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!