Who We Are: Queer in the Sewing Community

Who We Are (15)

Hello Sewcialists! I’m Shannon, also known as @rare.device on Instagram. I’m so thrilled to be a part of the LGBTQ Sewists Who We Are series today! I’m many things, and it’s hard to disentangle the various and sundry terms I might use from one another because, like many of us, the way I understand myself is both about internal feeling and deeply informed by historical and political meanings. My sexual identity is both queer and lesbian; I don’t consider them interchangeable but they both have histories and political allegiances that hold importance to me. For most of my life I’ve understood my gender to be cisgender woman, but lately genderqueer woman feels closer to the truth, and I use she/her pronouns.


Talking about sewing and gender go hand-in-hand for me: both are about making, enacting, and fashioning. Sewing steps in where the world of ready-to-wear leaves us behind, in terms of fit, size, and gender expression, and allows us to conjure into this world ways of being beyond those enforced by the gender binary. As we’ve all found, sewing also helps us build communities, both of fellow sewists and through acts of love and care by making. Queer and trans folks are practiced at making communities: for some of us, the communities of our birth are no longer welcoming, and for most of us, finding ways of building relationships requires looking outside of the models offered in our upbringings, in literature, in media. Sewing queerly to me means thinking about the way I present myself to the world but also the attachments I make within it, the ways I love and care for and relate to those in my chosen family.

Finding an online sewing community has transformed the way I sew, helped me challenge myself and learn new skills, and introduced me to so many new friends. I feel so welcomed in the sewing community as an individual, both by those with whom I share an identity – it’s always such a thrill to find fellow queer sewists! – and those with identities different from mine.

Nonetheless, there are still some tendencies in the sewing community that can be alienating to queer and trans folks, or really sewists who are not straight, cisgender women. Marketing language, even by indie companies, is sometimes exclusionary or reliant on assumptions about their audience. This might be as simple as casually referring to customers or fellow sewists as “ladies” or using common naming strategies like “boyfriend cut” jeans or shirts. When releasing menswear patterns, companies often fall back on language that suggest that we (presumed female) sewists make items for the “men in our lives,” refusing to see a number of possible makers or recipients! I’d love to see companies and bloggers think more critically about how to use language that invites, rather than excludes.

Perhaps more interestingly, though, when we think about sewing queerly, is how it opens up a whole world of questions, approaches, and solutions to the concepts of fit and “flatter.” For many queer, trans, and gender non-conforming folks, self-fashioning can be both liberatory and fraught. On the one hand, stepping outside of heterosexual gender norms of beauty and attractiveness allows queer folks to explore other ways of relating to our bodies. As a femme-identified queer, I find immense power in both ignoring the many strictures placed on women’s bodies, particularly fat bodies, and in playfully exaggerating things coded feminine into indulgent opulence.

On the other hand, though, self-fashioning can also feel like standing on the edge of a gulf between what you embrace inside yourself and what everyone else sees. That gulf can mean queer and trans folks experience a lot of things: discomfort, misgendering, violence. Sewing offers a way of traversing that gulf, and I’m so happy to see the sewing community building resources that allow us to do so.

The great thing about sewing alterations is that they’re gender neutral. An adjustment for a full seat, a narrow hip, a forward shoulder means nothing about who you are but just how your body is formed. With this in mind, there are opportunities for further diversifying the size ranges, style lines, and pattern hacks or tutorials offered. For instance, within the recent boom in sew-your-own bras and underwear, there is still a lack of options for gender-affirming underthings such as binders, tucking briefs, or packing briefs. Pattern designers have only just begun to explore style lines that might be considered androgynous, and those are still mostly limited to pared-down masculine-of-center details on patterns marketed as women’s wear, rather than variations in menswear that lean femme or dandyish. The pattern industry as a whole has a lot of work to do on size inclusivity, which means fewer options for so many people.

For me, being queer and part of the sewing community has helped me not just know and care for myself but create tangible, physical forms that allow new ways of being. Fully embracing all those many and diverse ways of being available will only strengthen the community as a whole!

With that in mind, I’ve started a new project aimed at creating space for conversation and connections between queer sewists, Sew Queer. Visit the introduction post on my blog to learn more, and if you’re on Instagram, please consider contributing to the #sewqueer hashtag or following @sewqueer. I’m looking forward to keeping the conversation going!

Editor’s note: We are still accepting 1-3 paragraph submissions to our community post on being an LGTBQ sewist, so email us at sewcialists@gmail.com if you want to contribute!

28 thoughts on “Who We Are: Queer in the Sewing Community

      1. Just had a thought – would you two (or anyone else?) be interested in write a how-to post about more inclusive language/representation, aimed at pattern companies and bloggers? I’m thinking something full of concrete examples, maybe even in a chart of “say this, not that”? Like, say “Hi everyone!” instead of “Hey ladies!”, or “loose cut jeans” instead of “boyfriend cut”. What’s the inclusive way to describe “men’s” or “women’s” patterns? How could designers describe clothes without gender stereotyping? It’s one of those things that I’m aware should be fixed, but I’m often not quite sure what language is best! It would be a great resource to be able to share with designers and stores.

        1. Gillian, I’d be up for being involved in something like that! I wonder if it might be useful to have someone who has worked in marketing or community building of some sort be involved as well? I know there are people who actually do such things as part of their job — I’ll think about if I know anyone I could bring in. I’m definitely not an expert!

          1. This is a brilliant idea. A lot of the language commonly used fails to be inclusive and rankles. Most of my client base are non-binary or don’t subscribe to hetero-normative norms. There are very easy shifts in language that everyone can make that help build more inclusivity. All patterns are “unisex”, aren’t they? There’s nothing gendered about clothing. Please keep this conversation going! I was only yesterday ranting on twitter about how suffocating and stuffy some online sewing forums can be. Most of the time, it’s just lack of awareness that leads to the assumption sewists are all straight cis-gendered woman but it really is time to address this. I started a post last night about this very thing. I have many thoughts on this and it’s so good to see someone started the conversation!

  1. This was a fantastic read. I completely agree that we as a sewing community should be more conscientious of the language we use in order not to alienate people. The number of blogs entitled “Mrs…… Makes a Happy Home” (or something along those lines) is one example I see a lot. The oft-reinforced trope that only straight women sew and their heterosexual boyfriends “put up” with their hobby – or worse, “tolerate” or “allow” it – is particularly grating to me. It would be fantastic if we could create an environment where everyone felt welcome to participate, no matter what diffferent identities they hold.

    1. Thank you! There’s such a prevalence of those kinds of narratives (along with the selfish/selfless sewing thing, which, don’t even get me started on how much I hate that), and they crop up frequently in some of the sewing facebook groups I’m a part of. I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s personal experience, or connection to domesticity, but I do wish there was a little more pushback on the assumed universality of those comments!

        1. I’d love to see it if you do get it done! I thought for a minute there the “selfish sewing” thing had been scoured out of the community after a backlash against its use in one of those instagram photo challenges, but I’ve seen it crop up again lately. Ugh.

    2. I totally agree with you, Siobhan. It also grates on me when bloggers use that kind of language. (1) It minimizes what they do, like they can’t craft and have it be about the satisfaction of crafting for themselves, (2) it makes the assumption that women can only be “allowed” by their partners to do something they want to do, and (3) it is incredibly gendered and alienating language. I’ve gone to sewing nights and classes where people ONLY make things for their children and never for themselves, as if they were not worth it. I was the only woman there making something for me.

      I love these discussions on the Sewcialists blog posts, BTW.

      1. Oh, that’s just sad. I hate that language and ideas that reinforce a women’s worthlessness is so common in our society. It’s not just the “I have to sew for everyone else” thing – it presents in so many other ways. And on a practical note, I figure kids will just rip, underappreciate or grow out of clothes, so why not sew for yourself?

        1. That does make me so sad. I think there’s a lot of power in making things for people we love, but the obligation on women to *only* make and work for children and partners is so incredibly limiting.

  2. Shannon, I loved this post! And it’s pretty amazing to think that when we first emailed about the topic, it was early fall, and @sewqueer was just a glimmer in your eye… and now it’s 300 followers strong! I feel like that’s an accomplishment that will pay dividends for years!

    1. Thank you, Gillian! I’m so glad that you’re doing this whole series and getting Sewcialists active again (when I joined the instagram sewing community the blog was in its quieter period and I saw and loved the hashtag but had no idea what it was connected to! It was such a duh but also exciting moment to realize it was part of such an awesome bigger project). And I’m completely astounded and pleased that @sewqueer has taken off – I really did worry that no one would follow it or care.

      1. Hahaha – that’s exactly how I felt when I decided to relaunch the Sewcialists. Who I be here all alone or would anyone else join in? 😉 Nice to know that the sewing community can handle big conversations!

  3. I really liked this too. I am a straight cis woman who had recently taken up sewing and am really enjoying making stuff for my kids, myself, and my male partner, so I am slap bang in the middle of that feminine / domestic discourse. But I don’t feel that way inside 🙂 and my background is much more based in more outsider stuff like small press comics, which is a creative endeavour with lots of queer makers.

    I’ve gone on a couple of sewing classes locally, which have had only female attendees in the ones I’ve gone to. I was a bit worried in advance: was it going to feature a lot of diet talk or similar ‘default options’ of what women are expected to talk about when they are together in company? It was much better than I might have feared: it was a long session (two whole days), and at that rate you have to end up talking about a wider range of things.

  4. This was a very thought provoking post and has raised an issue that I have been thinking about myself recently – that of inclusive language. I would be very interested to read a post which addressed this.

  5. Hi Shanon, this is a great article. I’m 66 retired and love sewing and everything about it. I have a husband. To be honest when I saw the word queer I thought not very politicaly correct. But as I read on I realized if you are comfortable with this word then that is fine with me. I think change has to come with all we do and say, it has to start somewhere. So your post is starting the conversation and I applaud you. To be perfectly honest with you if you are interested in the same hobby as I am then that makes me happy and please consider me as a friend.

    1. Thank you! I think the use of queer as an identity and a word for community is getting much more common now, but that’s very much coming from inside the community rather than outside! So I know it can be startling for folks who haven’t heard it that way before, but it’s a powerful term. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. I love this conversation! I’m really looking forward to learning more about inclusivity and language. Thanks for writing and sharing!

  7. Thankyou for sharing and educating me. I’m a cis hetero women and had never thought about terms like “boyfriend jeans” (although the term annoyed me that women couldnt just have looser fitting pants) thankyou for opening my eyes.

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