This week in sewing we saw a focus on men who sew, and some outloud thinking about what they’re doing differently (or not) as compared to women who sew.
1. Missouri Star Quilt Company launched Man Sewing with quilter Rob Appell today. Rob describes Man Sewing this way:
It’s simple: I am a man. I love sewing. I’m darn proud of it. And I want to share my passion and creativity with the world!
Is Man Sewing just for men? Absolutely not! I’m just a man who loves to sew, and I hope EVERYONE will join me each week for a new tutorial. We’ll work with our hands, get covered in thread, and create something awesome. It’s going to be high voltage edu-tainment at its finest. Where creativity meets caffeine!
Welcome to Man Sewing.
Look at all of the hard edges we apply to men’s sewing in order to make it socially acceptable. The lightning bolt! His first project is a skateboard quilt.
2. “Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters” just opened at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles which the Jessica Gelt at the LA Times described this way:
Cluttered with heavy metal iconography and images of guns, basketballs, caustic political commentary and the occasional expertly executed log cabin pattern, the ‘Man-Made’ quilts prove that testosterone and needlework aren’t mutually exclusive.
Were they ever? The tailor in my town is a man, and so was my great grandfather. And does the imagery need to be aggressive in order to be acceptable as something a man produced?
The art quilts of ‘Man-Made’ seek to sweep gender paradigms into history’s dustbin, showing how the modern men joining the global sewing circle add a boisterous voice of virility to a traditionally soft conversation, with interesting wrinkles.”
Are men’s artistic voices really louder and more virile than ours?
3. And an interesting discussion in the comments on this profile of male fiber artist, Olan Reeves, on Maddie’s blog. The opening line of the post caused quite a stir (even more so before the reference to “old biddies” was revised out):
Let me be clear, Olan Reeves quilts are not folksy fabric scraps thrown together. He is a real artist with an impressive background who pursued a traditional, non-sartorial handicraft on his on terms.
Is this description of Olan’s work meant to be in opposition to what the rest of us are doing? Would we describe a woman art-quilter this way?
There’s definitely more to say here:
Is sewing gendered now more than it once was?
Are men more likely to describe their sewing as art?
Are male designers treated differently in the quilting industry?
Gender is a really laden subject. If you don’t address it, we ask what you’re so afraid of. And if you do address it, we ask why the topic has even been raised. We’re all just sewing. What’s the big deal, right?
Looking at what’s being talked about in sewing this week, it’s clearly on our minds though.
The sad part is, they almost have to do this because masculinity is *so* engrained for men. They are inundated with it as much as we are inundated with beauty standards.
It seem being a tailor is acceptable, but a male fashion designer – well, you must be gay. Sighs.
My husband has noticed this for quite a while as fell. He;s great at design, helps me pick fabric and is often the one putting more fabric in the cart. Sadly he wasn’t allowed to explore this as a child. He did see a man in the fabric store one day who (he says) caught his eye and gave him a look of “OMG SOMEONE SAW ME” and then actively avoided being near him. It’s just so strange.
We’re friends with another couple where the husband designs jewellery and his father knits and quilts. They live in small town and have put up with all kinds of really homophobic language. Which, has nothing to do with it really.
I don’t even know what we can do, other than encourage sons that textile work is not gender specific.
It could be because my full-time job is in tech, but I’ve been recently inundated with stories about the studies that show women are far more likely than men to think they don’t contribute as much, estimate that they didn’t perform as well, and think they are impostors. So, to answer “Are men more likely to describe their sewing as art?”: of course. The media constantly remind us that quilting/fiber crafting/etc is quaint, old-fashioned, and not “art”—what woman, who has been taught to be modest and humble is going to suddenly start proclaiming her pieces art? (A “strong” one who is “ambitious” and “bossy”?—all supposedly dirty words) But, men seem to be taught to have no qualms about calling it like they see it.
Maddie’s intro of Olan Reeves really bothered me when I first read it on her blog, and has continued to sit in the back of my mind nagging me, because I do think it implies a dichotomy of “his quilting is art”:”women do not make quilts that are art”.
The gendering seems so ingrained in the community. As in tech, where greetings to rooms are “hey guys” (and not in the colloquial, everyone falls under ‘guys’), greetings to groups of quilters are inevitably “hi ladies!”. How are we encouraging the demise of stereotyping and inclusion of men if our default greeting to clubs, guilds, classes, and other assemblies is actively saying that men aren’t a part of the community?
From the prevalence of complaints about “not enough fabrics/patterns for things for little boys” to “this is my man quilt” (evidently as opposed to a normal quilt), we’re constantly making both subtle and overt references to gender in quilting. It’s definitely a conversation we need to be having.
Very well said, Rae.
I agree what’s the big deal if a man takes up sewing. my father taught me to sew. sewing is a skill that can be mastered by both men and women. when I was in school all 7th and 8th grade were required to take home economics which included 6 months of sewing. if we make a big deal about a man sewing then it will became a issue. personally I say if you enjoy sewing just do it, I do not care if you are male or female.
There’s a big show in LA going on right now. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-male-quilters-cafam-manmade-20150125-story.html#page=
” “Man-Made” quilts prove that testosterone and needlework aren’t mutually exclusive.” Phew!
Yep! Quoted above 🙂 That LA Times article was rather off base.
Thanks for posting on this today! My dad learned to sew from his mom in 4H growing up and made a button down shirt. He always did my buttonholes and zippers when I was learning to sew (and threaded the machine and wound the bobbin) because my mom wasn’t confident in those things. My husband reminded me when I showed him how to use my sewing machine that it’s just like his power tools in the garage.
In the world of software development and engineering, people will say that maybe men are more suited to that type of work because males have stronger spatial reasoning skills than women (which may be because they spent more time playing video games and building legos than girls did, because those things were marketed to them, …). Watch out when the world discovers that the skills to make a 3D softie or garment out of 2D materials is exactly centered in those same spatial reasoning skills, and we could all be learning them through sewing classes and sculpting from a young age.
It’s funny because those types of spatial reasoning skills are my strength. They come naturally to me in a way that many other things don’t. Sewing softies exercises that muscle for me in a most satisfying way.
I feel the same way about patternmaking, but I also grew up with a heavy dose of legos, light wood working with my dad, and an aversion to playing dolls. I’ve occasionally described my job as engineering for the body to people when they start to give me the “oh you just sew for a living” look or talk. It goes over well about 50% of the time.
That’s a great way to describe it, Jen.
I’m a mechanical engineer and have sewn since I was a young girl. I’m now taking Masters degree in product design, which is based in an art and design school and even there I get funny looks. “Wow, sewing AND engineering?” I’ve always seen it the same was as Jen, turning something 2D into 3D, so in my mind they are pretty much exactly the same, whether I’m making a car chassis or a evening gown, but some people just don’t see the connection and pigeon hole tasks to (stereotype) genders.
Great article Abby! Love reading these comments!
I thought I would add my comments of my experiences from the United Kingdom. I think there less gender stereotyping from the younger generation. The two male sewers I have come across have both been 30 something. I know there are older male sewers out there but they virtually invisible unless they go down the “fibre artist” route. Quilt/fabric shops in the UK don’t help – lots of flowery, pink girly fabric for sale. My quilt group are in the process of making Linus Quilts for teenage boys and the majority were in a real tizzy. They thought their only options were black and fabric with skulls. My own view is that for most male sewers, the easiest way for their sewing to be accepted, is to go down the art quilt path. The sub-text appears to be “It’s OK it’s an art quilt, not one of those handmade, domestic sewn quilts”. Beautiful quilts can be made by male, female, with or without art degrees.
I’m not surprised that the LA Times article is rife with gender sterotyping. Sad but true, since that type of writing is feeding the masses and in fact, adding to the stereotyping. But we are in a time that most gender issues are being challenged and so why not quilting as well? If you know who David Taylor is (a quilter from Colorado), I sat in on his lecture and my first thought was, “OMG, he’s even more OCD than I am!” (responding to the fact that he washes, irons, and seams the entire perimeter of each and every fat quarter BEFORE placing them in shade-order on his shelves…) My first thought on seeing Olan Reeves’ workshop was, “It looks kind of like my workshop!” It’s about time that ALL quilters begin to see their work as legitimate art. I certainly do.
There is always a difference in how things are perceived once men get involved. Men become obstetricians while women are the midwives. Women are cooks while men are chefs. Men always seem to bring much more of a hoo ha about what they do and make more noise about it. Incidentally arriving at more pay for doing whatever it is that they do. Unskilled men earn more than unskilled women, maybe not for the same work but for any jobs that are predominantly male or female, then guess which pays the liveable salary? A single parent male is to be admired for his parenting skills, while a female one deplored for her irresponsibility . Men command higher salaries because they ask for them. They head up companies while their secretaries do the work for them. Perhaps women need to change the tune we sing and play it louder too. We need to realise the value of what we do, regardless of whether it is in the perceived female of male sphere. Men often don’t want to do ‘female’ work because of its poor perception and value and what it says about them.
I’m not sure that negative perceptions of ‘female’ occupations can be put squarely onto men either. Women often seem to value their skills less than men’s and of little worth comparatively. People tend to believe what you tell them about yourself. I think it is time we gave ‘domestic arts and crafts’ a higher status and then it might be possible for a good living to be earned more readily and more men would come on board with equal terms. After all I’m sure they do have a lot they could share. Women also come out on the ‘poor men’ side of things but lets not forget we only still really give lip service to full equality in the workplace. Women have a natural tendency to elevate and support men over women. Men have a natural tendency to support other men and women tend to take what’s left over or what the fighters in our ranks have achieved for us all, ironically with the help of sympathetic men.
So yes of course men make art, while women are just ‘running up’ a quaint little quilt. Male knitting designers and quilt designers are put on pedestals where women are only known within their own circles. Quilting is not that common in the UK, but while I don’t know the name of any female quilter of which the art/craft is predominated by, I do know that of Kaffe Fassett. Why? I even love quilts. All that said, of course men can sew and knit and anything else that they feel like, but it doesn’t make them better at it or more noteworthy. My grandfather and great grandfather were tailors, while on the other hand my friend’s mother was a dress-maker. I do feel that tailor has more status given to it than dress-maker even though they may well both have tailored clothes to fit the bodies of strangers.
Forgive the somewhat off topic rant but phrases like “showing how the modern men joining the global sewing circle add a boisterous voice of virility to a traditionally soft conversation, with interesting wrinkles.” and “Let me be clear, Olan Reeves quilts are not folksy fabric scraps thrown together. He is a real artist with an impressive background who pursued a traditional, non-sartorial handicraft on his on terms”, just make me see red.
So while yes I welcome males of all ages, to the sewing world and any other perceived feminine arena not at the expense of me or my gender. We don’t get to have and keep much.
I find the language and projects really frustrating. A huge motivating factor for me to start sewing was so I could make my son’s clothes and opt out of the ridiculously rigid decisions on what is suitable for boys vs. girls clothes. Spiders and beetles are only boys! Ladybugs and butterflies are only girls! To have a man quilting, it has to be about rock concerts, skateboards, and lightning bolts? Come on. I hope the landscape is different by the time he is old enough to notice, should he choose to pursue sewing. I’m don’t know him, but I’m surprised Rob Appell doesn’t feel slightly insulted by having to market his work in such a stereotypical, unsophisticated way. I’ve never read Madalynne’s blog but it’s a shame that the thoughtful interview written by the artist himself is alongside that intro. I wonder why she chose to not respond to the comments directed at its tone.
Apart from gender, I could do without ever reading the phrases ‘real artist’ or ‘high-voltage edutainment’ again, ha.
You’re awesome, Stephanie. Well said.
The timing of this discussion is interesting because I’ve just decided to start teaching a beginning sewing class in my area and I had a to think about the phrasing of my announcement online. I didn’t want to assume or sound like I assumed that only women and girls would be interested. In fact I tried to encourage (non-nonchalantly) parents to include their son and/or daughter. Here’s the wording “Appropriate for ages 10 to adult, it would be a great learning activity to share with a son or daughter (10 and up)”. I didn’t even assume that only mothers would want to join the class.
I have three boys of my own and want them to do what THEY are interested in and I would like to figure out how to encourage boys to explore sewing too WITHOUT having to make it “manly”. Sure boys have different tastes in patterns and colors but that should be their choice not expected of them. Girls like skateboards, sports and skulls too. I’m not going to tell them they can’t because it’s not “girly”. This does make me consider my class projects more carefully too. Doing the ruffled, frilly aprons that are so popular is not likely to be appealing (or unfortunately, acceptable) for boys. Do I offer a “manly” version? (for the BBQ of course, cuz men don’t cook unless they have a fire or a grill ). My own brother loved his sewing class in Home Ec and made some Khaki Jeans for himself and thought that was pretty awesome.
Ironically, 100% of the people that responded with interest were Mom’s (Grandma’s) wanting to teach their daughters (granddaughters). Is that because only the girls are interested or did they not consider their boys? I want to include them because I feel there are numerous benefits of learning to sew for ALL people. I do know some men that actually enjoy traditional quilting. Unfortunately they are all older men, retired and usually not concerned with defending their manliness. And, by the way, make beautiful, traditional, ‘old fashioned’ quilts.
In fact, I think BECAUSE men are (genereally) stronger in spacial reasoning skills, it CAN makes them more suited to be quilters, crafters and fashion designers than perhaps some of the more “manly professions” 😉 FUN.
I love that you considered how to word your advertisement to be inclusive. My old local quilt shop had a ton of “Mommy/Grandma and Me” sewing events, despite full well knowing that there were a few local dads with children that were very active in the sewing community.
Jessie Whittaker says
I opened a sewing and craft school this year. My ads were “beginning sewing classes for ages 6 and up. I teach handicaps and people with autism’. The calls I get are for people who have children with a handicap. I received several calls wanting to register their females and saying to me ” She has a brother that is also handicapped and I wish there was some classes he could take” My reply back to them was “He can take sewing” their reply back to me was “a boy taking sewing? I always reply to that question/comment . Why Not? I do have some boys signed up for sewing in my 2016 school year and I request that their fathers come with them if at all possible.
I find this very concerning.
Like other comenters, I have a background in computing. IT is a new area, which has (roughly speaking) grown along side 2nd wave feminism (Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer etc), so you’d expect it not to have as many entrenched patriachial views as other domains.
Did you know many of the first software programmers were female? People like Ada Lovelace (amazing for her time) but also Grace Hopper who designed COBOL. But nowadays, the stereotypical software programmer isn’t female, and women who try to become programmers have their ability to understand code questioned, and face workplace discrimination.
Have you seen how the number of women studying computing has dropped from over 37% in 1984 to about 12% in 2011? See http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing#Statistics_in_education Have you also seen the attacks on women who criticise the IT industry, and the cruelty of #gamergate? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamergate_controversy
I wonder if talking up male quilters/designers/knitters as so masculine, so creative, so much … better … than women quilters/designers/knitters isn’t the start of women being excluded from a field they currently work in, just like the female software programmers?
Caroline B says
Interesting. Keep your eye out for the new BBC series of Great British Sewing Bee, apparently there is a high proportion of male contestants this year.
I teach a young lad art on a regular basis & he asked to be taught how to knit so he could ‘make cool stuff’. Maybe that’s the route we need to take when encouraging children to take up sewing, knitting, etc., it’s not ‘girly’, it’s a means to an end – if you want the cool stuff, you have to learn how to make it. Same applies to woodworking, motor mechanics, etc – I would have loved to have been taught these at school, as well as the cookery and the needlework.
I just want to compliment you on your blog, your podcast – and on your commentators. Your content is completely unique – I haven’t seen any other blogs that explore the cultural and economic aspects of crafting like you do. More comments to follow from me!
Thank you so much, Amy. I think we have some really interesting and thought-provoking discussions here and for that I’m very grateful!
I’m late to this party, but the ‘legitimacy’ of maleness IS particularly astounding when it shows up in a field generally dominated by women’s work. It throws into relief how often this happens (women are throwing things together, men are deliberate artists; women are hobbyists, men are ‘redefining’ the craft. . . ) and how little we protest. I’m interested in this because lately I’ve been very interested in how obvious my own fingerprint is on my work. Things I make look like things *I”ve* made. An artistic sensibility is clearly at work, but I’m fairly reluctant to claim it. Hmm. Things to think about.
Thanks for the lovely post and timely discussion, Abby.
I find that on social media I need to remember to keep our language gender neutral even though the majority of our customers are female. I do see more men and boys signing up for our sewing classes. While we have some male focused sewing projects, most of our sewing projects are targeted at women. Something we realize we need to work on.
Thank you for raising this. I am a quilter in the UK and I have very mixed (and contradictory!) feelings about issues regarding gender and quilting. Let me start by saying that I absolutely welcome ANYONE who wants to quilt to get involved in a craft which has given me a lot of joy over the last twenty-plus years. However, at the same time, part of what I have always loved about quilting is the strong female friendships I have formed through quilting. I have found being in a quilting group to be (generally) accepting and supportive. In so many environments women are encouraged to compete negatively with other women – think about the media articles setting mothers against women without children, working mums against SAHMs, encouraging us to be thinner than the next woman, earn more and so on. Of course the reason the media does this (and the reasons we allow them to) is a whole other discussion, but the fact is that I have found female only quilting groups to be free of this type of competition. I have friends who I would never, ever have met if it weren’t for quilting and this has been really important to me.
I have found that when a man has been introduced to a group that the dynamic has subtly changed. But at the same time, I would not want to exclude men. I would like it if we could keep the same ‘sisterhood’ feeling, but have men there too.
I also feel the history of quilting as a predominantly female art-form to be very important. Women have, throughout the years, produced beautiful pieces of art through their quilting. Many of them would not have been allowed to just produce art for it’s own sake (because of social standing, gender, finance etc), so have produced functional items – quilts – in which they have expressed their artistic vision. I believe that quilt history shows us gender and quilting have been linked for a long time – and we should celebrate the women who produced our quilting heritage. Again – not to exclude men, but let’s acknowledge women’s role in developing this artform.
Interestingly – I attended a talk by Luke Haynes recently. I do love his work which, as well as being art, celebrates the traditions of quilting. He didn’t refer to gender at all during his talk but someone asked him at the end if it was difficult being a man in a ‘women’s world’. All respect to Luke – he stated that it is easier for him – he gets more attention, more exhibitions etc because of his gender. Why do we do this? It is not fundamentally more difficult for men to sew than women – I have taught children of both genders to sew, and until they are told that it is a ‘girls’ activity, there is no gender-based difference in their ability. So why do so many act like it is a miracle that a man can use a sewing machine?
A little disjointed I’m afraid – but I said I had mixed feelings!!
Snow Wildsmith says
My father cross-stitched for years, while he was in the Navy! He was usually the only medical person on board, so it’s not like the crew was going to get on his bad side. 🙂 I do think it helped that he favored topless fantasy women, but that was his style, not something he picked because it was “manly.” He was always taking me to craft classes when I was a kid and he and my mother both encourage me regularly to be artistic. I feel very lucky that I have two excellent examples of living a crafty life.
What a great story! I would love to see a photo of him cross stitching a topless fantasy woman while aboard an Navy ship!
Barbara Duperron says
Abby – You rock! I really appreciate how much effort you put into your blog posts. As others have mentioned, craft blogs don’t often include gender/social issues. But its certainly a topic worth exploring. I agree that there is still a huge disparity between the genders (in SO many ways) but I have to say its gotten a lot smaller over my lifetime. The thought that keeps cropping up in my mind is that women in the fiber arts field (a clearly female dominated arena) may be a little defensive about loosing that exclusivity. I know I felt that way at first. Its made me turn my gaze inward, to explore my own feelings and latent prejudice about gender. And for that I thank you! I consider myself rather open minded, but this particular article made me see that I can better myself.
Thank you so much, Barbara.
Jaime Johnson says
I have always been creative and am an avid Sewist. My kids enjoy the things I make them and request items frequently. We are also a homeschooling family and last summer I started to teach my 6 year old son how to sew. I opened it up to other families and his good (male) friend joined us and they both did a great job making their own pajama pants. After I taught my son machine basics and before we conquered his first project, I let him play with scraps. He designed and sewed up pockets/pouches with flaps in all shapes and sizes. Creativity isn’t reserved to any one gender. I hope that if he enjoys sewing as a creative outlet he won’t ever be discouraged from doing it, knowing the joy I get from it. He also takes a Jr. Woodworking class & is learning to play an instrument, both creative in other ways. I think the excitement from seeing men in quilting is somewhat cultural. It’s rare now for men to be Tailors and to have learned that from their fathers, as another commenter mentioned (heck, it’s difficult to find a tailor at all). Its the same thing that happens with fuss about Ana White & similar people – “What?!? A woman can build furniture with power tools?!” People like to have things to fuss about. 🙂
Great perspective, Jaime, and your son is so lucky to learn to sew from you. Also, I just checked out your blog and your work is lovely!
Jaime Johnson says
Thank you so much!
I have been thinking a lot about this thread since I left a comment earlier. It has made me think long and hard about gender stereotyping from both sides. I believe that some of this is due to how quilting and sewing is perceived. Historically, quilting and embroidery etc were deemed (by men) in the western world as NOT art. Fine Art did not include anything created with fabric, other than as a base for paint. Applied Art was relegated as something lesser. My own personal definition of an Art Quilt is something that could just be hung to look at OR it could be practical as well. Some of the fellow members of my quilting group are exceptionally talented from a technical point of view but have not moved their skills beyond crafting quilts on very traditional lines. When I visit quilt shows, I deliberately do not look at the makers information. I try to respond to the quilt (do I think the maker has ‘pushed the boundaries’, do I respond to the colours etc?) without the preconceptions of gender. There is interesting work being done in the UK that is very much connected with gender and preconceptions generally. Take a look at Fine Cell Work. This is a project with volunteers trained by the Royal School of Needlework. They work with prisoners, teach them real skills and sell their work via their website. The majority of the prison population is male and this gives them the opportunity to do something creative and positive whilst spending so many hours in their cells. I think it’s breaking down the barriers stitch by stitch.
I’m so glad this conversation about gender and art and craft is taking place and thank you for adding to it, Jo. Fine Cell Work sounds like an amazing project. Thank you for pointing me to it. The work is beautiful. Here’s a link if anyone else would like to check it out: http://www.finecellwork.co.uk/
Donna Marks says
love the article, I first saw my step dad, as macho and homophobic as they come, repair his jeans on a sewing machine. I was shocked, at that point I had never seen a man sew at all. He just calmly explained that as the eldest child he had to do a lot of things around the home, including repairs of clothing. he grew up in St Vincent and the Grenadines where most things had to be made locally, imports were too expensive. Two of my male cousins worked in small clothing factories in East London where they had to set the cutters, lay out the fabric and use machines. Man sewing should not be anything new, after all there have always been male tailors and designers. In our modern times where most manufactured items are made abroad, we just don’t see who makes them.
Blokes are doing a fine job and men that sew and go public will help change perceptions and lead the way for anyone including other boys / men to do whatever hobby or career takes their fancy without fear of being labelled gay or silly. Let the idiots put the labels on, after all they probably can’t sew or do anything noteworthy.