Who We Are: An Essay on Representation

Hello! I'm Ebi, a plus sized sewer.
Hello! I’m Ebi, a plus sized sewer. Top is Butterick 6258, pants are Burda 6789.

More and more indie pattern companies and RTW companies are including plus sizes in their lines. So when I heard that Colette was joining those ranks, I was pleased but not particularly interested. After all, I’d never sewn a Colette pattern, and there were issues with a previous pattern. So that would have been that, except I actually saw one of the new plus size patterns.

A little info on Colette’s new inclusive pivot  – they’re now drafting all their patterns on a traditional sized block *as well as* a plus sized block, thereby creating an opportunity for a better fit for larger ladies, as well as the opportunity to fit larger ladies better. And while many brands’ plus sizes stop at 48”/122cm hip, excluding many plus size women, Colette’s size 26 has a generous 58” hip size! There are already several patterns drafted under the new sizing, and it seems like plus sizes at Colette are here to stay.

Okay, back to the story.

The Claudette pattern had just dropped, in both size ranges, at my local fabric store. I’d rushed in one night to speed-buy some last minute notions for a garment I just had to finish *Right Now*. While being rung up, I looked around for a distraction, and noticed both versions of the Claudette patterns on the counter. Immediately, something bothered me. At first I thought it was jealousy, because it came from that part of my gut. (You know the part of the stomach I’m talking about!) But that wasn’t quite it.

Here's the pattern in all it's glory - the Claudette, by Colette!
Here’s the pattern in all it’s glory – the Claudette, by Colette!

I pointed to the plus sized version. “It creeps me out, that she looks like me. I mean, she doesn’t look like me, but you could describe us using the same words.” I paused. “It’s like seeing myself, but in a photo I didn’t pose for. It makes me feel funny.”

My Real Body Croquis (and my hair!).
My Real Body Croquis, by Najah @wannabesewingsomething.

I’m a fat, black, tall woman with short hair. In the American aesthetic, fat is ugly, black is ugly, tall only works if you’re a supermodel, and short hair is not feminine. No one who looks like me is ever a part of any aesthetic campaign. When I was a slim, black, tall, little girl with natural hair (which, at the time, was just called ‘hair’), there were actually a number of girls I could relate to, like Rudy on The Cosby Show, the sisters on Family Matters, and there were also some black mothers I could aspire to be in the distant future. But none of them were beautiful. The little girls were little, and the mothers were mothers. Beautiful black women, I noticed, were generally half white, very light, or ambiguously black.

So I never experienced aesthetic representation. I saw that anyone who was beautiful had no features in common with me, and what they did have I couldn’t recreate. I grew up knowing I was not beautiful, could not be beautiful, and no one wanted to look anything like me. But here in front of me, years later, was this model wearing the latest Colette pattern – and she looked like me.

sewcialists-sewing-makingtheflame-yay-representation-mccalls-6078

The funny feeling in my gut? It was representation. It was seeing myself, in public, in a beautiful dress. Standing apart from the rest, like a star. Looking good. And being looked at – positively.

Colette has made some missteps over the years, but this is a huge turnaround for them. Having plus sizes up to larger sizes, basing plus sized patterns on a larger block, and thoughtfully making the necessary fit adjustments for a pattern to look as good on large bodies as on small ones are wonderful changes. But diversifying their models to let everyone see themselves in a Colette design before sewing a single stitch, is a great final touch on their new direction. Three cheers for representation!

Ebi Poweigha is an infrequent, but passionate, body positive sewing blogger with absolutely no connection to Colette besides meeting Sarai once. You can find her opinions, sewing hacks, and reluctant selfies at  www.makingtheflame.com and on Instagram and other social media @makingtheflame.


38 thoughts on “Who We Are: An Essay on Representation

  1. This is so true. Thank You for sharing your experience! You look amazing to me! I love your outfits!

    I am caucasian, 61, and plus size.(20 top/24 bottom) Colette has a beautiful older model who is slim. There are no women who look like me modeling any patterns. One indie has drawings of a plus size, could be older woman with a cane. But a drawing doesn’t feel personal.
    I hope some day pattern companies will represent us all. I have many friends my age/size returning to sewing. :o)

    1. For what it’s worth, Eliz, that pattern your are talking about from Tuesday Stitches/Seamstress Erin is based on a photo of one of her actual testers…and her most recent post included photographs of that same person, I believe! https://tuesdaystitches.com/ultraviolet-tee-pattern-now-with-view-c/ Cashmerette has a very awesome older model as well, here: https://www.cashmerette.com/collections/cashmerette-patterns/products/washington-dress-pdf-pattern … but I agree, it’s a very under-represented demographic, especially when it’s a big part of the sewing community!!!

    2. Hi Eliz! Totally agree about age diversity – that’s an area that is so, so overlooked, especially in settings catering to women. We’re all supposed to want to be 25 forever? :/ I, too, hope you get some representation in the settings where you like to spend your time (and your dollars!).

  2. I love the models Colette uses and I’m more inclined to buy their patterns when I can see that they look good on multiple types of bodies.

  3. What an excellent post. Representation does matter. Thank you for sharing what it’s like to actually see yourself. Here’s to a day when it doesn’t make us feel funny because it happens all the time.

  4. Hi Ebi, thanks so much for sharing your story. The diversity of Colette’s models lalso drew my attention, but I encountered too many issues with the patterns. Are you going to sew up anything from the new block? I’d be interested to see how they work for you.

    1. Hi there! I did want to make the Claudette, but it’s too close to one of my TNT patterns to justify the purchase (ah, the downside of having 500+ patterns), so I’m keeping my eye out for one I can try. I’m a little more interested in some Seamwork patterns, but am not sure whether those also are drafted in the two-block method.

  5. The Colette/Seamwork block doesn’t fit me well personally, but I still purchase their patterns and make adjustments because I support their company missions and philosophy. Using models with diverse and natural beauty is just one of the things I love about them.

    1. Hi Piper! What you do is so awesome, and so important – supporting organizations that have your values as their values. Also, as a fit nerd, I love that you’re willing to get in there and make the adjustments you need in order to get the pattern to fit you. 🙂

  6. Yes, I’ll second this – Representation does matter. I felt really depressed until I started seeing short women who also happened to look like me with my curves and my skin color. whats that song?? If I can see it, then I can be it!

    1. Yay, that’s awesome Kia! So funny you mention height – I was never into magazines as a kid, but watched movies/TV. It seemed like every woman maxed out at 5’5! Anyone even vaguely close to my height was portrayed like a giant. Verrrrrrry depressing! :-p Very glad to hear you’re finally seeing ‘you’ in the world. About time,right?

  7. “In the American aesthetic, fat is ugly, black is ugly, tall only works if you’re a supermodel, and short hair is not feminine.”
    all. of. this.! So succinctly stated…

    “Beautiful black women, I noticed, were generally half white, very light, or ambiguously black”
    And this. When you see black women represented in white spaces they are biracial the vast majority of the time. They have “good” curly hair – not kinks. They are DEFINITELY light skinned and of course, we know America has an obsession with thinness.

    I am one of those, “I really do not give two hoots about British Royalty…” people but I am willing to bet actual dollars that if Meghan Markle (sp?) was black as in appearing to be African-American we would not be seeing the love.

    Colette’s patterns don’t really match my aesthetic (I do like the Wren) so I am not really on their radar. But I do see the releases and do see them being more inclusive with their models. It’s nice to know they are doing “true” plus sizing aka basing it on a new block vs just offering larger sizes.

    Miss seeing you 🙂

    1. Haha, Kisha, don’t even get me started on Meghan Markle 😉 short version is that I feel the same way you do. But about Colette … :-p it’s definitely great to see them making a visible effort to diversify their models, and I hope more indie brands follow suit. I can see the Wren looking really good on you! I’m intrigued by the maxi version of the Prudence – that neckline! Whew!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing! I agree with missceliespants, let’s look forward to the day when seeing yourself represented in a beautiful way is a common occurrence!

  9. Great essay. I’ve recently picked up crochet, and there are very few images of plus size models wearing garments. And I don’t know if I’ve seen any models of colour represented.
    If it weren’t for hobbyists on social media, we wouldn’t get to see what larger people and poc looked like in crochet garments.
    I recently purchased a pattern that I’m having to adapt to my size, and at the end of the day it will be an experiment to see if it even suits my shape.
    I even stumbled on an old blog post where someone said you had to be slim to carry off a crochet dress!
    Sorry for the long comment, I guess this post struck a nerve with me.

    1. Hi Astrid! Totally understand your frustration – as a knitter, knowing how knitting models can be, I’m not surprised that crochet is even more limited in who they choose to model garments. But whoever made that comment has struck my nerve. :O There are so many different crochet dresses, different lengths, styles, etc – to say people of a certain size can’t wear any of them? Ugh. Glad you know better. Good luck with the upsizing 🙂

  10. You have over 1000 followers, sew beautiful cloths, and are clearly a lovely person! I am glad you put it in words what we all need to see! Beautiful representation of all women! Big, black and truly beautiful! I have that exact pattern and am proud that a black woman who looks like you is on it! Role models may be hard to come by, but becoming one is priceless! You are a true role model! Thank you! ❤ ❤ ❤

  11. Ebi, I loved reading your perspective on this very important issue. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. While I have a lot of gripes with Colette, I admit that one thing they’re doing spectacularly right is using a diverse range of models. The fact that seeing yourself in one of their models evoked such a strong, positive reaction for you says it all. I’m really glad to hear you’re finally seeing yourself represented in places that matter to you. 🙂

    On a larger scale, I LOVE how diversity and representation are spreading through so many different industries right now. Finally! I think companies are finally realizing that ALL their customers have money to spend, not just the skinny white ones. Why this took so long to realize is beyond me!

    1. Hi Carolyn! Thanks for the kind words 🙂 I’m also majorly loving how diversity is spreading through industries. And by all accounts, it’s helping the bottom line across them all, so woohoo!

  12. Since I have started reading sewing blogs I buy patterns that I wouldn’t even have considered. My top half is a size 14 and my bottom half a size 16. That’s after wearing sizes 8 and 10 during my 20s and 30s and after I gained weight I started avoiding fitted clothes thinking they only look good on women with tiny waistlines and flat bellies (which I actually never had) but when I saw lots of average size and larger women showing off their creations I started thinking “Hey, I can wear anything I want to!” Pattern companies would do well to realize that there are a lot more average and large women in the world than there are models. Representation is good for the bottom line as well is a being good for people.

    1. Hi Lynn! This is a great story – and a very true and excellent point. Even outside of representation, it helps to have more visual references for how products will fit into our lives, and that means a variety of references 🙂 so glad you’re willing to sew for yourself, and not for who society thinks you should get to be.

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