Episode 29. Interview with Gwen of @GwenStella.Made

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30. Zero Waste Sewing & Clothing The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this week's episode, Ada and Nicole discuss zero waste sewing, fashion and clothing. We'll talk about zero waste practices throughout history and Asian cultures, and our own zero waste habits within our sewing practices. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/30-zero-waste-sewing–clothing If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective 

Links 

Patterns & Designers mentioned

S9550 by MimiG for Simplicity

S9551 by MimiG for Simplicity

V1783 by Vogue

M7969 by McCall

Orion Hat by GwenStellaMade

Resources

MimiG – VP of Design and Brand Management of Patterns at Simplicity

Aaronica Cole – @needleand

Gabriella Hearst – High fashion sustainable designer

America’s Individualism podcast by Freakonomics

Ella of Handmade Millenial

Show transcript

Ada
Yeah like those people who make the IKEA floating table Island sewing like cutting table. Wow, good for you. I could not…

Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community.

Nicole
In this podcast we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies.

Ada
I’m your co host, Ada Chen and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer-turned-entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own natural skincare business called Chuan’s Promise. That’s C-H-U-A-N-apostrophe-S Promise and sharing my marketing tips on my blog. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing @i.hope.so on Instagram.

Nicole
And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based outside of Chicago, the original homelands of the Council of the three fires: the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Philippine-American woman, a lawyer by day, and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada
Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole
So right now I’m not in the process of sewing anything. I spoke with you about this earlier, Ada, about creating a travel wardrobe or just thinking of a few pieces to make. Not an entire wardrobe, aut a couple things to make to take with me when I go visit family in England, and we’re going to do a little stint in Valencia in Spain. And I think I know…Well, Ada, you and I have talked about the appeal of a two piece outfit, right?

Ada
Mm hmm. Like matching?

Nicole
Yeah, recently-I won’t name the pattern-But I was like, “I-do I want this, or do I want a two piece outfit? Like is this something that I want?” And I think we ended up determining that what I really wanted was a matching set. So I have stuff for that already. I had already purchased this pattern when it first came out. It is a big four pattern. It’s Simplicity 9551 and 9550. So these are the new patterns released by Mimi G. And this particular pattern is a two piece set that is a crop top that is very simple in design-short sleeves, a V in the back, and then the bottom has two options: They’re like flouncy flowy shorts-which seems very like Spain, you know, in summer, or a longer flowy skirt that goes anywhere between like knee length, or just below the knee length. And I’ve stayed away from Big Four, for a lot of different reasons. A lot of the reasons we’ve talked about, sometimes-I still have a stash that I will use as well. But I went out and purchased this design, in particular because it was the first of two where they’ve expanded their size range. So their 9550 is a-what many might call straight size. And then 9551 is the same pattern, but for larger sizes, and they use different blocks, I imagine. And in this instance, they just decided to make it two different numbers. But the pattern goes up to what they call a 34W, which is a 56″ chest and a 58″ hip. And that’s just shy of what a lot of folks consider to be inclusive sizing, which is often at 60″ but of course we know that you know 60″ is not going to cover everyone as well. There are plenty of people who need larger sizes than that.

The reason why I went out and purchased this was I was looking at Mimi G’s Post who last year was named the Vice President of Design and Brand Management of patterns at Simplicity. So that’s a really big deal and she pledged to get you know the sizes to be more inclusive for this company that’s been around for so long as she lived up to that by getting this to the size range that it is now and she said you know we’re not stopping here. And they use a model Aaronica Cole, who is I believe @needleandthebell for the packet. Wonderful, wonderful sewist-person very inspirational. She’s the cover model for the pattern. And I think Aaronica-oh- she said something to the effect of you know, this is a big deal. Now go buy the pattern to show that people want this. And so that’s-that’s why I decided okay, let’s just buy it and yes, it was on sale at Joanne but who doesn’t buy patterns when they’re on sale the newer ones anyway. Bbut I wanted to buy it and I’m in that size range anyway, I’m in the 80s into a 34 size range. So it’s not like I was just buying it to, to not use, I will be using it myself. But I have not figured out exactly what fabric to use, but I have some really nice like drapier linen options. So summer in Spain seems like a really nice two piece option. And then some rayon Challis. Definitely something bright. Definitely something coordinating. And then hopefully that will coordinate with other solids that I have, to be like, formed the basis for travel wardrobe. But that’s what I’m thinking…nothing at my machine right now. But what’s probably going to end up happening is I’m just going to think so hard and by the time I’m not gonna have anything, so but yeah, it’s fun to share the ideas, right?

Ada
That is I mean, that’s how like travel panic sewing happens, which is what I’m trying to get myself not to do.

Nicole
I think I’m okay with saying well, I didn’t get it done. I have lots of clothes anyway, it’s fine, but it is fun to plan. It would probably be even better to make so hopefully I’ll have at least one two piece outfit. I already have one that I made, which I think I talked about in an earlier episode, but two would be nice. What are you working on right now, Ada?

Ada
I can’t wait to see what you make with that pattern. I saw the posts in the process. I’m very excited to see it. Ironically, I’m also working on a big four pattern which I don’t think happens to us very often but we’re working on it. I should say just finished it I’m wearing it today. It is a Vogue pattern. It is not size inclusive. It is not from the new block, but I purchased it before I stopped purchasing these patterns. So I figured I would use it. It is the V 1783 and it’s basically a button front dress with a belt and it has a collar and a collar band and dropped shoulders and these big, kind of poofy not poofy but like bell sleeves almost like they’re very fluttery and princess seams and pleats. And it had pockets but you’ll hear what happened to the pocket. So basically this dress has taken me almost a year to complete…

Nicole
Oh (laughs)

Ada
Yeah. Because of the of the construction there were literally probably 10 pieces to make the entire dress-not even the collar and the collar stand and all that-just like 10 pieces to make the whole bodice and skirt like it’s one full piece because that’s how they constructed the pleats. I had no idea when I was buying this pattern. I bought it. To be honest, I remember being in the store and buying it because I really liked this designer called Gabriella Hearst. She is a sustainable-ish designer. She designs with sustainability in mind, high fashion designer, but her pieces are like thousands of dollars and I was like, “well, I really liked the look of her big, poofy swuishy dresses. I just don’t want to spend $2000”- I’m like, knowing her brand and knowing the transparency they share… I know that a lot of that money would go to the workers, but if I can make it myself, I was like well, I…I want to attempt this and like try to recreate the look. So I bought the pattern, sat on it for a while, cut the fabric to make this wearable toile that I’m now finally wearing. It is a wool poly blend kind of twill so it’s an A definitely not necessarily the right right fabric, but at the time when I was cutting it, it was winter. It was cold. I didn’t want to pull out a cotton poplin. I was like, “I’m gonna get this done.” Then I realized how many pieces there were and my old vintage surgery just was not cooperating. So I had to bias bind and Hong Kong finish all of the seams on this full length maxi dress.

Nicole
Wow.

Ada
And I gave up about halfway through and it just sat there for a few months in a timeout because it was so frustrating. I hadn’t even gotten to the collar yet, and I was already frustrated. Then a friend happened to be moving and wanted to sell me her machines. So I got a new-to-me serger and overlocker that are modern. And I sold my vintage surgery and that made a difference because it made finishing everything so much faster, but then it sat in timeout again for another month or two because I got frustrated again with just like the sheer amount of fabric on-like, my table is just not big enough. (laughs) There’s all the buttons on the front and all the things and so when I finally finished it and put it on, I probably should have tried this on earlier – done a tissue fitting- but what I would call “typical big four.” I measured into a size 14, which is the largest of the sizes in the pattern size that I bought. The size 14 had eight inches too much ease around the waist. So once I put it on-and I think the shoulders are a little too drop shoulder for me personally now that I’m trying it on. It looked fine on the mannequin, or the dress form. But once I had it on I was like, “I just don’t like it like this just took so long.” And it had so many timeouts and so many steps along the way. And like you know, poor fabric choice on my part, but I just wanted to see if I could finish this pattern and see if I would like the shape and uh, the answer’s “euhhhhh…meh!”

I thought yesterday when I finished it, I would post it on my grid. I don’t think I’m posting a grid. Sorry, everyone, you-by the time this episode comes out you may or may not remember the agonizing stories I posted about this dress. But yes, it is finally done and I- I might reconsider making the shorter version of this dress. Now that I have the serger. I’ve been through it once. I like know kind of where to shortcut, where not to shortcut. But, woof. Yeah, I put it on and there was just-it was like a tent. And so I had to literally just-I took out my French curve, and I drew a new waistline and on both sides: pinned it, checked it, and then just ran it through my machine and serged-just searched off the extra and so the pockets just came off because I was like, “I can’t-I can’t be bothered at this point to take them off. Like, this is just not happening.”

Nicole
Yeah, I was wondering when we were gonna get to how did the dress lose the pockets? Because that’s the thing that it was like, Yeah, I’m going to add it. It’s amazing because it has pockets and you’re like, “it was supposed to..but” Ouch.

Ada
This week we are welcoming a friend of the pod, Gwen, who is on Instagram @gwenstella.made and gwenstellamade.com Gwen is a digital content creator, pattern maker, and sewing blogger. So welcome, Gwen.

Gwen
Hi, I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Nicole
You are very welcome. We are glad that you’re here with us today. We ask our guests about their cultural background and if it influences their sewing process. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself? And first, how did you start sewing?

Gwen
So my name is Gwen, but my given Chinese name, and still my legal name is Qiwen by just go by Gwen and everyone can just continue calling me Gwen. I’m a Chinese Singaporean. I grew up in Singapore and I lived in Singapore for most of my life. Singapore is a country that really prides itself as being like a cosmopolitan, global city. It has a history of being under British colonial rule. So we embrace a lot of Western ideas. And it’s a mish-mash of things. So we embrace a lot of Western ideas because of our history and how we want to put ourselves in the center of, like, the global stage. But then we’re also made up of Chinese immigrants, Malay immigrants, Indians, and lots of people from different cultural backgrounds. And there’s a lot of emphasis on the community over self. So growing up, I’ve always felt stripped of my individuality. And I started sewing because I really wanted to explore my own individual style. And over the years, sewing has just become a way for me to be creative, and to explore what I like, in general.

Ada
And do you think that being Chinese-Singaporean, or your culture and identity inspire any part of your sewing or your sewing process?

Gwen
I sewand I just happen to be Chinese. But now, navigating in this world, putting my work out on social media and trying to carve a name for myself, on social media platforms, people see me differently, because I’m Chinese. And it just, sometimes it feels like, oh, I have to be a certain way, because of who I am and how I look. But really, like I am just a human being who look like this. And so

Nicole
I think that’s a really interesting way to navigate the world, maybe not for us, because we have to do it all the time. But that-sharing that perspective, with others, I think is really important. I think what’s really interesting about what you shared, too, is how it manifests itself in the way that you want to express yourself. So I cannot, of course, speak for all people of Philippine descent or, you know, or all Asian people, but I know that it’s-it was my experience growing up that I observed a collectivist mentality. So the self expression wasn’t as important like you said, but I grew up in America. So there was this conflict between wanting to be quote unquote, American and, and express myself in the way that I saw my other peers who didn’t look like me felt the freedom of doing versus you know, just fitting in and making sure that everything that you do, who you are, is sort of for the benefit of the family. When you drew out you know, the collectivist nature of living in Singapore versus how you wanted to express yourself and how sewing gave you that outlet. It just really resonated with that when you said that. So thank you for sharing that part with us.

Ada
There’s a podcast series I guess. It’s the Freakonomics podcast that kind of looked at American or U.S. individualism versus other countries and other cultures. And so I think that’s a great episode or set of episodes to go listen to if both of you want to your listeners want to,..but it’s also a great segue into my next question, which is: Gwen, you no longer live in Singapore, you actually live in Texas in the U.S. now. So can you tell us a little bit more about your experience moving to the States? And I guess I’m curious, like, has that impacted your work and your sewing?

Gwen
Yeah. So I moved to Texas, I think around the end of 2020. It was 23rd December 2020, just a couple of days shy of Christmas. And I just feel like a baby. (laughs) I just felt like a baby having to learn everything from scratch. That’s one aspect of it. Even things like ordering food over the phone, which is something that I never used to do. I just Uber Eats in Singapore, cause, you can do that. But I live out here in the country. So if we’re gonna go pick up food, we ordered it ahead of time. Even that I had to have Steven, my partner sitting next to me, like, being there to make sure that I don’t say anything weird over the phone. There was this one time, we were ordering food. And so, the person on the other line was asking, “oh, is this for pickup for now or later?” So I was like, “oh, for pickup for later, because I am not there right now.” That’s what I was thinking in my head. Because right now, I am picking you that later. And Steve, it was like “No, no, for now. For now, like now!” Okay, for pickup for now. And he later explained it’s because you want them to make the food now, not for later. But I was just like, so confused, like, for later. But yeah, so that’s one of the weird things that happened. Also learning to drive because I have never driven in my life. The only thing that I’ve quote unquote driven, I guess, is the sewing machine with the foot pedal. (laughs) But obviously, that’s very, very different from driving a car. Things like understanding certain social cues, talking to people. So that’s very different. I just feel like learning to talk all over again. And I’ve also had to deal with a lot of feelings of guilt of not working. I was telling my friend about how I felt like, I went from a hero to a zero because I was practically independent, renting my own space in Singapore, having a regular nine to five, earning a decent living, and just buying whatever fabrics I wanted, I see that I like. Just doing-eating out, things like that. But now I just feel really guilty about not having a quote unquote, proper income. And so that’s just a lot of emotions that I have to work through in the past year or so.

Ada
Yeah, I feel you. Yeah, like, I guess my job is also not on regular nine to five. Like, it could be if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. And so it’s kind of like having the self discipline to check yourself to make sure you’re doing enough work to…but then you’re also not necessarily receiving a paycheck every two weeks in-direct deposited into your bank account, and having to kind of be a little more, not calculated, more conscious, maybe of your purchases and your consumption because you’re like, “Whoa, my income isn’t really like steady anymore. It’s kind of like up and down. And here and there. And from six different places, and what am I doing now with my time?” So I definitely, I feel you on that one.

Gwen
Yeah, and it’s weird feeling like I’m just 100% dependent on this one person, which I have obviously agreed to spend the rest of my life with, but still. I can’t drive on the highways yet. I can only go to the gym that’s in my town and the supermarket. The public library…that’s just like the top three places that I go to-No, actually I can go to the closest Goodwill that I can go to. And in the back of my head, I’m just always worried like, what if something happens to Steven one day, and I’m just like, maybe pack my bags up and move back to Singapore because that’s the easiest thing to do.

Ada
Yeah, I got around on a bike only-electric bike, but bike only-for the first year while we were here because I also I knew how to drive. I just wasn’t used to driving-I hadn’t driven and like a decade since I learned basically. And it was-it was kind of limiting and, like you said, like in terms of physically how far I could go, because I only had so much range on bike and I would get tired. And there’s only so many bike paths. And then the real kicker was one day when I took out my partner’s old car, which was a rear wheel drive car. And it had snowed a few days before, and it’s still icy in spots, but it was drivable regularly and I got stuck in a parking lot. Like, I literally almost spun out on a parking lot. And I was just like, Nope, okay, cool. This car has got to go. And we have got to get one that I can drive in all seasons. And I will concede to this one point of-I guess I need to be able to do this to reclaim some of my independence, if you will. Yeah. Yeah, it’s definitely…it takes getting used to I think when you’re used to living in a city and kind of just like functioning by yourself.

Gwen
Yeah, it’s really a big shift.

Nicole
Before we dive into the topic for today, so we’re going to talk about vintage sewing. But I want to ask, since you’ve recently moved here, but I know I think I’ve been following you on Instagram since before you moved here. And you were sewing and posting content and everything before that. So you’ve obviously had a sewing practice for -wh-I mean, You said, right, you learned how to sew while you were in Singapore. What was it like? Like, what were you able to take with you? How did you make decisions about transferring your sewing practice? From where you live on Singapore? And like rebuilding or transferring any of that to where you live now in Texas? Like did you bring machines? Did you bring fabric? Did you purge things before you come? I’m just curious about what that process was like for you?

Gwen
Yeah, so when I flew over, I had two suitcases. One was filled with clothes, and one was filled with fabrics. (laughs) I mean, I just knew that I was going to take some time to get used to the new life here. And I just knew that sewing is going to be a great solace for me to feel like I can do something, this is a thing that I am pretty good at. It’s not possible for me to move my machine over because the voltage here is different from Singapore. But before I moved here, Steven actually sourced a vintage singer. And he made sure I had access to a sewing machine because he knew how much it meant to me. So I was actually really able to start sewing the first day that I was here, but I didn’t do that. (laughs) And I had some stuff shipped over as well.

Nicole
I didn’t even think about the voltage thing.

Ada
Yeah.

Gwen
And the prongs are different too.

Ada
Yeah. Technically, you could get a converter, which I have for my toaster oven because my toaster oven is the Japan model of this toaster oven. It’s a steam toaster oven. I bought it before the American model came up. And the voltage between the U.S. and Japan is not that different. But given that it’s plugged into my kitchen. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t want to like burn this toaster out and then burn up my house.”

Gwen
Yep. Is it Zojirushi?

Ada
No, it’s Balmuda. I do have everything else though in my house is Zojirushi-

Gwen
I know, so that’s why I was asking. (laughs)

Ada
My rice cooker things, my hot water kettle things. (laughs)

Gwen
I love it.

Nicole
I was gonna say, you said it’s a steam toaster. So does it steam or does it toast? Maybe it’s a topic for our KoFi discussion. But I’m like, Look, guys, it’s great. You’re here, but I want to hear about this toaster.

Ada
If you like sewing machines, you will love this toaster. That is all that’s what I’ll leave it at. And if you want to hear more, we can expound on it in Kofi or Instagram. (laughs)

Nicole
Let’s move into the meat of our discussion, which is vintage sewing. So vintage sewing can refer to patterns, materials and techniques, or sewing with new patterns and materials in a style that is reminiscent of a previous era. And now, we understand that, you know, quote, vintage refers to something that is over 20 years old, which yes, that means that 90s and 2000s fashion styles could be considered vintage. But for this episode, we’re going to refer to retro styles from the 1950s to the 1970s. So Gwen, I want to ask you, is there anything you would add to that definition of vintage sewing?

Gwen
Yeah, I think it really depends on who you’re asking. So some vintage purists would be using the definition that you just used that’s 1950s and 1970s and maybe to some degree 1920s to 1970s as well. And anything before that might be considered antique and might be considered like period sewing period costuming.

Nicole
So Gwen, what aspects of the vintage style draws you in?

Gwen
I think it’s a slow descend into the world of vintage sewing. I was into the hipster retro style and the 2010s. That was a thing, were you guys into that thing?

Nicole
Yeah, I think I need you to define it for me. (laughs) If I was into it,

Gwen
Yeah. So I was into the hipster, slash retro style in the 2010s. And then I watched Grease for the first time when I was in college. And that kind of triggered me to explore that genre of music a little bit more, because that was, Oh, my goodness, I love the songs. I love to dance. I love the fashion. What is ? I got to know more about it. I took up rockabilly and rock and roll dancing while I was still living in Sydney, and finishing up my college degree. And so I got into the whole scene of rockabilly dancing, vintage style and fashion. And it was hard for me to get vintage retro style dresses in a price range that I could pay for. And most of those clothes don’t fit the modern body without modifications in the sense that you have to wear a corset to fit them better, and to look in the way that people really did. And so I just felt like, well, you know, I think sewing is just the easiest way for me to replicate those dresses in a way that fit my body. And I made my first vintage inspired dress, I think, around 2011 or 2010. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I like the way it looks. I like the way that skirt floats around my body. And I just kept making more. And over time, I just decided that I’m just gonna keep doing this. Because this is what feels good for me. This is what sparks joy.

Ada
Oh, my gosh, Grease. I remember watching Grease for the first time in middle or high school. So a bit earlier, because I think we’re on the same age. And it was like such a thing. It was when when my classmates and I, we all discovered it. And I think there were like in choir, band, and orchestra-people were playing it. Like it was a real big thing. And I’m sure all of our teachers were laughing at us because they were around for coming out. But I remember like specifically the outfits like you said, going like, oh, Olivia Newton-John’s like the black outfit. Ever. I think everyone who’s watched knows what I’m talking about that black outfit, you’re like, I want that body. (laughs)

Nicole
I think I’m a little bit older than you, but I definitely remember discovering it, quote, unquote, in middle school because I was in chorus. So it wasn’t choir. I don’t know why it was called chorus. But we did-We did Grease guy who did that. And I remember my mom like making a poodle skirt from like felt for it. And it was definitely like a cultural moment, you know, where you felt like you were stepping into a different era. And I’m just thinking back on like, how I remember all the words to all the songs still. So it’s definitely iconic. Can I take a quick step back, Gwen, on with you. So you mentioned rockabilly dancing. If there is a definition of rockabilly, like, how would you describe it? How would you define rockabilly for those who might not be familiar with it?

Gwen
Yeah, I’m so glad you asked that question, because that was one of the things that I wanted to talk about, because we kind of had that discussion over email as well. What is rockabilly and what is it vintage? Just referencing back to the movie Grease. Rockabilly style would be more like Rizzo.

Nicole
Okay

Gwen
That bad girl image, fitted pencil skirt, with that thick belt in the middle, and how Sandy looked at the end of the movie that’s rockabilly. But vintage 50s would be the, I would say the more stereotypical sweet vintage 50s style would be more like Sandy before the transformation with her yellow dress at the drag race and that poofy petticoats underneath the cardigan on top. Yeah, that would be more like the sweet vintage 50s style.

Ada
So now that you’ve been sewing these clothes for a few years, and we’ll talk about what you’re currently sewing and how what you’ve moved into but I’m curious like you must have a lot of vintage style clothing do you wear it all the time? Like is that what you wear for most of your day to day life?

Gwen
I do wearing vintage style on most days, but there are definitely days where I just wear quote unquote normal clothes?

Nicole
Modern clothes

Gwen
Modern clothes, modern style clothes and I do still make modern style clothes. But if I’m wearing something say active wear, I, in general, I like things that are a little bit more high waisted I just liked the way it looks. So if I’m buying leggings I prefer them high waisted, if I’m making a pair of casual shorts, I like them high waisted. I just like everything high waisted.

Ada
It’s back in style now. And so I kind of hinted at this before, but you’ve also moved away from vintage sewing. I think as someone who’s followed you for a while, I’ve seen this a little bit over the last few months as you’ve branched out into other sewing and content and modern patterns, even like your M7969. Everybody, if you’ve been on the sewing Instagram world in the last two-three years, you know that dress with the poofy sleeves and the wrap. Can you tell us about your decision to kind of branch out a little bit more into these other patterns-although it sounds like you still keep some of that high waisted and vintage-esque style notes?

Gwen
I would say that I predominantly still do vintage sewing. But I made a conscious decision to really explore different types of styles because my goal of sewing was to be creative and to explore making in different forms. So over the years, I just felt like sticking to vintage style really puts me in a box. And it didn’t give me a lot of opportunities to explore other designs and other sewing techniques that I would be able to experiment with. I think people change. And I want to give myself a little bit of like flexibility, and a little bit of chance to explore different things and to kind of decide what I really want to do for the rest of my life.

Nicole
I mean, you talked about sewing as a way to express yourself and you’re allowed to change how you want to express yourself and explore multiple different things. So I can understand if you know one style, especially a style, a concept, an era that some folks are so protective of and they’re like, “Oh, that’s not vintage, because the waistband”- I don’t know if this actually happens, but like, you know, “that’s not vintage, because the waistband is set two inches higher than it normally would have”.. like, that can be really stifling to creativity. And yeah, I I totally get that. And as we discussed in our preparation for this episode, there’s this hashtag out there called #vintagestylenotvintagevalues that people are starting to use more. And continuing the conversation about racism in the vintage community as well as cultural appropriation. Can you share a little bit more about your experience, if you have any, you know, with this particular hashtag, and this subsection of the sewing community, and has it influenced your decision to move away from that community as well?

Gwen
Having moved to Texas in less than just a year ago, and I just didn’t feel like I would be eloquent enough to talk about these issues. I’m going to be going back and forth a little bit. This is tagging onto something that we said right at the beginning because Nicole, you shared your experience as a Filipinx person growing up in the U.S. And for me, I grew up as a Chinese in Singapore, and Singapore predominantly is made up off Chinese folks. So I never had to go through navigating identity. Because my ethnic group is the predominant ethnic group in Singapore. When I look at the white privilege checklist, I’m like, wait, this actually, a lot of these actually applies to me, growing up as a Chinese in Singapore, but putting my work out on social media platforms that is mostly a white dominant space. It’s a weird spot that I’m in. Because, okay, I kind of have privilege where I grew up. But I’m putting myself in this space where people see me differently. Like, how do I navigate that? And at this stage, I feel like it’s still something that I’m trying to understand and learning to do. So going back to distancing myself from the vintage community, as I continue to do vintage style in my social media posts, vintage sewing, doing pin curls for my hair and things like that. I just felt like I was subconsciously starting to perform for the white gaze. It has to be a certain kind of hair. You have to go big or go home. Obviously, nobody has come up to my face and said, uh, Gwen, you have to do this to be liked by people, and for people to think that you are really doing, quote unquote, true vintage style…but you can see it from the likes that you get for certain posts. When you go big, you get more likes, when you really do the pin curls, when you really put a petticoat under your skirt, you get more likes, and when people share your profile, and when they share a specific photo from your grid. It is that type of photo. And over time, I just started to realize that, well, this style that I’m going into, to explore my own identity and to explore my personal style has made me conform to a subculture. So at some point, I was just like, wait a minute, I’ve kind of lost the plot halfway.

Nicole
I understand what you’re saying, I think we’ve returned to this idea of clothing and sewing and self expression. But from what I hear you saying, being a part of this community, you realize that you saw yourself doing these things less for you, and more for others. And that can be…once you realize that that’s happening, I would feel like I don’t know if I like doing this anymore. You know- I- at the end of the day, we want to do things and create things, where we love what we see in the mirror, if the petticoats not as full, or if we’re regular curls instead of pin curls. But it sounds like in that particular community, if it’s not exactly the way it’s supposed to be, then you are perhaps not directly maligned, but less encouraged to participate. And I can see that being a really disappointing and yeah, but I would want to work through too.

Gwen
And I’ve tried engaging with, you know, a couple of people that I used to be friendly with on the Instagram vintage sewing community…I found very little understanding on the issues of racism and cultural appropriation. Vintage sewing, it is so easy to take part in cultural appropriation, when you want to do vintage sewing. The tiki culture is one of them, the tropical prints, you know, and the bamboo bangles, and going all out on the tiki cocktails and all that kind of things. The wearing of clothes that are traditionally part of Mexican cultures. So because it is something that I’m learning personally, how not to appropriate other people’s culture, I just felt like I have to take a step back from this, so that I can do my own learning, and I can do my own thinking and listening, because I want to be a better person.

Ada
I mean, I think that’s valid, I think that you should be commended for having the awareness to realize that they was no longer serving you to be as active as you were in that community. And to take a step back and say, I want to learn and do better and challenge myself to come here if I want to come back with, you know, better or a more deep understanding of these clothes in this culture and kind of what the world was like, when those clothes were kind of mainstream and considered modern. And so I wish that other people would do that, too. I don’t necessarily see that much introspection, even in like people who do, quote, unquote, modern, like home sewing of garments and stuff, right? Like, there are still lots of modern patterns that are problematic that we’ve talked about in other episodes, like the cultural appropriation episodes. And so, I think you deserve all of the kudos for stepping back and taking the time to really think about that, because I think that’s really hard.

Gwen
And this is gonna sound like a shocker, but I didn’t know racism existed until I moved to Sydney for college. And I’m like, wait a second-wait a second!

Ada
The racist, too, it’s like a different flavor.

Gwen
But it just really goes to show what a fairy tale that I was living in growing up in Singapore, all the talk about racial harmony like “oh Yeah, everything’s good and things like that” because I didn’t know because I had all the privilege.

Ada
And to a certain extent, like us listeners have sent us DMs before about like things that are going on in Singapore and Nicole and I and the rest of the team, like, just to be honest, we don’t have a deep enough understanding of the cultural dynamics, I think, of the dominant and non dominant groups of Singapore to be able to, like, make that call. And that’s why we’ve been like, Okay, thank you for flagging. We just don’t feel comfortable without a better understanding of what’s going on, or what has gone on to be able to post or do things. And that’s something on us to kind of learn. But also like, yeah, I can see how that would be like reverse culture shock, where you’re like, I’m in this space where I am the dominant group. And now I am not like, what is that? I think, if anybody in the States at least has grown up, Asian American you like you’ve also experienced that somewhat. If you grew up, let’s say in a predominantly Asian space..like I see this a lot with people who grew up in, in very Asian enclaves of California, in particular and even on the East Coast, like where I grew up…and then moving somewhere where you are not the dominant group where you are not, you know, predominantly seen out there, it’s it definitely takes a little bit of adjusting. And I don’t even think that for folks here who’ve had that experience similar to mine, that they always take a step back and be like, what is that weird feeling that I’m feeling now? Oh, that’s it’s not being in the dominant group anywhere. And it’s definitely some discrimination everywhere, like, let’s call racism when we see.

Gwen
Being Chinese and having a white partner, I acknowledge that I have proximity to whiteness, still, living here in the U.S. And that is also something that is in the back of my mind. So again, still a lot of things to learn, and a lot of thinking to do.

Ada
So for anyone still interested in the vintage sewing community, which is totally okay, but especially our listeners who identify as Asian. Is there anything you would want them to know before they get involved in the vintage community, or maybe they’re already involved, and you would want them to kind of keep an eye out for?

Gwen
I think, if you are thinking about going to vintage sewing, and being an active member of the vintage style slash vintage sewing community, then you need to be aware that there’s going to be issues that you need to grapple with maybe personally, and maybe in a more public space. If you feel like you’re not ready to do it, then you probably need to perhaps find some allies that you can speak with. And if at some point, do you feel like you’re doing it to please others, and you’re no longer doing it for yourself, then it’s probably time to take a step back.

Nicole
That’s really great advice. And I think I also take that to heart just with sewing itself, right? And sharing and being on Instagram, like, I do have moments from like, why am I doing this? Like, why am I posting I don’t feel like posting you know, and actually haven’t posted a lot in 2022. Because of that honoring sort of who I am and how I’m feeling and just making sure that my community experience. Like, it’s important to have community as long as you can maintain your sense of identity and creativity without compromising that, then you know, that’s the ideal community situation. And protecting yourself from having any of that eroded, I think is very important to remember. So thank you for sharing that with our audience. And we hope that you are interested in checking it out and learning more for yourself, because everyone’s experience, you know, is different in any community and maybe you’re drawn to that. But I appreciate when that you’re sharing your experience.

Gwen
Yeah

Nicole
And how you’ve expanded your sewing practice, as part of that. And actually perfect segue-I’m totally not intended, it doesn’t always happen this way. But let’s talk about some of the other stuff that you’re doing. So you recently came out with your very first pattern. Congratulations.

Gwen
Yay. Thank you.

Nicole
You’re welcome. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Gwen
So it’s called the Orion hat. It’s a two in one pattern. With that one single hatch pattern, you can make a newsboy style hat with a brim or you can also make a brimless beret hat.

Nicole
Very cool. And as somebody who has a very large head, I have never been fully able to enjoy hats in general. But certainly hats have those two styles. So it’s very cool that you’re putting-I assume that there are multiple sizes. Right? That’s how patterns work.

Gwen
Yes, yes. I think if I could remember right, it goes up to 25 inches head circumference.

Nicole
Okay. I think that’ll fit me. I don’t know, I just have trouble with hats. So it’s very cool that you’re building a space where you can create, where folks can create this stylish hat for themselves and and have it fit, because I just…struggle. (laughs)

Gwen
Yeah. So I am starting to come out with more sewing patterns. And one of my goals is really to make sure that there are size inclusive. I don’t think I’m personally ready to come out with garments that are size inclusive. So I’m starting with smaller projects, and trying to make them as size inclusive as possible.

Ada
Your hat is gender inclusive.

Gwen
Yeah.

Ada
Is that your partner who was also modeling it on your website?

Gwen
Yes, yes.

Ada
I love that

Gwen
And he’s my Plus model. (laughs) So the other end of the size range is actually based on his head. I was like, “Do you have a big head?” and he’s like, “mm, I think so. I think growing up my football helmets were always like, the one of the biggest sizes..” I’m like, “perfect. This is why I married you” (laughs)

Nicole
A perfect head block for you.

Gwen
Yes, exactly.

Ada
You have a built-in fit model. He just happens to live with you. (laughs)

Gwen
Yeah, he just happens to live here. Yeah.

Ada
So aside from patterns, You also transitioned…We talked a little bit about this before, but you’re a full time content creator now. So what has that been like? (laughs)

Gwen
It’s been a little weird. (laughs) So Nicole, you mentioned feeling the pressure to post, even though you don’t feel like posting. It’s even a weirder thing for me to navigate as a content creator because this is my bread and butter. This is what I have to do to get gigs. I find it hard to tell people that I’m a content creator because I do feel the impostor syndrome. I think that’s one of the topics that you talked about in an earlier episode. But I’m trying to own it. I have a friend who asked me, “do you create content?” I’m like, “yeah” “Then you’re a content creator!” But then I could also argue and say that while I sing, but does that make me a singer?

Ada
Technically, yes. (laughs) Yeah.

Gwen
So content creation is always in the back of my head with every single sewing project, or a DIY project that I do. I’m constantly thinking about, well, how can I share this content? What kind of scope? What kind of like perspective do I want to share? And what kind of value do I want to add to people with the content that I put out, be it for just for entertainment, or be it like educational, like, these are the things that I’m always thinking in the back of my head. It’s not been easy, especially with how rapidly the sphere of content creation is changing. Now, with Instagram pushing out reels, you gotta have trending audio to have a higher reach.

Ada
It’s a grind.

Gwen
It is, it is a grind. Lately, I’ve just been thinking about all the ways that I’ve been producing because of my participation in content creation. So I recently made rain code. And then also, after that watched a YouTube video on how GoreTex just stays on earth forever. And I’m like, “What have I done?” And I’m also currently making a faux leather hat using my newsboy hat pattern, while being fully aware that this is plastic. So it’s a lot of things that I have to kind of learn to strike a balance of. Well, how much of these materials would I want to work with? How much waste am I producing? How am I consuming things? How am I encouraging people to consume things? It’s weird, because to sell things, I have to take part in things that I don’t like big companies doing. But then I want to sell my pattern. Yeah, I want to sell my labels. So what’s the balance? And also, I definitely do get a lot of joy from sewing and from making things, from making new things. So the balance of the three pillars of capitalism, the joy, and waste of sustainability, I would say. So those are the things that I’ve been thinking about in my content creation.

Nicole
No shade to all the content creators that I have.

Gwen
Of course

Nicole
But you are one of the most thoughtful that I have ever heard, speak on what it just is to be a content creator. I think it’s wonderful that you are thinking about what you do as a holistic thing. I want to back up and say that, I fully believe and-it kind of sounds like you might not believe this. But I fully believe that content creation is a job. You are working, you are working hard, too. So earlier in the episode, you said, you know, you’re working about with through feelings of going from a nine to five and Singapore to something different here, like, you are working. This is real work. And I’m not going to try to read your mind here. But for me, I have a nine to five, very structured, but I can see how if I were to move into a more creative or even just entrepreneurial position or work, that I might struggle with the same thing, or certainly other family members would be like, that’s not a real job, you know. Gwen, you are working hard, and that is a real job. And so you belong in that space. So I just wanted to say that because I felt, kind of felt that coming across. And sorry if I sound patronizing, I just care. I don’t think of patronizing, but I just want to encourage you like, it’s work. It’s real work.

Gwen
Thank you.

Nicole
And that you are as thoughtful as you are about sustainability and capitalism and your impact and contribution to not just the sewing community but like, the world is just so wonderful. So I am really grateful that we’re having this conversation today. So thank you for all of that.

Ada
Yeah, your responses kind of remind me of our interview with Ella, handmademillennial on Instagram, who is also very thoughtful about what she’s producing in terms of content. Her content creation is on the side of her 9-to-5. But I totally agree with Nicole, like, my old jobs before this involved content creation, like, really, my title should have been “professional content creator about productivity tools for b2b enterprise SaaS companies” and stuff like that. Because we would constantly talk about the same thing that anybody making content on the internet talks about today, where you have a content schedule, and you have to constantly be producing or repurposing, and you have different formats and all of that. And having gone from being paid to do that in a corporate setting, to depending on part of that for my livelihood. Not even like kind of what you’re doing, which is like it is the majority of your livelihood, aside from selling things on your website, which kind of dovetails in…it’s, it’s a hard job, like, I don’t think we necessarily acknowledge it enough. And we are, as you mentioned, kind of at the whims of the algorithm a lot of the time and what these companies decide to promote or encourage us to do through their product decisions. So, I think you are setting a great example for folks out there. And I did want to highlight like, you don’t just have that one pattern. Like you mentioned, you have labels and you have a planner, for those of us who might need some organizing in our sewing lives. Can you tell us what our listeners can find on your website?

Gwen
So my website is full of a lot of blog posts, sewing tutorials, and I also host my shop on my website, gwenstellamade.com You can find the sewing planner, like you mentioned, it’s a floral design sewing planner and it’s multiple pages. I think it comes in A4 and US Letter formats. I designed that like last year, so I can’t quite remember. And then I also have sewing labels. At this stage, I am doing just cotton labels, I made the decision to just do cotton labels for now, because I don’t want to create too much plastic waste. I have new label designs coming out in May. So that’s gonna be exciting. And I have one sewing pattern so far, that’s the Orion hat pattern, like I mentioned, but I’m also in the middle of working on other sewing patterns.

Nicole
Yeah, listeners go to her website GwenStellaMade.com. And that brings us to the conclusion of our interview today. Thank you so much for being here. Gwen, can you remind our listeners where else they can find you besides your website.

Gwen
So I am @gwenstella.made on pretty much all the social media platforms like YouTube, Tiktok, and Instagram.

Ada
Awesome. Thanks for being here today. Thank you for having me.

Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Kofi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and allows us to give back to our all volunteer team. You can make a monthly or one time donation at Ko- Fi.com/asiansewistcollective, you can find this link in our show notes on our website and on our Instagram account. Check us out on Instagram @asiansewistcollective That’s one word: asiansewistcollective. You can also help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends we would appreciate it if you could rate review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Pocket Casts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole
All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website. That’s asiansewistcollective.com And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com This episode is brought to you by your co hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Shilyn Joy produced by Shilyn Joy and edited by Larissa Rolando and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.

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