Who We Are: Not Included

Vogue 2960, 2013

When I started reading sewing blogs around 2010 and became a sewing blogger in 2012, I don’t recall coming across many plus size sewing blogs. I was so inspired by all of the interesting and unique creations that sewists were making that I didn’t think much about how most of the bloggers I read fit into a similar mold (i.e. slim/white) and different sizes and ethnicities were not represented. That isn’t to say that sewing bloggers of various sizes and ethnic backgrounds weren’t blogging — I just did not see them among the popular blogs in my feed. I was used to being underrepresented as a multi-ethnic woman of size and the fact that no one ever looked like me wasn’t unusual. The popular indie patterns had small size ranges and there wasn’t much diversity. I never felt like I was included in any of those cliques. I had to grade patterns up to fit, which is something that never really bothered me as I just assumed that I was different from the norm.

Colette Moneta, 2014. The year of the Curvy Colette Plus-Size Blog Tour and the start of the Curvy Sewing Collective.

In 2014 we created the Curvy Sewing Collective and I discovered an entire new part of the sewing community that I actually fit into. As our site grew to 100k + followers, I found out how many other people did not fit into that small size mold. I’m not sure why this surprised me as I can look out at the women in my community and most look more like me than that small size mold that was prevalent in the sewing and fashion industry. The average size of an American woman is a 16, so why was (is!) the sewing community focused so much on a small size chart? More than half of the sewists I’ve encountered in the last year identify themselves more with being “curvy” than small, slim, and/or petite. It’s obvious that a change was needed as more pattern companies attempted to fill that void by expanding their size charts or developing patterns drafted for plus-size bodies. Moving forward, the last few years have felt like a renaissance not just for curvy gals, but I’ve felt a more inclusive place for everyone. I no longer felt like the anomaly.

Decades of Style ESP Dress, 2015

That is until now….

In December 2017, a group of bloggers created a year long sewing challenge with a list of indie sewing patterns. None of those patterns went into the plus-size range. It felt like 2010 again. We weren’t moving forward, we were moving backward with a focus on that small size sewist again. Then in January I noticed that one of the “Big 4” companies was ignoring plus-size sewists on their social media and had not shared a plus-size image on social media since July 2017 — and it was one of their pattern samples. I looked through their social media feeds and saw how the white/slim sewist dominated. I sent an email to that company and three months later, I have yet to hear back and nothing has changed. Another Big 4 company started a sewalong this year featuring a group of bloggers without a plus-size sewist (*edit — they have now added a plus-size sewist*). Just when I think things are changing, the sewing community regresses.

Cashmerette Appleton, 2016

If you don’t fit into that mold that the sewing community seems to think is the “average” person, how do you feel? As someone whose ethnicity and body shape is rarely represented, I often feel like these pattern companies and sewing bloggers just don’t care. If they did, they might expand their size ranges, develop inclusive sewing challenges, or at the very least share images of a diverse range of sewists wearing their patterns. I know I’m not alone as I often hear others complaining of this same thing.

Simplicity 8504, 2017

This lack of size inclusivity and ethnic diversity makes me feel unwanted. Like others have acknowledged, I often feel like I shouldn’t be supporting pattern companies that don’t bother to expand their size range or include non-white models in their pattern photos and advertising. To me, it’s even worse when you share sewing projects of many different sewists and not one of them is plus-size. In this age of hashtags, how hard is it to include diverse body shapes and people from different ethnic groups? Why are we being left out? It’s discrimination. There’s no other way to say it, especially when we write letters, leave comments and voice our opinions and we are still ignored. To me, it’s starting to feel like not only are we not included, we are left out for a reason, and there’s no positive way to spin that.

Closet Case Charlie Caftan, 2018

Tanya is an editor at the Curvy Sewing Collective, and blogs at http://tanyamaile.com/ . You can find her on Instagram at @tanyamaile

Editor’s Note: We are still accepting 1-3 paragraph submissions about your experiences being a plus-size/curvy sewist! Email us at sewcialists@gmail.com if you want to share!

61 thoughts on “Who We Are: Not Included

  1. When you think of the amount of curvy women out there sewing the pattern companies can’t even work out that it’s a lucrative market. Some indies are doing great work with their sizing of patterns and guess what? That’s where I choose to spend my money. I am an older sewist and always on the lookout on Instagram for how an outfit looks on curvy and ‘mature’ woman 🙂before I buy it.
    I love all your outfits byetheway

    1. Thank you, Kim. Yes, it would be so nice to have more inclusive sizing. If you are above the size range offered by most indies and don’t want to grade up, you are very limited with your choices.

  2. Wow! Timely post! I too have been brewing over this very same observation. Makes me really sad that the online sewing community is not as inclusive as we should be. I am seeing more inclusiveness in the fashion online presence and definitely more in some retail brands like Modcloth so surprising there is an opposite swing in the sewing world. No way around it, it feels awful.

    1. It does feel awful, Sandra! It would be nice if pattern companies, fabric stores and bloggers who run challenges considered being more diverse and inclusive. I commend those who do.

  3. Thank you for this. So much of what you wrote hit a cord for me. It is really frustrating when the “new” indies launch and still don’t get it. One of the pattern companies that really annoyed my was The Maker’s Atelier. They had a mature and lux vibe. Definitely appealing to an older customer, but it was beauty only offered to the thin, older woman. After reviewing the patterns just now, I can see their complete lack of shaping, I guess it is more of the brand aesthetic that appeals. A gets me mad just thinking about it again! 😉

    1. Thanks, Janet. It’s definitely frustrating to see that. I’d recommend sending them an email. Some designers don’t seem to be aware of the market.

  4. Thanks so much for this piece, it was really eye opening. I had never stopped to think about whether some of the challenges I see on instagram lack inclusivity. Is there anything that normal sewists on social media can do in our own feeds and blogs to make sure they are as welcoming and open to all shapes, sizes, backgrounds as possible? I don’t make patterns or run challenges or re-share others’ photos but I would hate to think that I’m contributing to normalizing the ideal of average-sized white woman in a way that could be off-putting to some. So if there is anything that is ordinary low-profile sewists should also be doing to keep this lovely community a safe space for all, please feel free to share!

    1. Lots of things! ****Remember that mainstream/idealized does not equal ‘normal’.**** Seek out diverse sewers on IG – an easy way to is to follow a challenge hashtag, like #miymarch or #sewphotohop, etc, and look for diverse styles, ages, races, even languages (IG translates pretty well, thank goodness). Among them you’ll find people whose style/writing/family/pets you like – promise! Also, reading and commenting on blog posts like this will get you thinking, and more aware, and that’s huge. 🙂 Good luck!

      1. Thanks for the tips!
        I must say I also thought Beck meant ‘small-sized’ when she said normal, but reading her comment I realized she probably meant normal as in not owning a pattern company, organizing a community challenge or anything of the sorts.

      2. Thanks so much. As Erika points out below, I did mean ‘normal sewist’ as in not a pattern company owner or social media challenge organizer, not in any other way. I try to follow a range of diverse sewists on social media but will continue to make a deliberate effort to do so. After all, the entire reason I love sewing social media is that I love to learn about sewing and, generally in life, you learn very little if your only perspective on the world is people who are exactly the same as yourself!!

    2. Hi Beck – I do agree with what others have said as recommendations. I think the biggest thing is that when you notice something that a company or a blogger running a challenge is doing that limits participation for a broad area of the sewing community or appears to be biased — comment or send an email to them. An example is a large pattern company who shared images on social media of patterns similar to styles in the movie “Hidden Figures” and used white models. They were called out and changed their approach. Together, we can voice our opinions and change things for the better.

  5. Thanks for bringing up these issues. I have noticed this bias also in sewing contests. There will be many entrants of all shapes, colors, ages and sizes, but almost always a thin woman wins – usually white, and more often than not, young.

    1. I agree. I’m over 50 and don’t feel represented. I still want to dress vibrantly, but don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb! Also, “curvy” is always used to describe women with hourglass figures. I’m apple shaped, busty, and plus sized and don’t feel that even by the “curvy” community sees that.

    2. shoes15 and all curvy ladies- The “ideal” woman is STILL considered to be skinny, tall, white and young. Just look at our culture. Now, look at Oprah. Who has the money, style and power? Certainly not the skinny, bored runway models! Be strong and independent and move ahead. Times are changing and WE must be part of that change. Don’t just sit and complain- be the power that makes the changes we need to see! I found a pattern company called 1824. I didn’t understand the name, but it stands for the size range of their patterns. Keep sewing and blogging, ladies.

  6. Honestly I feel that us curvy types are acknowledged much more in the sewing world than in ready-to-wear, where clothing to fit us (often not very attractive) is off in some corner, or only available online, or totally shunned by many brands. I think the reason why the curvy share of the RTW market is so low, despite our numbers, is that clothing brands still don’t get us. And that has driven the market for curvy sized sewing patterns as many of us have started making our own fashionable well-fitting clothes.

    1. I don’t purchase much RTW and mostly follow vintage inspired sewing brands, but I have seen a lot diversity in size and ethnicity with the models chosen for those brands I do follow like: Modcloth, Unique Vintage, Pin-Up Girl, Bad Girl Denim, and Asos as well as Target and JCPenney.

  7. As a beginning garment sewer I was saddened to see that most of the patterns available are very much in line with RTW available clothing, designed with thinner less busty people in mind. I want to sew my own clothes so that I too have a variety and fun stylish clothing. I didn’t realize I would run into the same issue as I do in clothing stores…off in a corner with limited selection and style. I am frustrated also and agree with your blog statements. WHERE ARE ALL AGES, ALL RACES AND ALL SIZES represented? I guess more voices are needed. Consider this voice added to the question of why not include all?

    1. I think the issue goes back to the education/training that’s available. Commercial pattern designers and RTW pattern drafters generally are taught in the same college courses – and most of those teach drafting from an idealized sloper. Until Fashion Arts/Design programs start offering professional level courses in creating and working with plus sized slopers, it’s going to be a small subset of independent (often self-taught) designers who draft outside the ‘standard’.

      1. I think so too, and considering that the more curvy you get the more variation there is in de location of the curves: up till a certain size the body more or less follows the proportions of the skeleton but if you have some body fat it can be at your bum, belly, boobs, some of them, all of them, you name it. That’s why it’s so wonderful that cashmerette had the apple/pear fit options for their jeans!

        For the average pattern drafter, I can understand that drafting in a curvy/larger size range is something considered more difficult. But I cannot imagine that there’s too little pattern drafters who also like a challenge like this.

  8. I totally agree with your post. As a very short (under 5 foot) curvy professional I have found it very difficult to find patterns that fit or will look great on me. I have become adapt at altering the big 4 patterns and have found a few indie patterns that work well. The lack of uniformity in sizing among some indie patterns has been really off-putting from one pattern to the next within the company’s line. Buying RTW is out of the question–my closet for the last 45 years has been exclusively me-made with the exception of winter parkas (hard to find the heavy insulation needed for prairie winters in Canada. I have really enjoyed blogs and posts on the CSC from sewists who are in the height challenged category–they give me an idea of what can be altered to fit shorties like me. Thanks so much for your post. Right on!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I do wish there was more uniform sizing out there. I’ve very leery about trying new brands as the patterns I use most often are those I can be confident of the outcome and know what adjustments need to be made. Have you tried any of the Petite Plus or SBCC patterns?

  9. YAY for all you say so well here Tanya! I’ve certainly noticed this as I’m sure most have – the “runway” model dominates everywhere including the sewing world. But I believe the power of the Curvy blogging network has made a big difference just even in the past 2 years – more and more pattern companies are improving their sizing range and that’s all thanks to women like you 🙂

  10. This is very well said. I’m also a white/standard size sewist, but think that the homogenization of blogs/blog tours/sewalongs/contests/social media/etc is at worst discriminatory and at best – boring! A lack of variety (age, race, ethnicity, style, point of view) is boring and uninspiring, and it seems like so many of us (more than are given credit for by sewing companies or social media) are capable of appreciating the creativity of someone who doesn’t look or dress exactly like ourselves.

  11. Great post! For the last 6 months I’ve started to notice the ‘mold’ my blogroll is bringing to me. I have started to search for different shaped and ethnicity womens blogs, they exist, but it takes some searching.
    I’ve always been on top of the ‘normal’ size ranging, while being an average sized women (16). I never felt excluded, but I can imagine others to feel that way.
    I do think Erin of Tuesday Stitches is really trying to be as inclusive as possible!

    1. They certainly do exist! Sometimes it seems like we’re stuck in our own little segment of the sewing community and don’t notice sewists in other “groups”. Erin is definitely a great example of inclusivity.

  12. Really well written!

    Also, I’d say that there’s an aesthetic that appears to be designed to appeal to the thin/white/young and those who want to be thin/white/young that is even more pervasive than the lack of diversity. The Sewcialists reboot has been AWESOME at capturing different perspectives, and giving a variety of voices and opinions a platform – but also at being fairly neutral in its branding. Sewcialist branding is just about the Sewcialists, and not a subtle grab for that ‘ideal(ized)’ market. I love that.

    I feel like there’s more diversity all over the place, and it doesn’t feel like tokenism anymore. Maybe it’s not everywhere, but it’s there and growing, and that makes me pretty happy. The fat woman will never be mainstream or welcome in the US and with US brands, so I’m not expecting that. But I’ve seen bigger ‘regular’ size models and more racial *and* age diversity, and for me – though they don’t represent me personally – having a variety, period, makes me happy.

    Side note: Tanya, love that you made something in a different silhouette! You look great in the Charlie. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Ebi! I love the Sewcialists and of the posts from contributors. This site is truly a model of diversity. I do see much more inclusivity all over. I just want to see more! Especially in the sewing community when many of us are here as we want to create something different and unique and not more of the same.

      PS I have more caftans coming! 🙂

  13. Thank you for saying it, Tanya. As a white, standard size sewist, I notice, care, and add my voice to yours. I want to see people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and beauties represented. A shout out to Erin of Tuesday Stitches, an indie pattern designer who has made inclusivity part of her company mission.

    1. Thank you! Yes – I want to more diversity! Inspiration is everywhere and it gets rather bland seeing more of the same…. Erin is awesome and is definitely what other pattern designers should shoot for.

  14. I totally agree Tanya. I found Curvy Sewing when it first came out – I was thrilled!

    I also feel older plus sized women of all races are not represented well by any of the pattern makers. (well except petite plus) Do they think we only sew for our adult kids? Or we “retired” from sewing?

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Yes, older women are definitely left out although there are a few companies like Colette and Cashmerette who use models in different age ranges.

  15. I wish more patterns would include cup sizing. Big 4 has a limited range. And it’s especially painful if it’s a complicated bodice. I try to support companies that do have cup sizing, buying only Big 4 with cup sizing, Cashmerette, Pamela’s Patterns has a FBA piece, Love Notions often has a FBA piece, some Hey June, Itch to Stitch in wovens, all Silhouette, etc… to communicate that this is something that I want. The models are often flat chested so it’s hard to see how a garment will look on me. And I think some of this is lack of skill on the part of the indie designer, some beginning designers not know how to work with curves.

    1. It’s nice to see more patterns coming out with cup sizing than what was offered in the past. It does seem like that a more complicated aspect of pattern drafting, so it seems like only the designers with those technical skills or who hire professional drafters even consider it.

  16. I’m so in love with the CSC, but I know there is still a lot of work to do on making that space more inclusive. Recently the Love to Sew Podcast did an episode on beginner sewing. It was going great until they gave beginner friendly pattern recommendations, 7 patterns for the typical smaller size range and 1 for the over size 14 crowd. Really? The average woman is a size 16, but there is only one beginner friendly pattern they would highlight? Come on. I think we can do better.

    1. Yes, there’s always room to improve! A beginner shouldn’t have to make fitting adjustments when they’re just getting started. It would be frustrating for a plus-size sewing to have do things like an FBA.

  17. I’m short and fat, but I’ve never worried about whether I’m ‘represented’ or not (because I’m not–unless all my inspiration was maternity, even though I’m not pregnant). I still enjoy reading blogs of women of different sizes/shapes/colors; I can find inspiration in them, even if I don’t look like them. I can’t understand why we think we need try to guilt/force people to do what we want, rather than just do our own thing and let others follow or not as they wish. Maybe plus size drafting is harder than regular drafting. Maybe the only model an indie designer can afford is herself. Does an indie have to wait to start until they can fit the mold *you* want them to fit? Why doesn’t the curvy sewing collective focus more on the apple shape? Do my curves go the wrong way? The questions are rhetorical obviously, and I’m not trying to start a fight, I just wanted to make you think.

    1. As far as the CSC goes, there are at least 3 CSC editors currently, who identify as “apple” shapes. The CSC is a volunteer run blog relying on contributor posts. If you’d like to contribute and share pattern reviews or perhaps a “Sewing for My Curves” post, we’d love to hear from you.

  18. Yes! Thank you for saying it, Tanya. I’ve noticed non-inclusivity around size and ethnicity, too. I see it a lot on pattern launches with tester groups. Noticing is one thing, but after reading this post, I could do more to actively advocate for inclusivity and representation for all sizes, all ethnicities, all ages, all of us. I’m thinking specifically of contacting various pattern companies with feedback. It’s is discouraging to hear you’ve not always a received a response; I wonder if more people were saying something it would help move the needle. The pace of change is often too slow and non-linear, and the more voices speaking up together, the better.

  19. It’s really sad that the most sewing patterns aren’t as inclusive as they probably could be., in terms of race and size. Most professional pattern companies have the resources to make it happen but choose not to.

    I can see how this can be a problem for indies though. grading a pattern to plus size isn’t just relative grading, but plus size patterns should start with a whole new sloper which most indie patterns might not have any expertise in. Another problem is most indie patterns are 1-2 ppl operations that are still very low income earning businesses. They might also have very limited resources for modeling, most indies are modeled by the designer themselves. But I see they could find testers of all shapes, sizes and ethnicity.

    This post of yours speaks volumes about the conscious and unconscious discrimination. I hope more pattern companies both indies and professional ones take note and make changes.

    I hope someone can do a shoutout in another post to good pattern companies that are inclusive with various sizes, ethnicities etc so we can support those more.

    1. This is the common argument. “Oh, we WANT to serve the plus community, but it’s just SO HARD to draft a plus sloper! We have to start from scratch & it’s just so much work!” But I think the popularity of initiatives like the Curvy Sewing Collective & Cashmerette Patterns show that there is gold in them thar hills. Which makes it all the more baffling as to why so many companies continue to ignore the plus sewing population.

    2. Shannon (Rare Device) has mentioned starting at a median size for today’s bodies and using that as the point in which their size range goes up or down. Instead of a size 8, it would probably be more like a size 14. Big 4 pattern companies are still stuck in a midcentury size range and indies seem to follow suit.

      It’s easy and doesn’t cost anything to share photos on social media of a wide range of people who have sewn a pattern. It shows people how a pattern looks on a diverse range of bodies and how different sewists interpret it. It also sells patterns. So regardless on an indie designers’ budget, it seems like bad business not to be more inclusive in this way.

  20. This really hits home! I actually started sewing my own clothes because I found that RTW didn’t include my shape. I’m very curvy on top, and clothes would either be stretched to the limit (if at all) on top, or be shapeless and hanging off everywhere else.

    I learned the hard way that sewing patterns are no different, so am now learning how to draft my own. I get that the big companies need to have some kind of standard, but they need to take a long hard look at their potential customers, as opposed to the minority that fit the mould.

  21. Thank you for such a well written post. This resonated with me so much. I am tall, uber-busty, plus-sized and well on my way to 50 so am doubly ignored. I want to wear things that are modern and stylish but not too young. I might as well be asking for the moon on a stick. Not going to happen in RTW and it makes me sad that this is pretty much the case with sewing patterns too. What is it with the shapeless, frumpy 80’s throwbacks that gets shoved at us as plus-sized sewists? Who wants a frumpy sack, ruffled blouse or another bloody tunic? Where is the plus-sized fashion-forward stuff? I am really fed up of being invisible and not included. It’s not that hard to draft for plus-sizes. We all carry weight in different places no matter what our size and we have money to spend. It is depressing. Xx

    1. So very true, friend! Pattern designers like to say how “hard” it is to draft for plus sizes…. Why not expand size ranges and let the sewist adjust the pattern to fit their own body. If I can re-size a pattern to go up 10+ sizes from it’s origin and get it to fit me without any professional pattern drafting experience, I don’t see why it would be as complicated as “they” keep saying it is…. From what I’ve read — all sewists make adjustments to get patterns to fit the way they want them to regardless of size. Just make patterns bigger — ALL PATTERNS – and we’ll take it from there.

  22. We were talking about women :o)
    But I must say that sewing for my (14 year old) son has been frustrating in the pattern department. He’s quite thin, but tall. Doesn’t fit into men’s xsmall yet (they rarely make xsmall mens patterns anyhow) And patterns for teen boys size 12/14/16 are far and few. I ended up buying vintage patterns for him (the same patterns I threw out from my 42 year old son years ago!! dumb!) and I’ve nearly exhausted my affordable vintage sources. I don’t want my son wearing ready wear tshirts and jeans all the time!

    So I think thin men and teen boys are way over looked too! ;o)

    1. Eliz, I’ll add to that that trying to find patterns for my plus-size husband is always extremely difficult!

    2. Eliz~I agree with you about few patterns for men and boys, but have you had a look at Jalie patterns? Their men’s shirt pattern 2111 comes with chest sizes from 22 inches (child) to 47 inches. Also known as cradle to grave sizing 8-). Their pants pattern 2107 starts at 20 inch waist to 45 inch waist. Yeah, they are basic, but available.

      1. Thank You Elle C ! I will check them out.

        Gillian I hear you on men’s plus size. I sew for my plus size son in law once in a while and took forever to find the vest pattern I wanted!

    3. It’s not just teen boys. I have toddler and under boys, and aside from Ottobre and a few specific indie brands, it’s really hard to find patterns for boys, period. I honestly don’t even look at the Big 4 kid stuff anymore, because once you get past gender neutral baby stuff, there’s really nothing aside from basic pj pants. Not that they leave me much time to sew for them anyway, but it would be nice to have some more options for when I want to make them something.

  23. Hi Tanya, thank you for this post. It is interesting to see that lack of inclusivity and diversity is still so apparent in a small sewing world (vs. mass market RTW world) where there are so many small businesses and indie labels. I heard somewhere that McCalls only have 500 employees! so I am really surprised and disappointed for you that you are not being heard even if the message is loud and clear. I have the opposite problem – I am thin with no bust to speak of and a cylindrical torso like a child, so nothing fits me either. I am happy that Beck brought up the issue of what we can do – I will now also be on the lookout for diversity of people to follow! Best wishes, Kate

    1. Thanks, Kate. I think many of us start sewing as we want something different and to make clothing to fit our bodies, regardless of size. To see a focus in the sewing world focused on a certain mold is certainly disconcerting considering the diversity of sewists. To be clear, it wasn’t McCall’s who I sent a letter to. They have always responded to my emails.

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