Who do you sew for?
Instinctively, I think that most of us would answer, “Me, of course!”. Or we sew for ourselves and our families. For those of us who are active on social media, however, the answer to this question isn’t quite as clear cut. For example, have you ever found yourself scrolling through a set of 40 different iPhone photos looking for the 2-3 best ones to post on Instagram? Or maybe you’ve limited your poses and camera angles to ones that will disguise how that one bust dart is a little wonky on one side? Or heck, maybe you’ve got a blouse that fits ten times better than any RTW, but from looking at your photos, you realize that you needed a larger FBA?
Why do we care? For some of us, it’s a matter of perfectionism …. we start to see all of the little flaws in our me-made garments when we look closely at our photos. For others, especially those of us with curvy bodies, we’ve had a few experiences with back-handed or even overt comments made on our blog or Instagram posts that have left us scratching our heads or even left us seething. Let’s face it, to post on social media is to invite judgemental comments. Note: I’m not talking about constructive comments in response to a “How can I improve the fit on this?” or an open-ended “How do I look?” I’m talking about the out-of-the-blue comments on garments that we’re proud to show off along the lines of “That print does nothing for you” or my favorite, “You need a better bra.” Unfortunately, the effect of this type of comment can discourage curvy women from posting photos of themselves online. After all, who wants to share something that you’re proud of, or heck, just sharing to show how a certain pattern looks on a curvy body, only to have it picked apart by strangers?
Of course, when you post online, most of the comments that you receive will be supportive and encouraging. But human nature being what it is, it’s easy to fall into a trap of focusing on the negative. Personally, I find the negative comments–especially those that are nit-picky about fit–particularly frustrating when they come from someone who clearly lacks awareness of the amount of extra work that goes into fitting a curvy body.
One of the missions of the Curvy Sewing Collective (CSC), where I am an editor and regular contributor, is to “normalize” curvy bodies. Garments simply don’t look the same on a full-busted size 18 woman as they do on a woman with a B-cup bust who wears a size 6. For example, in woven garments that don’t have princess seams or a ton of darts, I always get a dragline from my bust to my high hip. Frankly, I see this same dragline on a lot of large-busted women. I can increase the size of my FBA, but then I run the risk of the garment hanging from my bust like a tent, or sometimes, I even start to get fabric pooling in my cleavage. What’s the solution here? Do I add a bunch of darts to a relaxed, casual garment to meet the standards of the “fit police”, or do I just go with the dragline and sew something that I actually want to sew and wear?
Does the person commenting on Instagram really understand that maybe I already made two muslins, had the final muslin looking good, but something with my “good” fabric’s properties caused a change in fit, and now I’ve got a final garment with some fitting “flaws”? Do I not share my now-imperfect garment simply because of that? From some of the indignant comments that I’ve read online over the years, you’d think that we should simply bin all of our me-made garments that don’t meet certain fitting standards.
I’ve seen people defend these negative comments under the guise that they’re giving “constructive criticism.” Constructive criticism is great when someone is asking for feedback because they’re on the fence about how something looks, unsure how to style a garment, or looking to improve a future version of a pattern. The unsolicited comments that I’m talking about, however, don’t fall into this category. I’ve seen people post in the CSC Facebook group that “Well, I would want to know if something I made doesn’t look good on me.” The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s subjective, and frankly, a lot of times it comes from people who believe that larger women should go hide in a hole somewhere or at least, dress to look as thin as possible all the time. Screw that line of thinking. There’s a particularly cringeworthy recently bumped thread on a popular website for pattern reviews on the plus size sewing forum (of all places) that engages in some brutal fat-shaming of anyone over a certain BMI. Because, apparently, we don’t deserve to wear nice clothing unless our weight-to-height ratio is an acceptable number!
When it comes down to it, most of us spend our time and money sewing things that we want to wear. We choose to share on Instagram or on a blog, but our primary sewing “audience” should be ourselves. Ignore the fit/body police if they comment. As our esteemed Sewcialist Gillian said to me when we were brainstorming this blog post, “I’m a big fan of sewing what makes you feel good, and eff anyone who wants it to look different on you!”
The sewing community is usually so pleasant and supportive that it’s a bit of a shock you’ve come across such comments. There is no excuse for personal attacks (which say more about the individual making them, of course.)
However, you have pulled me up short with two points. Firstly, I lost weight for medical reasons before I started sewing, so never gave much thought to the difficulties with fitting a curvy figure, and the compromises that might involve (not that I ever commented about that!) The second point is embarrassing. When I was larger I wanted clothes to make me look slimmer, and when curvier bloggers made a garment which made them look trimmer I have sometimes commented about how flattering it was. The intention was a compliment, but it’s suddenly clear that it was an unwarranted comment on their size. Thank you so much for explaining!
And thank you for an interesting post.
Frankly, the insidious thing with a lot of the backhanded comments is that the person thinks that they’re being “helpful”, but really, often they just come off as critical or judgemental, especially if you don’t understand the poster’s individual circumstances.
After years as a larger woman myself, I’m not going to make backhanded comments about anyone else’s size (or about anything!) I had assumed, wrongly, that if something wouldn’t have offended me it wouldn’t offend others. There has been a culture shift on this subject – for the better – but I hadn’t realised that. It is upsetting to find that I have inadvertently offended people.
Great post, Michelle! I’ve also received comments like this and they used to really upset me. Now I couldn’t care less, because I have a lot more confidence from sewing and fitting my body. <3 <3
I won’t lie, I had a few comments send me into tears and made me want to quit sewing when I was starting out (ironically, I was much smaller back then, but still curvy/large-busted). Thankfully, now I realize that those comments say a lot more about the person posting them than they do about me!
Absolutely love this post! I often have drag lines from my bust to my hips too and it is so frustrating. i resonated with so much that was said in this blog post.
Thank you! A few years ago, a fellow CSC editor posted a blouse review where you could see those same draglines, and someone commented that she “needed an FBA”…and if that person had actually read her review, they would have seen that she’d already made a 3” FBA to the pattern. I think that was the point where it clicked with me that sometimes we just can’t get rid of every dragline and retain the actual spirit of the garment.
I find the sewing communities obsession with fit so strange. I suppose we are afforded more control over this area than those who wear more RTW and that’s why it’s tempting to try and remove every drag line, pull and ‘excess fabric’ but how much extra work is involved. Especially for those in the curvier end of the spectrum, it can be hugely off-putting especially for a beginner who could find making their own clothes a very empowering experience.
I say wear what makes you feel good, and if the fit is all over the show, or it’s not ‘supposed’ to suit your body type then still wear it with pride because you made it for you, and you are the only one who has to answer to that. Great read
I don’t get it either, and sometimes I get sucked into it myself. Personally, I shoot for “better than RTW”, but given that I’m not a fashion model and my life involves moving around, I try to not worry about every single little line/wrinkle.
The photograph of you in the moneta dress in front of the tulips is beautiful.
I think the bra comments are the most subversive. I currently am not into making my own and buying ones that fit is a challenge. So those comments do come across as helpful, until you really start to think about it. Thank you for sharing your perspective! And a reminder to be as kind in our remarks as we would like others to be!
The bra comments would be particularly grating to me. Bra making is on the more chellenging end of the me-made spectrum and not something a lot of sewists would be able to attempt…and any larger busted gal will tell you that finding bigger sized RTW bras that are well made, comfortable, and affordable is near impossible.
I belong to two private, very well moderated Facebook groups, one for sewing in general and one for sewists who have fuller bellies. I also follow public blogs and Facebook groups. For the “look at what I made” posts, I try to find something positive to say or post no comment at all. I only put suggestions in there if the poster specifically says something like, “What do you all think?” or “How can I fix X problem?” or “What should I do to make Y fit better?” Even then, I try to point out something they got right. Or I phrase my criticism as “something to think about is…” or “have you tried…” or “what has worked for me that you might find helpful is…” so that it doesn’t come across as harsh or know-it-all.
Yeah, I try to stick with these rules too. The ironic thing is that many of the people who give really dogmatic responses often offer suggestions that having nothing to do with what the original poster was asking, or they give unreasoned recommendations that will lead to more issues. I think it’s so much more helpful to say “here’s a option you could try. Or this other idea might work” and let the person doing the sewing choose.
I suspect that the women who make the “you need a better bra” comments fall into one of three categories:
1. They’re probably not uber-busty and don’t realize what a challenge it is to even find a bra that fits if you’re uber-busty.
2. They don’t understand how expensive bras are for the uber-busty (Most of us are looking at $55-$80/bra if you’re above a DDD-cup).
3. They’re entitled/independently wealthy and don’t realize that such an expense is quite a burden for most women.
There’s no doubt a lot of privilege lies behind comments like that!
I pressed reply too soon! I remember seeing a “bra” comment somewhere. Strange and mean behaviour.
It wasn’t until I started sewing that I realized women can be so critical of so many parts of their body. Seriously!
I have, over the years, headed off comments on certain things. I’ve posted my thoughts on “flattering”…9 times out of 10 people say it to mean “slimming”. I have gotten comments on being “brave” for posting a swimsuit pic. What? Brave how? I’m going to :gasp: wear this outside, in front of people, on my non-size 2 body! The horrors!!!
I have also posted several times about asking for feedback. If I ask for it, I really do want advice, suggestions and critiques. But often times I don’t…but I also don’t care that someone thinks a silhouette or color or fabric doesn’t work for me. AND I stopped worrying about this wrinkle or that wrinkle. I’m not trying to make things that look good for a still photo. I have to walk/sit/bend/drive/etc in this garment…all that matters is how it feels ON MY BODY!
Society’s perception of overweight people seems to get worse and worse. People indeed seem to believe if you are fat, you should don a sack and hide in a hole and not offend the rest of the world with your fat.
“The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s subjective”
“sometimes we just can’t get rid of every dragline and retain the actual spirit of the garment”
Amen!! Michelle! I love those 2 statements. This is a great post!
When I comment on photos its because I appreciate seeing others garments on bodies that have challenges like mine. I appreciate every bit of effort that went into making something for us! Because no matter what shape/size, we deserve it!
I have truly have enjoyed the sharing of curvy sewing so much, that it gave me the confidence to show my own body in my makes too. In hopes that someone like me sees it and realizes that they too look lovely no matter what!
I never appreciate constructive criticism on my sewing because to me it is like art. It is unique, one of a kind, made to my specifics, understood only by the artist, never to be mass produced.
So critique RTW! (those who feel the need!)
Generally speaking, I think that many, if not most, people who strictly adhere to one philosophy or another (I.e. BMI, wearing a particular size, fat shaming etc) have body issues themselves. Although I would never presume to criticize anyone Like that I was, at one time, fixated on having to wear a specific size…..only to discover that the size of a garment varied widely by manufacturer/designer. Now, I take great pleasure in making clothes that fit my “mature” figure, crazily grading between sizes and wearing clothes that have no size labels and make me happy and comfortable!
Yay! Well said! Thanks to sewing, I can now wear things that fit me and in all the bright , zany colours I like, and if it’s not perfect I still know that I made it and that it is better than bad fitting RTW. Wear what you love and always be kind and respectful of peoples’ individual choices.
OMG I love this post. And it’s so relevant, coming off the back of making a couple of new dresses without proper muslins and getting lectured about it online. We all work in different ways and for some of us, close enough is good enough. Also, I often get comments about something being ‘flattering’. I know it’s meant to be a compliment, but all I hear is ‘you’ve made you fat body look more palatable’.
I am always happy to see your posts, no matter where they pop up because I have a similar shape and you inspire me to try things I never would have otherwise!
You are so right, Michelle. There is definitely more criticism aimed at people with “unconventional” bodies online, whatever that may mean. This criticism is never in the spirit of helpfulness or encouragement, but it’s sure easier to claim you are offering constructive criticism than to admit you are policing fat bodies.
The bra comments are especially grating, as a) they often come from the ABTF community, which has a whole heap of issues of its own and b) they don’t take into account the fact that boobs are boobs, and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and placements. They don’t consider that bra fitting/wearing is really, really hard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons (financial, health, preference) and some people just don’t have the means or desire to spend hundreds of dollars getting the (again, subjective) “perfect fit”. Like so many of these comments, it just comes across as “your body is gross and you should be ashamed of it”.
I read your post. Then I read all of the comments. I definitely understand how you felt especially being on the end of some rudeass comments on my blog and on internet websites about my size and weight. And you’re right there are some draglines that are hard to get rid of if you want to be able to move around in the garment because we don’t live life standing up, straight and still. Now here’s my BUT – I think we should learn the proper fitting techniques then choose which ones work for our respective body types. This may mean that we aren’t able to sew a popular pattern designed by a thinner designer who added some plus sizes to the pattern so there isn’t any backlash from the plus size/curvy community. I believe we should learn to use seams to contour garments to fit our body parts. This is more work and not likely in that cute new PDF pattern that everyone is sewing. And a better fit does make for a better looking garment on our plus size/curvy bodies.
We should also realize that fat shaming is real. And there is a portion of the public that is gonna talk about “health” to hide their prejudices and why we should lose weight and not celebrate our uniqueness. These people should be ignored. Not that their dumbass comments aren’t gonna make you wanna scream or slap somebody but I always fall back on I’m a beautiful black woman who while I may have fat arms and thighs I truly love myself. So as Gillian says eff them. But to me the whole point of sewing is to learn our craft and then use it to the best of our ability to get the most beautiful garment we can make. Let’s not forget that when explaining why we do what we do.
Having spent most of my years with people telling me they hate me because I’m too thin (it’s meant as a joke but it’s not funny) I now am well out of the general indie pattern size range, and tall so anything pattern wise requires almost a total redraft for my pendulous shift in shape. I have a chest that I’m just beginning to tame and am adjusting to tuning into the chat about ‘the rules’ about what bigger humans can and can’t wear. I’m not one for sticking to constraints though so don’t much care what others think of my sewing output. I’d be miffed if someone said I looked slimmer however, like being fat is a crime and thinner is somehow virtuous. Clothes are fun, we post what we want, real is preferable to striving for unachievable vapid perfectionism on any scale. I remember back to all the judgemental comments at school, you’d hope we all evolve out of the playground mentality but it sounds like it can be even worse given the relative anonymity of commenting online. Great post!
As if fat lowers our IQ! And thinness makes people smarter.
I quit sewing clothes about 20 years ago because I felt so bad about my body after I gained weight . For years I settled for ill fitting RTW clothes.
Almost 7 years ago I started knitting; I started knitting sweaters a few years ago. Being able to create garments that are custom made felt so empowering: sleeves and bodies that aren’t too long, the right amount of waist and hip ease.
Many knitters also sew and we’re sharing their makes on social media. The itch to sew my own clothes returned. I struggled last year. I chose the wrong indie pattern and made a couple of sad looking “tents” instead of tee shirts. I walked away from it for a couple months. Rebooted again in June and have had some success.
If I can get it to fit better that something I could buy it’s a success. I’m embracing the motto “Perfection is the enemy of the good.”
Don’t give up!!! I did not sew for myself for just as long for the same reasons as you! But I sewed for everyone else. After 2 years of trial and error I am wearing “my” style and I love it! Sometimes “fit” isn’t everything, if you made it and you love it! That’s number 1 !!
Thanks so much! My new benchmark of success is getting it t fit better than RTW which is a relatively low bar.
Michelle — You are an inspiration and teacher for me. I’ve been following you on CSC and your blog. I have a similar body shape, and you are teaching me to see it differently and to have the courage and confidence to dress to please myself. I quit sewing for about 10 years and my body shape changed. Learning now what will work for me, I thank you for showing what you like and wear, how you made it, and the photos really help, too. I don’t know what will look good on me now, but I’m interested in finding out, rather than so intimidated and hesitant to try — largely thanks to you.
[…] favourite posts are when I convince my friends to write frank, sassy posts. For example, Tanya and Michelle both wrote about sizism in sewing, and Nettie and Ebi wrote about being black women who sew. I also […]