Hello, all. I’m Wanett. Or Nettie. Or @sownbrooklyn around the web.
I’m an academic librarian living and working in Brooklyn, New York where I was born and raised. Which means I am short of patience, pushy on the subway and have perfected my resting b@#ch face. My main professional and academic research focuses on the places where Black and fashion histories intersect. I love to share those things via Instagram and in RL.
Since being asked to contribute to this blog, I have written this post a thousand times or more in my head. Its topic is one I think about daily as I scroll my way through Instagram and Pinterest and less frequently, blogs. It’s at the forefront of my professional life as a librarian and in the lives of those close to me who work as actors, artists and writers. It took up prime residence as Instagrammers of color shared their thoughts and research in posts that were regrammed outside of Black social media spheres.
Diversity. Or more accurately put the lack of it.
Even as people of color reach new heights in their chosen fields we still have to contend with announcements of the first (fill in the blank) to be appointed as this or that, to achieve such and such status, to receive a top honor. It’s a constant reminder that for all our progress there are still areas where our presence is uncommon. The crafty world is no different.
I have made things all my life. I come from a legacy of making that extends back to the very foundations of the United States. If there was a task to be done as this nation was founded, a Black person typically performed it. We were the first farmers, chefs, event planners, seamstresses, designers, cobblers, cabinet makers, carders, weavers, spinners, make-do and menders, farm-to-tablers, laundresses, foodies, you name it. The credit for these innovations was misplaced and when these same tasks and abilities were desired by others who needed to earn a wage, they became elite, coveted and segregated. Suddenly our skills were less in demand and even shunned. Many were run out of business when competition became fierce. Through the passage of time, we became disassociated with the very skills we pioneered.
So, when you see a modern day Black woman knitting or sewing or weaving or cobbling shoes or carding fiber or spinning yarn, she is not following trends. She is a continuation of a legacy. Of course we would not only be interested in knitting, spinning, dyeing, shoe making, designing, pattern making… we would excel in practicing any craft. Nevertheless, this excellence is not immediately apparent when browsing craft magazines, reading popular blogs and features on coveted designers. People of color are rarely workshop instructors or retreat organizers or craft book authors.
Why this disconnect? This topic has been taken on over in Instagram Land with many chiming in with opinions. Some say it’s a lack of awareness, others see blatant discrimination, still more think that the problem is lack of visibility or an industry disregard for the need to seek out diverse artisans to champion. I see it as a combination of all. These issues were apparent to POC ages ago. We have been talking about it for decades. Centuries even. However, like with all discrimination, we need those who are not affected in order to effect change.
I have had the great fortune to make life-long friends through my hobbies. Women from backgrounds very unlike my own who I have formed unbreakable bonds with. I know the power of having strong allies and benefited from sharing perspectives and life experiences with other women. We all benefit when we can each revel in the expression of our fullest self.
Inclusivity, diversity and MOST importantly retention of fledgling crafterprenuers is required to broaden the maker landscape. We need editors, yarn storeowners, retreat organizers, workshop venues, and other every day crafters to see us and respect us. To make allowances for our inclusion until the allowance is no longer necessary. Trust in our abilities and look for ways to expand your standard list of who’s who to include us. Without ceremony. Without pats on the back and blinking signs demanding acknowledgement. Let it be common to include. And keep on doing it. And never stop.
If you’d like to follow along with the discussion on Instagram, check crafters @lhamiltonbrown, whose posts sparked the recent online discussion of the erasure of Black crafters, and @ggmadeit, who has blogged about these issues while highlighting crafters of color. Additionally hashtags like #blackknittersofinstagram and #diversknitty are a great place to start looking for new people to follow, designers and crafterpreneurs to support.
Or to simply appreciate a well-executed craft.
Nettie, it was wonderful to “meet” you. Your post brought forward some of the more unusual aspects of life that POC deal with. Thank you for articulating them so eloquently.
Thank you for this post. Yes, I’ve noticed a lack of people of color in the mags and crafting instructors at festivals and shows. However, I’ve found some great sewist bloggers to follow who just happen to be POC. I actually started following them because they write clearly, sew interesting stuff, take good photos and also happen to be curvy women. (Sewing for an ample figure is a particular interest of mine.) I’m happy to say it was not difficult to find these women in the blog world. I hope this trend continues and I begin seeing POC in other crafting venues.
Thank you for sharing this post! The last presidential election was a real wake up call for me in a lot of ways. Since joining a few Facebook sewing groups and sharing with women all over the world, I’m finding that sewing is one more area in which I’m realizing that there’s a lot of things I never knew that I never knew.
This was so excellently written. Concise but hitting right at the heart of the matter.
The fact is, America is gonna America. We, especially black women, are often ignored or overlooked…and excellence often comes at a price (ahem, Serena…). Andrea (knitknac) and I were JUST talking about the lack of black pattern makers. I know SewStyleMe is getting going and of course there ARE other WOC who design patterns…but specifically talking about black women here. We are just completely underrepresented and it’s frustrating.
I don’t knit anymore so unsure if there are highly successful/popular knitting pattern makers who are black.
“… include us. Without ceremony. Without pats on the back and blinking signs demanding acknowledgement.”
And this. In every aspect of life. So much this.
Yes. Do the right thing (include, listen, seek out, include) without ceremony or accolades.
I think what bothers me the most is the fact that it’s JUST NOT THOUGHT of…by sewing machine dealers, in retreats – I look at the pics from all the retreats and they are 90% segregated – sewing books, blogs, etc. JUST NOT THOUGHT OF!
I think you are right – but it blows my mind that it could be the case in this day and age! What do you think will open peoples eyes? How can sewists of all colours push for change? (And if we are ever not doing well enough at the Sewcialists, PLEASE tell me!)
I think that if you’re “out there” and “good” people will find you, regardless of your skin colour. Perhaps I’m naive, but I do have an open mind.
Hi Yvette! I like to be optimistic about sewists as a community, and I sure hope we are all following people who are diverse in many different ways! I think there is no denying though that amongst pattern models, pattern designers, and sewing magazines in general, the population of sewists of colour is way under-represented. (I mean, look at all the pattern makers, teachers and well-known bloggers in Canada – we definitely don’t reflect the ethnic diversty of the country as a whole!) Even when pattern companies pick testers or chose who to reshare on social media, I think there is a clear bias towards young, thin white women. That means its harder for sewists outside that demographic to get exposure and harder to get involved in the money-making side of sewing. Not impossible by any stretch, but to me seems like un unfair playing field. What do you think?
What do I think? Spent the night (one of those sleepless nights that 60 plus women get) mulling this one over. I’ve been in this industry for more than 45 years, starting with sewing, adding machine knitting, then went retail with knitting machines and sewing machines in the 1980’s. (In Southeastern Ontario, Canada, and I think that’s important to know. ) I’ve worked with many, hundreds, in fact, people in that industry over the years, and yes, most were white women. White women of all ages and sizes. In the entire time that I was in retail, I can only recall 4 women in the industry who were not, 3 were oriental (and in Toronto), and the other was “coloured”. In my geographical area, it’s still like that. Why? Because that’s who’s here, sewing, knitting, creating outstanding designs. So I still think that “if they’re out there” and “good” they’ll be discovered.
I appreciated this highlight Nettie! Thanks for sharing 🙂
One more reason to adore librarians! Thank you for doing this work and making a fuller picture of the past more visible.
Thank you, Nettie for raising this issue so eloquently. Even though I’ve found the online sewing community a great place, I still see that we are relatively invisible. The issue of representation is something that is hard for people to understand because people will say no one is actively stopping us from being involved. If you don’t see someone like you doing X, Y or Z it feels like your not meant to be there. Equally, if you are the ‘normal’ doing X, Y or Z it’s easy to not think about all those other people who don’t look like you. Pattern makers, Blogs, Magazines and all other forums would do well to take stock, because after all they take our money readily, so it should not be too much to ask to include us properly.
[…] I caught sight of a post under the Sewcialists banner on diversity, which really got me thinking, the post written by @sewnbrooklyn tackled the subject of the lack of diversity in sewing publications. I was […]
[…] 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 treasure posts where the author opens up […]
Hey, I’d love to see this post shared again. Or even better another post on this topic. I feel like with the recent issues that have reared their ugly heads in the knitting world, that sewers need to be proactively sharing the work and thoughts/experiences of BIPOC in the sewing world. Perhaps this could be tied into promoting the Makers of Colour account?
We are hoping to have the Makers of Color folks write for us as soon as they have time! It would be a good chance to reshape some of our older but topical posts too. Thank you for the suggestion!