Fat Sewing News

I am enough

Hello! I’m Emma (@emma.m.makes over on insta) and I’m a Canadian sewist living in Denmark. I moved here with my husband last year after graduating with a BA in textile design and sadly had to leave the fabric shop I worked at/my sewing family. I miss it immensely so joining the sewing community on instagram has helped me still feel connected. I’m relatively new to this community and first off I have to say wow, what an amazing place. 

I just want to add a little trigger warning. I’ll be speaking about loss which might be triggering for some. 

I began sewing about seven years ago. I had just come back to Ontario after a year and a half stint living in Vancouver, then Berlin, and I was a little bit lost in life. I was a 23 year old college dropout, working as a nanny, and desperate for something to distract me from my grief. Before the dropping out and the wandering my mother had passed away and I didn’t know what to do with myself. So signed up for a pillowcase class at the local fabric shop.

I heard stories from my aunts about how my mum used to sew all her own clothes when she was a teenager. It was clear though that she didn’t enjoy the process. I think for her it represented being poor and unable to afford ready to wear clothes. So needless to say she never taught me how to sew. 

After taking that class I jumped in deep. I bought a simple sewing machine from the grumpy man on Ottawa st. and got to it. I take joy in the fact that the place I learned to sew was the same place I would later work. I spent countless hours, after the shop doors closed, sewing away, making all the mistakes. I don’t really have any of the clothes that I’ve made over the years. I’ve either outgrown them or felt frustrated by them (my taste far more advanced than my skills). So my love for sewing grew out of a need for distraction but it was also complicated because often when I turned over a pattern to see the measurements I realized that I had grown beyond those numbers. This was a great source of shame for me. 

I have spent years, decades, loathing this vessel that carries me. So it may seem a simple thing to look at a pattern and not see your numbers there but what I saw was yet another message that I didn’t deserve this because of my body. When making clothes I tried to squeeze myself into these patterns (fitting was not something I had patience or skill for) and only felt disappointed when it inevitably was too tight or uncomfortable. It is only recently, in this wave of pattern companies extending their sizes, that I feel I am finally able to make clothes that fit my curves (It also helps that I have slowed down). 

This past year has been a time of rest and recovery. Back in November I joined the insta-sewing-hive and I’m so amazed with what I’ve seen there. It’s not flawless and there is a long way to go but I see other women sick of people saying that we’re not enough. Or rather that we’re too much. I see women that look like me making beautiful clothes that fit their stunning bodies. I see people posting their size for all the world to see without shame or regret. And my favourite part is the connection I feel with a complete stranger when we have a moment of “I feel that way too, I thought I was alone”. I am angry at the system and I am tired of convincing myself that I am enough. I have finally cut into beautiful fabrics that before I had deemed ‘too special’ and made styles that aren’t ‘for’ fat women. I feel like superwoman and sewing is my superpower. It’s not perfect. I have many days of not feeling good in my body but those days are becoming fewer and fewer. I attribute that in part to the community of gorgeous fat women on instagram. 

One of my last memories of my mother was when she was very sick. We were all home for the Christmas break and I decided I wanted to turn a cheap old scarf into… something. I can’t remember now. I pulled out my grandmother’s old sewing machine, one of those ones that was built right into the table, and set it up in the middle of the laundry room. Having never touched a machine before, I couldn’t get the damn thing to work. My mother came downstairs, deeply sick and out of patience, and said to me “Emma please put it away, I’ll teach you when I’m better.” 

She passed away about two weeks after this. I can’t say that learning to sew was a conscious effort to feel closer to my mother. It wasn’t. I had actually forgotten about this memory until recently. For her sewing was a sign of not having enough but for me it has taught me that I am enough. I like to think she guided me here.

Fat Sewing News

Gender, Fat, and Aging

I was 10 the first time I really remember being misgendered. I was by myself at the salon assigned to foreigners in Beijing in 1979, to get my hair cut before going home to Canada for the summer vacation. I was in shorts and a tee shirt, a lanky-long slip of a thing not quite at puberty. As the stylist cut my hair shorter and shorter, and more hair fell down on the floor, my Mandarin fled. When she finally pulled the clippers out, I shrieked, “Wo bu shi baba! No, no, I am not a father!” Soon I had a flutter of platitude-murmuring, middle-aged ladies about me, trying to rectify my gender with kiss curls around my ears and as much height as they could possibly put in my now-shorn hair, while I wept hot tears of shame into my Barbapapa t-shirt.

The lesson there was that all white people look the same. It’s true. We do.
Yet it wasn’t the last time I was gendered by my appearance, and it also wasn’t the last time I was desperately confused by the conflicting messages we are taught about gender, particularly as I grew into a round, full-hipped, full-breasted small-fat adult. Be feminine. Too feminine is weak. Be strong. Too strong is butch. Be direct. Too direct is masculine. Be flirtatious. Too flirtatious is slutty. Wear a skirt. Wear pants. Don’t be confrontational, it’s bitchy. Be assertive. But not too assertive.

All of this messaging became confused with, and immersed into, the size of my body. My body was never my own. It was a weapon in a centuries-long discourse about sexuality and the commodification of the female body. “Good child-bearing hips,” I was told by more than one person. “You are going to be such a good mom,” by more than one date. I should wear more skirts, I was told. “You have such nice legs, you should show them off.” “Why don’t you show off your boobs?” “You’re so intimidating.” “You should wear prettier colours.” Friends set me up on a blind date, and then were visibly (and verbally) mortified that I didn’t “make an effort” to be more feminine.

Yet “feminine” seemed to come with a manual that I wasn’t given. I assumed it was because of my size. I was awkward. I was tall. I was fat. Smaller, straight-sized friends knew how to flirt, how to be adorable, how to wear skirts without being called a mom, how to grow their hair long, how to put on makeup. At one point, my sister dragged me to the MAC counter: “Fix her! And teach her how to use the damn brushes!”
At the same time, the clothes worn by the women I secretly worshipped, like Annie Lennox and Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith, were off-limits to fat bodies like mine. What was androgynous on them, was butch on me. And god forbid I should look butch. Those were THE RULES in that manual I didn’t have, the one I followed blindly all the same. Fat bodies were supposed to be feminine – but mine could never seem to be feminine enough. Outfit after outfit, style after style, I internalized the message that how I dressed could offset my height and my fat, but only if I followed those rules.

Turning 50 has been a revelation I wish hadn’t taken me 4 decades to see. As I become more invisible in the public eye – no longer of child-bearing age, no longer considered a viable sexual partner in our youth-obsessed society – and my body becomes fuller and thicker post-menopause, I feel a freedom and a power in my tall, fat, aging body I never knew I could have. All that coding I associated with “fat” was wrong. Yes, you can be fat and gender-fluid. You can be fat and straight and gender-fluid. All those rules about figure-flattering, “mom” style femininity can get chucked out the window with most of my makeup. What was threatening in a younger body is just weird in an older body. They write you off…and mostly leave you alone. It has allowed me to come fully into my relationship with my gender in relative peace and quiet – and I feel myself blooming into a second spring. What I know now, is that there IS NO MANUAL, and that yes, you can wear whatever makes you happy. Some days for me it’s a dress, and some days it’s pants and a tie. Sewing is helping me to get there. I can make what I cannot find in the shops. The irony is, there is a sexual, intellectual, and emotional power in being who you really are, in not hiding that part of yourself. When society wants to write you off, for your gender, your size, your age….you find your power.
Rock on.

Emily is an English professor and writer enjoying a whole new outlook on life and pronouns at 50. They live with their partner and sons a short drive away from daily lake walks with the dogs, and spends their off-time knitting, sewing, and plotting to escape civilization in a little trailer. You can find them on Instagram as loveaslug2.

Fat Sewing News

Learning to sew, learning to see

When people ask me how I’m keeping myself grounded during lockdown, I reply, “I’m learning to sew!” When people ask me if I sew, I say “I’m a beginner!” I don’t really feel like I’m a sewist yet, because that implies that I have some idea of what I’m doing, but calling myself a beginner feels exciting without pressure – it’s a kind of liminal space where I can thrash around in the pool of fabric without worrying too much about how professional (or not) the results look. I started to sew because I wanted to wear bright colours and bold prints and natural fibres and although the plus-size ready-to-wear market has gotten better, it’s still a slog to find something that ticks all those boxes. I never would have stuck with sewing, though, if I hadn’t found the process so much fun, in the most challenging, infuriating, exhilarating ways.

Like a lot of beginners, I started with not-garments – with endless headbands and tote bags and pencil cases and cushion covers and those drawstring sacks you put a bottle of wine in to pretend it’s fancy. Initially I wanted to jump right into making something I could wear, but I’m really grateful now that a wise teacher insisted I take the time to practice technical skills in a low-stakes way. Construction is an endless fascinating puzzle for me. I’ve never been very good at spatial thinking – I don’t do well at those brain teasers where you have to figure out what a flat diagram would look like in 3D – so I spend ages pouring over instruction booklets, trying to wrap my head around how a flat piece of fabric turns into a garment. Even getting to know my machine (a vintage avocado green late 70’s Kenmore Sears I have cheekily named Ivy) has been a journey. It took me weeks to discover the backstitch feature, and just how tension works is mystery I hope to be initiated into one day. Moving from accessories to garments was thrilling. But it was also challenging, for reasons I didn’t predict. I found that I was really unfamiliar with my own body. I didn’t know how I’m shaped. 

 I am fat, and I have been for a while. I know my measurements, the sizes I usually take in ready to wear, and I can hold up a garment and do the mental calculations that lead to “yep, I can fit into that” or “nope, put it back.”  But sewing has forced me to get intimate with how I am fat, which is something I always shied away from. I have a body, I know, and it’s big, I know. Until I started to sew, that was all I wanted to know. Now, when I sew a top I have to look and for once really see how my body pillows out under my arms, the breadth of my shoulders, the dimensions of my biceps. Sewing trousers means understanding my round belly, where it folds and hangs, the curves and planes of my bum, the proportions of hips to waist and where the heck my waist is anyway. I’ve had to understand my ribcage and my breasts and how the shape of my front is different from my back, the length of my thighs to my knees and my elbows to my wrists. I never really looked at myself like this before, not with a critical or sensual eye, but simply seeing my body as a collection of shapes. I’m learning how I fill out, how I take up space, how those measurements translate into my living flesh. How did I go so long without seeing myself?

 I’m in the process of understanding, more and more, how clothes work. I feel like my relationship with clothes prior to learning to sew was a binary – it either fit or it didn’t – and now my vocabulary has exploded with words like “ease” and “rise” and “inseam” and “dart” and so many other things that make garments fit they way they do, all these techniques that were invisible to me before. Being a learner is challenging. I wouldn’t be able to spare the tremendous time commitment I need to learn multiple new skills, only to produce a wonky-seamed dolman, if I weren’t in lockdown. It can be disheartening to spend hours working away on something and then have it be unwearable. But learning is a gift too. The rush of exhilaration I get from creating something, from problem solving (SO MUCH problem solving, SO MUCH unpicking), the pleasures of curiosity and discovery – it’s the best gift I could give myself. Bring on the FBAs and set-in sleeves. I’m ready. 

Fat Sewing News

The resilient sewist

TW: death, grief and burnout

I started to sew clothes 10 years ago, next July. It’s a weird thing to know the date of, but I remember it as it’s the summer my father died.
I was lucky to have a great relationship with my dad so the months following his death were the worst of my life.

Fat Sewing News

Sewing saved me.

TW: talk of death, body measurements, depression, weight, weighing, body image, body positivity

The other day, Jess (@Fat.Bobbin.Girl on Instagram), posed a question that really got me into my feels.  The question: What has sewing meant to you/ what has sewing enabled you to do?

Fat Sewing News

Our 9th giveaway

Head on over to Instagram to enter the draw to win a PDF pattern of your choice from Friday Pattern Company, Sew DIY, True Bias as well as 3 packs of labels of your choice from Stitch Collective

Fat Sewing News

Learning to be Fat

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to disguise my fatness from the rest of the world. Of course, now I have realized that not only is it pointless (I am fat – it’s a fact and everyone can tell), I have also come to the point where I just don’t care who knows.

Fat Sewing News

Our 8th Giveaway

Our latest giveaway in celebration of #MMMayPlus2020 is live on instagram and gives you the chance to win a premium or a basic download pack from My Body Model!

To enter the competition you’ll need to leave a comment on the instagram post and say what you’d use your custom croquis from My Body Body for! If you’re looking for some ideas, check out this blog post which wraps up some great fat-sewing inspo over on the My Body Model blog.

Fat Sewing News

Opportunity Knocks: Tips for inclusive patterns.

Hello Fat Sewing Club! My name is Alex, a fat sewer you can find as @adifferentstitch over on Instagram. I’ve known how to sew most of my life, but have only been actively sewing garments since 2013.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve had so many amazing conversations around size in/exclusivity. These conversations lead to expanded size ranges, better representation of all bodies in pattern promotions, greater transparency in business decisions, though, as fantastic posts here have shared, there’s still a lot of change left to happen.

For many designers, it appears that this drive for positive, inclusive change can be overwhelming. So, I* present some practical and relatively simple ways to make pattern companies more inclusive. These are things that I’ve picked up in conversations with other sewers, through my observations using patterns, and seeing what other companies have been doing well on social media and their websites. Please, share your ideas in the comments and help build this resource. 

Fat Sewing News

Our 7th Giveaway

Closet Case Patterns has donated a great class in celebration of #MMMayPlus2020. Enter the draw on instagram here.

What is this class?

New to sewing? Learn How to Sew Clothing is designed with beginners in mind! Whether you’ve never touched a sewing machine before or want to brush up on basic skills, this comprehensive online course guides you through the construction of the entire Rome Collection (enrollment includes a complimentary copy of the Fiore Skirt, Pietra Pants and Cielo Top, in sizes 0-30). You’ll learn to cut and prep your pattern, operate and troubleshoot a sewing machine, basic fitting, construction techniques, professional seam finishes and much more!

Thanks very much to Closet Case for sponsoring this giveaway!