This post was originally published on Sewcialists on December 15, 2017. The original post and comments can be viewed here.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. No pieces of who I am or what I create exists without the others. My blackness is in every loop on my knitting needles, my queerness infused into the hemlines of my me-made garments; my whiteness, my understanding of how to balance myself between cultures that both belong to me, is woven into the threads of every fabric I have chosen to bring into my home. Although I mostly blog about pattern designs and shoe lasts, I think often about how the things I create are intertwined with the ways in which I walk through the world. Bringing up these sticky conversations in the midst of a pattern review sometimes makes people uncomfortable — crafting is a respite for many, a way to release and get away from the hard realities that exist all around us, so they don’t necessarily want to read about how angry I am about the cultural appropriation depicted in the latest Alexander Henry print. But for me, there is no break — I don’t get to escape from my skin color, my cultural identity, my sexuality, because they influence everything I do, whether I want it to or not.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. Just because I have complaints about how white supremacy and the patriarchy affect me and my crafting doesn’t mean I am without my own privileges. My feminine tastes, my gender, my body shape, all of these things are validated when I thumb through patterns at Joann’s, dress after skirt after blouse perfectly suited to my liking and my sizing. I don’t recognize it as luck. It’s intentional. The sewing world, the world at large, has been set up to confirm my body’s presence in it, to make me feel comfortable participating in sewing, an activity that I love so dearly. I haven’t had to break the mold, haven’t had to yell and fight for my body to feel seen, for my bust to feel accommodated, for my curves to feel recognized, for my gender preference to match up with the designs available for my body type.
But because I have a wife whose identity on the gender binary is tenuous, and because I like to make things for her (I’ve started to describe making as my love language), I have had the tiniest glimpse into what it feels like to travel around in a gendered world that is not quite made for you. The first garment I ever sewed for her was a button down shirt, a men’s pattern. She liked the boxy shape depicted on the cover of the envelope, liked that it didn’t have darts to accentuate her waist or her bust. Not all women want their boobs to be pushed up and their waist to be squeezed down. At this time in my sewing life I had little experience with fitting adjustments — I thought you just took the side seams in and in and in until it fit perfectly, until there was nothing left to take. When I completed the shirt, it was huge on her, she was lost in it. The design was obviously not made with her body in mind. So I took in and in and in at the side seams. But now the sleeves were disproportionately huge. So I took the seams back out out out. In an act of desperation I added some darts in places that made no sense. I felt proud of what I had done but curious about why I had to work so hard to make the garment right for her when I was able to make patterns fit me right out of the envelope with relative ease. She wore the shirt a couple of times as a show of gratitude, but she was never comfortable in it. Eventually we gave it away. I am much better at fitting now. I have since made her jeans, shorts, tons of button down shirts using a better pattern, and approximately 379 pairs of joggers. But I make her the same things over and over again because there is so little available that suits both her tastes and her body. It’s not a complaint; I understand that my wife is part of a niche market. It’s just an acknowledgement. A reminder that in some ways I fit into this world more easily than others do. Which is, again, a privilege.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I’m trying to get out of the habit of saying things like “oh, this project is a piece of cake to complete!” and “it’s so easy, anyone can do it!” because, yes, another acknowledgment, a reminder: the world is not made up of people with the same abilities that I have. One person’s “easy” could be another person’s “crying themselves to sleep at night out of utter frustration”, for any number of reasons, all of which are valid. The whole slow fashion movement is based on a certain set of privileges that not everyone has. The money, the time, the brain capacity, the skills, the physical ability, the comfort — it’s not available for everyone, even if they appreciate what the movement stands for and want to take part. Some makers only buy organic cotton and natural dyed fabrics because they want to be mindful of the impact that their art has on the environment. Other makers shop at Walmart because it’s the only way they can financially accommodate their therapeutic crafting and their need to put food on the table. There is room for all of us; the definition of what a maker is doesn’t have to be squeezed down down down to recognize only people who are doing it in the ways we consider “right”.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I recognize the privileges I have as a cis woman making clothes for herself based on patterns that are easily available, affordable, and within her size range. But I also recognize how that privilege goes out the window when I go to a hardware store to buy materials for my next wood working project. When asking which aisle the screws are on, I am condescendingly told by a smirking man that “screws actually come in different sizes? So, like, it would help to know which type and size you’re looking for.” As if I wasn’t actually going to be using them myself, as if I had NO idea how screws work. I am offered help when carrying cumbersome things to my car and even though I politely decline, I am still followed out of the store all the way through the parking lot just to “make sure you’re okay!” I am petite, but I am strong, yet no one trusts this. I wasn’t taught how to work with tools and machines from anyone in my family because they never learned themselves, so a few years ago I taught myself by reading a book called The Handbuilt Home written by Ana White, a woman who builds her own furniture. I don’t want to have to shop at the big box home supply stores for materials, I would rather support small hardware businesses that thrive on local support, but the Home Depot three miles away is the only place I have found that employs women on the floor, not just the cash registers, the only place I’ve found that allows me to toe that fine line where I can ask for help without being patronized in the process.
Amongst older knitters, I make it clear that no, my grandmother didn’t teach me how to knit. And my mother didn’t teach me how to sew, either. When I was growing up, they were too busy being single parents to enjoy the free time and disposable income that often comes with recreational crafting and deliberate artistry. I think of them whenever I am luxuriating in my craft room, a space larger than any bedrooms my family ever occupied growing up. I make enough money that I can buy fabric that I don’t need, can splurge on the expensive embroidery floss, can purchase more yarn than the pattern calls for, just in case. But I am always wondering what kinds of things my mother, my grandmother, my father could have created when they were younger if they had had more money, time and support. I grew up poor, knowing that my parents wanted me to be better off than them, knowing that they wanted my life to be easier than theirs. I am, and it is, and I try not to forget what modest beginnings I came from. But it is so easy to ignore the pain of past yearning- yearning is not a pleasant state. The freedom I have to create is a constant reminder of the distance between me now and me then, between my parents and myself. It makes me feel guilty and proud all at the same time. Both in and in and in and out out out.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional. I seethe when I see a wall of cotton novelty prints that only features white faces, because I want to see my likeness in them, too. But I also have to check myself after automatically cringing when I walk by a shelf full of acrylic yarns, which I presume to be “cheap” and not worth a second glance; being able to afford more expensive yarn is a privilege that I often take for granted, which I find very interesting considering that when I first learned to crochet as a child, I had no idea that yarn could be made from anything other than synthetic fibers — cheap yarn was all we could afford, and so it was all I knew. That distance, again. Of course, now I know much more. Like how recognizing yourself in the world of crafting doesn’t look the same for everyone. Like how your socio-economic status, the color of your skin, the way you walk through the world, your culture, your gender identity, the people you love, your size, your ability, your mental, physical and emotional health, your religion, all affect what, how and why you create. I don’t see myself in shelves of fabric depicting all white faces, and others don’t see themselves in a $20 skein of yarn.
As I was writing this piece, someone left a comment on a blog post I had written recently. The post was about the ways in which fabric is whitewashed, and what a negative impact that has on both communities of color and white communities. The commenter fully agreed with what I had written but also mentioned how she, as an older woman, very rarely saw herself depicted singularly in the media, how after a certain age her peers seemed to disappear, her changing needs rarely addressed. It was like her age had suddenly put her in a demographic that was invisible. Of course, intellectually I understand the explicit repercussions that ageism and misogyny have on women in today’s society — I’m an actor for TV and film, so I have seen and felt the pressure to stay small small small and young young young since the moment my career began, and I imagine that I will experience those pressures in even bigger ways as my work continues. But I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t spent much time thinking about the personal toll this disenfranchisement has on women as they get older, yet another divisive impact on a community constantly struggling to make their voices heard.
I can’t fix any of this myself, I wouldn’t even know where to start, but I can strive to make enough room for all those parts of me, and all those parts of you. I want to hear as much as I want to be heard. It takes tremendous effort to be a crafter who is constantly carving out space for all the different people who exist in our world, and the sad truth, what I hope I have demonstrated in this essay, is that the work is never done. I know I don’t get it right all the time and I imagine that few people do, but I can always keep trying. I want to understand our world beyond the privileges and shortcomings that I experience myself, appreciate it through eyes that are not always my own — I can’t escape from my identity, but I don’t want to escape from anyone else’s either. Being an intersectional feminist is a powerful and often humbling movement to be a part of; it has taught me empathy and inclusiveness, and influenced my making in the most unexpected ways.
My crafting, like my feminism, is intersectional.
Anyone else want in?
Jasika blogs at http://jasikanicole.com/
The other posts in the Who We Are series are here.
Sewcialists have committed to more deliberately and frequently sharing posts, businesses and thoughts from people of colour in our sewing community and beyond. Today’s post is a reshare of a previous post written for us by Jasika Nicole.