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Why the Online Sewing Community is Awesome

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Pink background with sewing accouterments scattered at the bottom and text overlay that reads Why the Sewing Community is Awesome, petite font dot comIf you’re a sewing blogger or even a casual reader of this blog I trust you already know that the sewing community is awesome. Dare, I say, it enriches the home sewist.

Still, some people think otherwise. So I put this together as a response to a post on Medium titled How “indie” pattern companies, Instagram and the sewing blogosphere are stifling home sewing.

Medium is an open writing platform. Anyone can publish an article to it. Professionals and amateurs alike use it to find an audience.

The piece from December 2017 didn’t receive much of a response. But there was a rather incensed response in the Curvy Sewing Collective Facebook group, where a link to it was posted last Sunday. She’s since gotten a whole 4 comments on Medium.

At last count, there were 250 comments on CSC. People had FEELINGS. Rightfully so.

The post reads like nothing more than an angry rant. It ends abruptly without a conclusion except to give a shoutout to CSC (not the Facebook group but the online resource), so…good?

It’s as if the author inadvertently hit publish without meaning to, then walked away to attend to a boiling tea kettle, and simply forgot about the whole thing.

Our mystery author is clearly British. She is also of a certain age and a more refined writer than this one post belies. Based on her one other post, which is much better articulated and exposes a genuine vulnerability not present in this myopic rant, she can do better than this.

Her pseudonym is “the toilet dress,” no capitalization. If that wasn’t weird enough her bio is a word-for-word copypasta meme about Chinese toilet warnings. There’s no telling who this person is or was. She could be you, for all I know.

The toilet dress, or TTD as I’ll refer to her from now on, uses 1842 words to argue that:

  • indie companies are terrible
  • their Instagram-obsessed, skinny, young, white, fangirls perpetuate that ill-earned popularity
  • online fabric companies are scamming customers with half-meter/yard pricing
  • quilting cotton is another scam
  • anything “vintage” is terrible

Unlike TTD, I didn’t have the benefit of learning to sew in home ec or at home with my mother. I came to sewing later in life (at 38) and learned from watching YouTube’s Made to Sew and Professor Pincushion, and also Facebook groups (which I’ll get to later).

I might have empathized with a little of what TTD struggled with. I, too, fell in love with patterns that didn’t suit my body type but looked amazing on skinny, young, white girls. Because let’s face it, there are a LOT of skinny, young, white girls out there showing off their sewing skills and clothing.

L’sigh.

That was where my charity ended. This is probably what provoked me the most to write this response, her characterization of

sewing bloggers: overwhelmingly women, overwhelmingly young, slender, middle class and overwhelmingly white.

She says she ticks some of those boxes. I tick two: middle-class and woman. So as an over-40, fat, unabashedly unwhite Latina blogger without kids to sew for, I have some words.

My experience with the online sewing community is vastly different from what she describes.

And hey, I know that as one single blogger my experience is, at most, anecdotal. But I can still be a voice in that overwhelmingly large “milieu” of skinny, young, white chicks. Otherwise, what the hell am I doing?

Her experience, and therefore most of her ire, is with Colette and some other “twee” indies. I started sewing in 2016, after the debacle over the Rue dress. It was pretty ugly, from what I understand. But you cannot judge all indie pattern companies by what Colette did or does. Colette and sister company Seamwork have patterns that run $7-$14, which is about the going rate for indies.

There is a myriad of other companies out there that run the gamut from terrible to excellent.

I’d argue that Colette/Seamwork isn’t even the bottom of the barrel for bad products. I’ve actually had pretty good results with them. So maybe I’m one of the lucky ones whose body they draft for. Which is great because no one else seems to. (That being said, I likely won’t ever buy the cursed Rue.)

Unlike our TTD, I don’t get to pick up one of those Big 4 patterns and fit it straight out of the envelope. I mean I did think I could when I first started sewing. And ended up with a bunch of “wadders,” as she so elegantly refers to her failed attempts at indie pattern garments.

I call them fails. Which I love to blog about because I’m a realist and know that sometimes stuff doesn’t work out. It isn’t all shiny roses and unicorns on this blog.

But imagine if I had stopped after a couple of “wadders” and simply complained in a long-form piece about it. You’d all just call me a whiney bitch! Instead, I Googled like a grown-up and looked for resources to learn more about this magical craft called sewing.

What TTD is ranting about nearly coherently is something many of us have experienced. Fitting and sewing are not the same things. You learn one first, and then maybe the other. However, you don’t know what fits and what doesn’t until you start to become better acquainted with your own body.

But when one first stumbles into the dizzying world of sewing, be it on Instagram, via blogs, or YouTube, it can be a heady experience. You are easily dazzled by end results in pretty fabrics and you might think, “I want to make that!”

What you didn’t see, or glossed over, were the many failed attempts, “wadders” and fails, works in progress that made the maker nearly tear their hair out. What goes out on Instagram most of the time is only the best of the best. Even I’m guilty of this!

The first few things you make probably won’t fit so great. It’s part of the learning process. You couldn’t walk the first few times you tried either. Did you give up on that?

Let’s talk about TTD’s other grievances. Obviously, I have a differing opinion with her views on quilting cotton.

I do agree with her about quarter- and half-meter/yard pricing. It’s deceptive. If a piece is $25 a yard/meter, don’t price it at $12.50 on your storefront just to have us click through and realize that’s for less than a full meter/yard. Fuck you. Just be honest.

That being said, I don’t buy fabric online. I have the privilege of living in Los Angeles, so I don’t have to order it from my computer. I can run into Nick Verreos while I’m caressing it by hand instead.

I don’t understand TTD’s hatred of anything “vintage.” She herself says she’s drawn to a “retro aesthetic.” What is “vintage” if not “retro” though? You’re a walking contradiction, TTD! If anything, vintage is retro without the kitsch factor. (Actually, these words have real meaning, but I stand by my assessment in their common usage.)

It’s clear that TTD never (at least to that point in her sewing journey, who knows where she’s been since) ventured into the world of Facebook sewing groups. There she would have discovered more fangirls. Many of them still skinny, young, white. But also much more.

Many indie companies, and even the Big 4, have Facebook groups that support their customers. Be it for simply showing off your garments to asking serious questions about how something works, what fabric to use, and anything you can dream of. Groups are comprised of people from all over the world, of all genders, backgrounds, and sewing abilities.

If YouTube was my sewing teacher, the charitable people in the Facebook groups were the TAs. I joined the McCall’s group a few weeks after I bought my first machine, in July 2016.

Thanks to the Facebook algorithm (which I usually find myself cursing) I found other sewing groups, some for indie brands and some for more general sewing topics. The people there patiently helped me through my first few hideous attempts at sewing clothes that didn’t fit quite right. They held my hand through choosing fabrics, figuring out difficult instructions, and even inspected my pictures to figure out why something didn’t fit quite right.

Most members of these groups were very generous in their advice for a newbie like me. I owe a lot of what I know now to the kindness I was offered there. Now that I know a little more, I’ve tried to pay it forward to the newbies who have come after me.

I hope that in the 18 months since TTD’s screed she’s found a better fit in the online sewing world. Things have changed a bit since late 2017. We have more conversations around diversity, body positivity, and spotlighting sewists over a certain age. There’s also the fun though relatively silly debate over the words sewist vs sewer. The Facebook groups have flourished, too.

It’s an amazing time to be an online sewist! (You can tell which side of that debate I fall on.)

In stark contrast to TTD’s experience, I’ve found the online sewing community to be welcoming and helpful. Not a silly kindergarten, as she characterizes it, that one graduates from with no hand-holding. Quite the contrary, there are people of all abilities every step of the way always willing to help if only one asks politely.

In fact on Instagram, #SewcialistsHelp and #SewingSOS are specifically for anyone needing help on a sewing project. And #communityovercompetition, though not strictly sewing related, is a global movement that reminds us that together we can accomplish so much more.

Of course, as with all large communities, there are also bad actors. There are some who don’t want those who are different from them in the same space. Who don’t like people who look like me (again, over-40, fat, unwhite) or are in any way “other” to have voices, or just plain exist, in the sewing world.

Imagine being so fragile in your own self that you expend your energy in tearing other people down. For what?

It’s quite sad that TTD used her few failures as an excuse to shit all over a community she saw through her distorted lenses. I disagree fiercely with her assessment that indie companies, Instagram, and the sewing blogosphere are to blame for her inability to sew or get excited about sewing.

Home sewing is thriving, both online and offline.  If that weren’t true, the communities and blogs like Curvy Sewing Collective, Pattern Review (both of which she even recommends in her abrupt conclusion), The Sewcialists, House of Curves, Project Sew My Style, and many, many more wouldn’t be so popular.

We aren’t all women, nor young, slender, middle class, or even white. And the sewing machine doesn’t give a single fuck about any of those things. It just wants to put a needle through the fabric and help you make something beautiful to wear. Step on the pedal and make it happen.

Then post about it on Instagram, Facebook, your blog, or even Medium and tell us all about it!

Do you agree that the online sewing community is awesome, or do you have a different take? Sound off in the comments and let me know what your journey has been like.

 

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Chloe
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I can see some of the issues she mentioned in the article, though her experience seems extreme. There are so many great beginner tutorials and guides (like on what fabric type to use for what effect) but perhaps it’s easy to end up missing them and feel lost. What most jarred for me was the idea that spending X amount on a pattern should guarantee it will work for you without much fitting. If you happen to be similar to the drafting spec, maybe – otherwise you will need to adjust for you. I’d argue it’s the point of sewing… Read more »

Alice Elliot
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Alice Elliot

Hi Paulette! I’m in total agreement with everything you’ve said here. I’m an elder experienced sewist (!) and have enjoyed all your posts last year on RTW. I loved being able to give pointers to newbie sewists and did learn a few tips from other experienced members as well.
Too bad for those who can’t see beyond the end of their noses!!
I think I’ll follow your blog. A new thing for this grandma!

Catherine McGuinness
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I totally agree with you! And, as one of those ubiquitous young, white, slender girls, I do my best to show my struggles and fails, and the ways I have to alter and coax patterns to fit me. It is rarely smooth sailing! In fact I have a post in the works at the moment about my failures using knit fabrics! 🙂

Arielle
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Arielle

Can I just say that I am bookmarking this blog post! Lots of very useful links that will help me as a new blogger and inexperienced sewist. Or is it sewer?😊
I totally agree with your viewpoints. Sewing and fitting are two different things, and both are important in making a beautiful garment.
Thank you for the links.

Catherine
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Catherine

Nicely said. Completely agree. When I was learning to sew at age 12, the patterns fitted me right out of the packet,. That was in the 70s. Then in my late 20s Burda was the best fit for me. Now in my 50s, none of them fit without major alteration! But neither do the shop made clothes fit me well!! Plus all the different types of fabric now adds quite a new dimension to sewing. In the 70s there wasn’t any stretch fabrics. So you didn’t have special needles or special stitches, it was just cotton, linen or polyester, (silk… Read more »