lesbian; I don’t consider them interchangeable but they both have histories and political allegiances that hold importance to me. For most of my life I’ve understood my gender to be cisgender woman, but lately genderqueer woman feels closer to the truth, and I use she/her pronouns.

 

Talking about sewing and gender go hand-in-hand for me: both are about making, enacting, and fashioning. Sewing steps in where the world of ready-to-wear leaves us behind, in terms of fit, size, and gender expression, and allows us to conjure into this world ways of being beyond those enforced by the gender binary. As we’ve all found, sewing also helps us build communities, both of fellow sewists and through acts of love and care by making. Queer and trans folks are practiced at making communities: for some of us, the communities of our birth are no longer welcoming, and for most of us, finding ways of building relationships requires looking outside of the models offered in our upbringings, in literature, in media. Sewing queerly to me means thinking about the way I present myself to the world but also the attachments I make within it, the ways I love and care for and relate to those in my chosen family.

Finding an online sewing community has transformed the way I sew, helped me challenge myself and learn new skills, and introduced me to so many new friends. I feel so welcomed in the sewing community as an individual, both by those with whom I share an identity – it’s always such a thrill to find fellow queer sewists! – and those with identities different from mine.

Nonetheless, there are still some tendencies in the sewing community that can be alienating to queer and trans folks, or really sewists who are not straight, cisgender women. 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.

Perhaps more interestingly, though, when we think about sewing queerly, is how it opens up a whole world of questions, approaches, and solutions to the concepts of fit and “flatter.” For many queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks, self-fashioning can be both liberatory and fraught. On the one hand, stepping outside of heterosexual gender norms of beauty and attractiveness allows queer folks to explore other ways of relating to our bodies. As a femme-identified queer, I find immense power in both ignoring the many strictures placed on women’s bodies, particularly fat bodies, and in playfully exaggerating things coded feminine into indulgent opulence.

On the other hand, though, self-fashioning can also feel like standing on the edge of a gulf between what you embrace inside yourself and what everyone else sees. That gulf can mean queer and trans folks experience a lot of things: discomfort, misgendering, violence. Sewing offers a way of traversing that gulf, and I’m so happy to see the sewing community building resources that allow us to do so.

The great thing about sewing alterations is that they’re gender neutral. An adjustment for a full seat, a narrow hip, a forward shoulder means nothing about who you are but just how your body is formed. With this in mind, there are opportunities for further diversifying the size ranges, style lines, and pattern hacks or tutorials offered. For instance, within the recent boom in sew-your-own bras and underwear, there is still a lack of options for gender-affirming underthings such as binders, tucking briefs, or packing briefs. Pattern designers have only just begun to explore style lines that might be considered androgynous, and those are still mostly limited to pared-down masculine-of-center details on patterns marketed as women’s wear, rather than variations in menswear that lean femme or dandyish. The pattern industry as a whole has a lot of work to do on size inclusivity, which means fewer options for so many people.

For me, being queer and part of the sewing community has helped me not just know and care for myself but create tangible, physical forms that allow new ways of being. Fully embracing all those many and diverse ways of being available will only strengthen the community as a whole!

With that in mind, I’ve started a new project aimed at creating space for conversation and connections between queer sewists, Sew Queer. Visit the introduction post on my blog to learn more, and if you’re on Instagram, please consider contributing to the #sewqueer hashtag or following @sewqueer. I’m looking forward to keeping the conversation going!

Editor’s note: We are still accepting 1-3 paragraph submissions to our community post on being an LGTBQ sewist, so email us at sewcialists@gmail.com if you want to contribute!