Hello Sewcialists! I am excited to be a part of this project and to share my queer sewing story with you today. I’m Clara, a curious sewist and knitter, and you can find me on Instagram as @claraundco. I identify as a cisgender lesbian, but I love the word “queer” for the inclusivity it offers. I am a recent Gender Studies graduate from Germany, now trying to find her way in Nantes (France). Lately, I am getting into making sewing and knitting zines, and you can check out my first one, “DIY period underwear“!
Much of my queer coming-of-age happened online, and later, finding out more about being a queer sewist happened the same way. Growing up in a small town in southern Germany, there was not much diversity to be seen at school and on the streets, as well as in the sewing classes I took and the magazines I bought. Learning to sew with Burda patterns and magazines was the only way to do it in a time before sewing got “trendy” again. So time passes, I move to the big city, start reading all those sewing blogs, fall in love with women and start studying Gender Studies. Slowly also, I start questioning not only my sexuality but also my wardrobe. In the beginning it’s not so much about creating clothes that reflect my style, but shopping in the H&M men’s department and sorting out my closet.
Sewing my own clothes was always a thing that I did, but to various degrees of success. I found myself (and still do) time and time again in front of DIY magazine shelves and in fabric shops, just to walk away empty-handed and frustrated. Finding a book or a magazine that includes at least a few patterns I like and that represent my style is surprisingly hard. And I don’t find myself especially picky! I am looking for simple basics, shirts, pants, no ruffles, no waist shaping, no dresses — impossible to find “androgynous” women’s sewing patterns in mainstream publications, or diversity regarding sexual identity expression, ability or race.
I understand to a certain degree why this happens (appealing to a wide audience, sexism in the fashion industry, the patriarchy…) but I am still surprised that independent pattern companies are not getting more creative and diverse in their designs and photo shootings. Aren’t queer people a great audience for sewing patterns? We are DIYing all the time anyway! Especially when most mainstream fashion is strictly organized around the idea of a heterosexual gender binary, then wouldn’t queer people be the first to make our own clothes that fit our gender expression and escape the body norms mainstream fashion imposes on us? And wouldn’t that mean that there is a huge queer audience for sewing patterns? Especially for independent sewing pattern companies that can invent their own rules and styles? Sadly apparently not.
There are many examples of beautifully written books or patterns, like “Crochetterie” by crochet genius Molla Mills, that is all about the outdoors, making practical things, hiking, yoga in the forest, carving your own crochet hook and it even features a PLAID BACKPACK! But again, it is marketed towards cis men (or the women who craft for them), and features cool dudes in their cool studios. I am so frustrated to see this, the outdoors is there for everyone! And I find it especially frustrating that even a cool, alternative maker adds to the erasure of queer people both from DIY and outdoor topics.
However, there are other examples, too and not to forget the many queer makers who inspire me daily! On my above mentioned journey to queer sewing I have encountered several people, articles and patterns that have opened my eyes to alternative ways of crafting:
Possibly the first impulse of how I could queer my clothes with sewing came from an article on Autostraddle on Tailoring tips for wearing men’s fashion. I can’t recommend altering vintage men’s shirts enough!
Every time I see a fellow queer maker online, I get excited, and someone whose sense of fashion and queerness I find immensely inspiring is @thedappercrow on Instagram. Their sense of style, oscillating between feminine and masculine, is amazing and offers many ways for seeing pattern classics in new ways. Another queer maker that I admire for her creative pattern design is Brandi of @purlbknit, a knitter and a queer woman of color. In an episode of the Close-Knit podcast, she talks about growing up poor and working in a yarn store as a teenager, and how white the knitting industry is. As well as Jasika Nicole’s article for the Sewcialists, this conversation adds to a much needed discussion about intersectionality and crafting.
I said much about the frustrating lack of patterns for people with a “less feminine” (or more masculine, androgynous, non-binary…) style, but there are still many out there, that help us, creating a wardrobe that fits our identity. For me personally, discovering the Archer shirt by Grainline Studio was such a revelatory find. A “women’s” shirt pattern without bust darts, without waist shaping, that fits perfectly! Grainline Studio also recently released their new pattern, the Yates Coat, featuring a quite queer looking model (judging from the “androgynous” haircut ;-). Seeing the photos for the pattern made me more excited then a sewing pattern normally does (even though its a great one!): I felt seen, and even though they didn’t comment on their choice of model, I interpret it as a nod to their queer customers. One more pattern, that was published recently, made me feel the same way: The Kaye Set published in the latest Seamwork magazine, consisting of a sporty top and bike-shorts-style bottoms. Underwear or Lingerie sewing has been super trendy lately, with great patterns coming up, but patterns for people who don’t wear feminine underwear have been missing. But here comes the set that has so much potential in my eyes! It can be regular underwear, workout wear, bike shorts, swimwear or even a compression top! These are great starts, but I will keep looking and dreaming about wild and flowing super trendy unisex sewing patterns (maybe I should just invent them myself!).
So I guess things are slowly slowly changing, and I am excited to see every queer looking model, queer maker and gender-bending garment. As important as it is for companies to make their work more diverse, it feels equally important for me to be more present as a queer maker and to explore what that means for me and for others.
In the meantime, maybe you can recommend me more blogs to read, makers to meet or patterns to discover? Or even link your blog or Instagram in the comments! I want to read all the queer crafting blogs!
Greetings from another Clara…and though I am not queer (except in the old fashioned sense of most people not always understanding why I do things the way I do things…) I just want to say I SALUTE YOU and your courage and sense of identity. Loving the top you are wearing on the beach. And period underwear? Now why didn’t I ever think of that?
Thank you for your nice comment! The sweater pattern is from a great Japanese sewing book called “Piece Work” by Asuka Hamada, I highly recommend 😉
Thank you so much for sharing, it was really eye opening. I thought I was an ally, but the more I read the more I realize that I didn’t really have a clue. When I read the title, I thought, “how would sewing be different if you were queer?” Because you shared your feelings so candidly, now I can understand.
That’s great to hear! It’s great that you are an ally and that you are open to learn more, I think that’s what everyone should do. Sewing is so different for everyone, that’s why I was also really happy to contribute to the #whoweare series.
Loved your post. I can totally see how it would be frustrating to be ignored by the companies that you are wanting to purchase from and always having to look past the way patterns are being marketed. The very reasons you like the archer pattern is the very reason that I don’t happen to but then I have so much more choice than you do and that is hardly fair. I also noticed the model Grainline chose and cudos for them for being inclusive. Hoping more will follow suit.
I would love to hear the opinion of the Grainline Studio team on this! We are just speculating and interpreting, but I would really like it if they would tell their story 🙂
Lightbulb moment! I have grumbled to myself when less shaped patterns turned out not to suit me, and I put it down to them being ‘trendy’, but you have opened my eyes to other reasons for garments to be different shapes. In fact I’m spoilt compared to your choices. I hope pattern makers take note of your comments and expand their ranges. Thanks for an interesting article.
Happy that I contributed to your lightbulb moment 😉 It’s all about diversity in the end! Diversity of styles, body types etc…
Thanks for your interesting article Claraundco. The binary of masculine/feminine can be so frustrating in its absolute domination of so much of our lives. As an older women I often feel invisible in the fashion/sewing/crafting world and also seek patterns that do not assume that I want to be covered in frills and flowers or that I want to hide away as I grow older. Style is such a personal issue and I try hard to suit myself and ignore current trends but as you have expressed so well this is not always easy when buying commercial patterns.
What you are saying is so true! I feel older people, and also disabled people (little people or wheelchair users for example) are often “forgotten” or left out of the conversation around DIY fashion, whereas there are amazing style icons like Iris Apfel (and all the others that are portrayed on the Advanced Style blog, for example), not to forget the amazing Vivienne Westwood who show all the time that fashion doesn’t stop at a certain age.
Leonie, you might enjoy reading some of our previous posts in this Who We Are series – there were a few written sewists over 50 about exactly what you mentioned! 🙂 Here’s the link to the whole series: https://sewcialists.wordpress.com/whoweare-series/
I love that you point out that the queer community has a strong DIY culture! I love that you highlight some examples of pattern companies getting it right, as well as some of your favorite queer makers.
Thank you! I hope to get to know more and more queer makers in this series! There are never enough blogs to read…
I truly loved this post. But then I always love to read people’s expressions of what makes them who they are. And even though I’m a straight, middle-aged grandma I can so relate to your frustration over not enough less feminine looking sewing patterns. I used to think it was because I was a teenager in the 80’s and I’m still stuck in those androgynous styles. Ok, maybe it’s partly that, but maybe also because my upper body is more masculine shaped – broad shoulders, flat chest. Patterns made to work with a feminine body shape look silly on me. Being able to draft my own patterns (as well as alter/modify commercial patterns) has saved my sanity, my self-esteem and my wardrobe. Thank you for your inspiring words.
Yeah! I love the 80s style! Give me all the batwing sweaters! And I really also have to do like you and work on my pattern drafting skills… Thank you for your nice comment 🙂
Yes!! Yes to all of this. Although I have sewn for years, I have stayed out of the sewing community online because I didn’t see a place for myself. I am straight, but I do not favor very feminine clothing and prefer a much more menswear inspired style, and I find myself adjusting men’s pattern to make clothes that I like. I see pattern makers churning out dress patterns and I felt the same frustrations as you. I recently started an Instagram account because I wondered if more sewists like me were out there, I’m @rennadesigns – I’d also love to know similar accounts to follow!
I found altering “menswear” patterns extremely frustrating! And even though I am tempted from time to time when a sewing magazine comes up with a nice menswear issue, I am sticking to my little boycott. I am just realizing in the conversation here, that it’s really more fruitful to learn how to draft my own patterns. And great that you are putting your work out there for others to see and to be inspired by! I think @sewqueer is a good place to start finding other sewists with a similar style on Instagram… Keep going and claiming space with your sewing practice, online and offline!
H, Clarai – enjoyed your story and love the top you made!
Here’s an article about Lena Waithe in Vanity Fair magazine – and it says:
…”Jessica Diehl styled Waithe so authentically dapper it’s as if Waithe styled herself.”
(sounds like fun)
And yes, that Vanity fair cover is a great moment for black lesbian visibility! We need more of that!
Thank you so much for sharing your story, style, and projects, Clara! So much of what you said about available patterns resonates with me. I have a curvier figure, but prefer a less binary style–my personal style feels like one small way I can combat bi erasure. Sewing helps me to achieve something closer to the style and fit I envision than RTW, yet the vast majority of patterns and even fitting advice tends to be hyper-feminine. I would love to see you start your own pattern line!
Thank you for your comment, Gwen! You touch such an important topic, non binary styles, or androgyny (or how you want to call it…) is still sadly mostly portrayed as being thin, white and able-bodied. There is an absolute lack of representation of plus-size and more diverse non-binary or androgynous styles in fashion in general and especially sewing patterns. Everyone seems to assume that curvier people want to dress either in super feminine clothing or big sacks. There is a lot of work to do!
As of now I have no clue how to design commercial sewing patterns, but you are encouraging me to change that! Thank you!
Thank you for writing this! The Archer is the only pattern I’ve found that passes the test for me. I have been scouring the internet for patterns that my wife would willingly wear and keep coming up empty. Even the andro-leaning possibilities are more queer-femme, which just doesn’t meet the need. Once I feel more confident in my sewing, I’m definitely going to start drafting patterns! Happy pride to all the frustrated queer sewists out there – I see you!
Hi Rachel! As a non-binary person, I can relate so much! I’be had luck with the Cornell shirt by Elbe Textiles (a unisex pattern) as well as just making mens patterns. Also, I think by removing the bust darts and adding fish eye darts in the back you can achieve a less femme-presenting silhouette. Hope this helps!