Saturday Musings: Femininity and the Indie Pattern Craze

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Welcome to BoPoMarch (Body Positive March) on Making the Flame! All month long I’ll be posting on Tuesdays and Saturdays, about topics that intersect with body positivity. My posts will be written from and about the female experience; partly because it’s Women’s History Month in the US and partly because womanhood is my experience and what I feel qualified to write about. But body positivity IS for *every* *body*, and has no gender. So not only am I sure that non-women will get something out of this series, I encourage everyone with the desire to write, tweet, snap, etc their experience and thoughts to do so this BoPoMarch, and share their perspective on body positivity and its highs and lows.

Let’s get started.

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For better or worse, being female is often associated with performance, especially ‘looking feminine’. You cannot simply have a female body and move about in the world – it must be shaved, plucked, balanced on heels, restricted by short hems and tight fits – but not so much so that the performance goes from ‘required femininity’ to ‘trashy femininity’.

Now, even the woman who owns no makeup, no heels, and no bandage dresses (isn’t it odd a fashion object is named after a first aid staple?), has had her run in with all these and more. And it’s not all bad; some gorgeous shoes happen to be heels, stiletto or otherwise. Some women love wearing lipstick and won’t leave home without it any more than they’d leave home without their keys or their phone. Dresses can be fun and versatile, and definitely speed up the getting-dressed-in-the-morning timeline. The verdict is out on bras, though…

Anyway, performing femininity is more than clothes. It’s also how we present and inhabit our bodies. Femininity is taking up as little space as  possible, through being thin, short, and harmlessly youthful, and keeping our legs and arms in the ride at all times. Femininity means avoiding eye contact – single women are instructed to look at a a man, smile, and look away to encourage his approach. Is he going to look away? Why should we? If the quarry is pleasant to look at and we’re not too near sighted, we might as well enjoy the view. We should only look away when we get bored and want to look at something else.

Now, how does all this translate into sewing?

I began reading sewing blogs before I started mine. In fact, I started mine because I didn’t see bodies like mine among the blogs I found, especially not the popular ones. I also didn’t see garments that looked particularly practical, if I’m real with you. Party dresses look good and garner lots of ‘you’re so pretty’ comments, but where were all these women going dressed like that? (Seriously – were they having fun without me???? Rubbing elbows with bigwigs who practically live at galas? …can I get a ticket?) I wondered whether they were performing femininity with their thin, short, young, white bodies because they felt that if they were to do otherwise, the comments would dry up and the readers would disappear. Frankly, I was sad for them.

But while I felt sad for them, I felt even sadder for the commenters who said they’d never put their picture online because they were plus sized, or older, or didn’t have hips, or whatever. It was painfully sad that they censored themselves because they felt they weren’t worthy of being seen. My heart ached for them, and I did the only thing I could think to do – put my fat body, with my every day style, on display. I wanted to inspire people to value their bodies and the makes that clothed them. Heck, I just wanted them to sew for themselves! Because there were those who commented they didn’t sew for themselves because they didn’t think their larger bodies deserved custom clothes. Giiiiiiiiirrrllll….

The other element that I was conscious about were my poses. Now, I’m no model, but I knew I wanted to show the female body moving, the female face clowning around. Maybe with less or no makeup! Not because a contained pose, a safe-sized smile, or makeup were bad, but because I didn’t want women to feel like they had to adopt those techniques to be worthy of being seen. I wanted my fellow sewing women to know that having a garment or technique or sewing thought to share, was enough to make them worthy to put it out there.

But you know what? Things change. And the biggest change has been indie patterns.

When I started reading blogs, people mostly sewed Big 4 (5?) patterns. But over the years, I’d say most people sew have sewn at least one indie pattern in the past year, with the average being much higher than that. Some people exclusively sew indie patterns nowadays! Now, I have any number of thoughts about indie patterns, but today’s post focuses on only one – and that is that indie patterns have far more boxy, cocoon-y, blousy patterns than do the Big 4/5. Not saying it’s a bad thing or a good thing! Just saying that for people starting their own pattern line, those sorts of shapes are an easier starting point than a tailored blazer.

So the more indie pattern brands that pop up, the more this silhouette floods the market, and the more we see it. Which means that indie patterns have changed the depiction of femininity in the sewing world! That’s kind of huge, right? It’s only been like, 6-8+ years of indies with things really picking up in the past 3-4 years. But now pants with huge legs are everywhere. Culottes have come back. Tops and tunics don’t even bother with our hips, but flow well past them. Even necklines and sleeves have changed – when was the last time a design with a sweetheart neckline was the hottest new thing? Sleeves are wide, with a smattering of dropped shoulders. The women behind these indie brands have set the rest of us free in roomy, freeing styles.

Personally, I’m the ultimate pattern snob, and only sew things with interest or a challenge, which means that I do not sew most of the wide leg, boxy options available from hard working indie brands. I question whether I’m actually committed to the freeing and redefining of femininity if I like my clothes to have some shape. I wonder if my problem is lingering RTW plus size shopping trauma from the years when that meant boxy polyester sacks. (Seriously RTW – not cool.) I consider whether I’m jealous that indie brands were able to effect the change I tried to make, and make money at it, too. I keep sewing.

In the end, I could have all those issues and more, but one truth emerges above all others – femininity does not have to be performed, because there are many ways to express the truth of our bodies, styles, and lifestyles. For some women, boxy tops are the path to freeing themselves of the social imperative to perform. For some, posing with their afro out and proud does the trick. For others, IG selfies without makeup are the key. Underneath it all is a sea change, transforming the social directive to ‘look feminine’ into background noise. One day, maybe, that noise will be silence and we can all be ourselves.

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4 Comments

  1. I loved reading this, Ebi, especially the reason you started your blog! It is sad to read that some don’t feel worthy of their own sewing. I think creating things for yourself can be an act of self love.

  2. Oh my gosh. I’ve only just discovered your blog and this post speaks to me in so many ways! You have put into words so many things I’ve felt sewing over the years but didn’t no how to explain. And I think you’re spot-on with your thoughts about how the indie pattern makers have shifted the silhouette. Like you, I like to have my garments have a little more structure and shape, and haven’t found many indies that offer that. I’m so glad I found you. Even better, you’re skill is amazing. Yay!

    1. Hello, Gretchen! Thanks so much for the kind words. :) These thoughts have been kicking around my brain for awhile, too. I’m always on the hunt for more fitted patterns and love Deer & Doe patterns because they have shape. They also have AMAZING finishing details…but otherwise, I constantly browse Google for patterns to find brands that cater to a more figure-conscious look. It takes a lot of time to do this, though. :/

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