The Sewcialists is a community-driven blog facilitating deep conversations about sewing and identity as well as garment sewing challenges open to everyone. Spearheaded by Gillian Whitcombe of the blog Crafting a Rainbow, the site was revived in June after an 18-month hiatus. Run by a group of approximately 60 contributing editors, today the Sewcialists is a hub for conversation about how sewing shapes identity with posts exploring body image, gender, sexuality, family relationships, the natural environment and more.
From the start the Sewcialists was a community effort. In 2013 a group of sewing friends on Twitter came up with the term “sewcialists” to refer to people like themselves who loved sewing and loved talking about it online. They dared each other to take on various sewing challenges – sew Viking clothes, for example – and established the Sewcialists’ online presence to record the results. Gillian registered the URL and set up the Sewcialists blog (She’s still a fan of a good sewing dare and will happily look through your most recent makes and dare you to try something different.) Another friend created the Sewcialists Firehouse, a blog aggregator that pulls in content from each contributor’s blog.
In 2016 Gillian stepped back from the Sewcialists to become an editor at another community-driven sewing blog, The Curvy Sewing Collective. “That was so inspiring. It’s really groundbreaking,” she says of that site. The time she spent working on it helped her to clarify the vision for the Sewcialists, which she returned to in June of 2017.
“When I restarted the Sewcialists this time I knew from the start I wanted it to be about equity and inclusion and social justice, but still framed within theme months,” she explains. “For us the theme months are what brings the community together and makes it a place that everyone sees themselves reflected. In between we slide in other discussions and that’s when we can push the boundaries because we’ve already established this strong community.”
Recent notable posts exploring identity include:
- My Crafting, Like My Feminism, Is Intersectional by Jasika Nicole
- How I Found Me Again (this anonymous post is about how sewing helped the author regain her identity after leaving a religious cult)
A defining aspect of the Sewcialists is Gillian’s conscious choice to not turn the site into a revenue generator. During the day she works as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in a local elementary school, a job she loves and that earns her a good income. “I’ve tried sewing as a business. I’ve tried teaching sewing and selling things. I don’t love that part,” she explains. “I love my day job as an ESL teacher and I think of the Sewcialists as my volunteer contribution. I can facilitate these discussions without thinking about okay how am I going to leverage it.”
“I don’t think that our hobby needs to be anything more than fun to be valuable,” she explains. “For me sewing and the Sewcialists and my own blog, that’s how I keep my head on straight and I can go to work and make the money and keep doing my hobbies.”
The site is run on WordPress and contributors upload and format their own posts. There are no contracts and the writers and editors are all volunteers. Gillian says she spends between 20 minutes and eight hours a week working on the site depending on the editorial cycle.
The Sewcialists’ vision is one of total inclusivity. Everyone is welcome to contribute and writers aren’t vetted for follower numbers, photo quality, or sewing skills. Calls for submissions are posted on the site and on Instagram and the first three people to respond on each platform are accepted. “I don’t care if you’ve been sewing a week or ten years or if you can make a perfect tailored jacket or a t-shirt, you are welcome to blog,” Gillian says. She herself learned to sew six years ago from The Colette Sewing Handbook, reigniting an interest that she hadn’t touched since childhood.
The editorial team also proactively reaches out to sewists to solicit pitches. “To keep the diversity going we invite people from the blogging community because I really believe you have to start by reflecting the community you want to attract,” Gillian says. “If a male sewist comes and looks at our blog and there’s no male sewists posts they’re going to walk away and think this community is not for them. If a queer sewist comes and doesn’t see anyone talking about being LGBTQ they might walk away and think they’re not welcome or that’s something we don’t want them to talk about.”
The themed challenges are also designed to be as accessible as possible. “I want a theme month that people can sew out of their stash with a pattern they already have,” Gillian says. “They don’t have to live in a certain season or celebrate a certain holiday. We set the lowest bar possible. We want the most people engaged.”
Recent theme challenges include:
Gillian’s personal vision for the site is guided by her training as a teacher. “The way I think about it is in a math class I would never be in front of the class and say, ‘A triangle has three vertices and three sides. I would put up a bunch of triangles and say, ‘Hey, what do you notice? Talk to a friend. Okay, what’s the same about all these?’ I’m a facilitator. I can’t teach anybody about any experience but my own, but I can facilitate discussions.”
She’s highly aware of her own identity which she describes as a “white, straight, married, cis gender English-speaking North American woman in my thirties” and her positioning as part of the mainstream of the sewing community. She envisions the Sewcialists as a place where everyone is invited to express their own identity as it relates to sewing, especially those who fall outside that mainstream.
Gillian is adamant that sewing for yourself isn’t a selfish act. “My husband is a comic book collector so he spends appalling amounts of money on a book that he’s going to put in the box with all the other books that he’s put in the box,” she laughs. “But the thing is when he goes to a comic store nobody is saying, ‘Oh you shouldn’t be selfish. You should sell that last thing you bought, you know use it up, before you get something new.’ Sewing costs money. So do lots of hobbies,” she says. It’s okay to spend that money and time on yourself.
Gillian hopes the Sewcialists will have a lasting impact on the sewing community’s understanding of itself. “I had a pattern designer email me and she said, ‘I’ve never thought about having a person of color or a person of size model my clothes in the photo shoots or in the packaging.’ To me that’s exciting that someone was open to the idea but hadn’t thought it through yet.”
“I would be really thrilled if our legacy was that when pattern designers are releasing a pattern that is masculine they don’t necessarily label it a men’s pattern for going to the cabin and doing manly pursuits,” she laughs. “If they thought about, ‘Oh, well maybe gender queer people might want to wear this or maybe there’s women who dress on the masculine side of clothing.’ These are big dreams. I think we can get there, though. I have faith in the sewing community.”
Want to submit? The Sewcialists is currently looking for posts about plus size sewing, sewing as it benefits mental health, and generational sewing within families. To hear more from Gillian tune in to episode #11 of the Love to Sew podcast.