Listen to the episode
33. Gatekeeping in Sewing – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
The Capulet Dress by Stitch Witch Patterns
Kimberlé Crenshaw, Wikipedia
Episode 52: Financials of Sewing, Love to Sew Podcast
Episode 160: Free Sewing, Love to Sew Podcast
Is it Cheaper to Sew Your Own Clothes?, Seamwork
@minimalistmachinist on Instagram
Threads #218, Summer 2022 Digital Issue, Threads Magazine
Q: Ergonomic, @minimalistmachinist highlights on Instagram
Q: Accessibility, @minimalistmachinist highlights on Instagram
@intenselydistracted on Instagram
Ergo Space, @intenselydistracted highlights on Instagram
How to Create An Ergonomic Work Space, @intenselydistracted post on Instagram
@marie_stitchedup on Instagram
@purplesewingcloud on Instagram
@sewdisabled on Instagram
Bystander Intervention, Right To Be
Shilyn Sews on YouTube
Ada: So I’m the only shedding, massively shedding person, being in the house?
Nicole: That’s where this is going. Okay.
Ada: That’s where this is going. And so, in our break between recording the sew and chat and now, certain someone was doing his household… House cleaning.
Ada: 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 cohost, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the US, 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 at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.
Nicole: And I’m your cohost, 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 at @nicoleangelinesews.
Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: My current sewing project is a dyeing project – d-y-e-i-n-g. And I’ve been working on it for like, a week. So, you may remember during season two, one of our guests, Ella from Handmade Millennial was talking about natural dyeing and her experience with it as part of our conversation. And I had started to say like, okay, I’m going to, uh, I’ll save my avocados and their skins, right? Well, we got back from vacation, and then we needed to go grocery shopping. And then we were like, holy crap, groceries are expensive. And so, we went like, we started, we, we bought a, more frozen stuff just to make sure that like, it lasts longer. But the freezer was full and I had a like, a gallon sized bag full of avocado pits and skins. And I was like, it’s time. We got to do this now. Otherwise, I’m just gonna throw away, like, it’ll just be a waste, right?
Nicole: So I started it, the process last Sunday, so Sunday, and I did one dye bath with at least a dozen skins and pits and most recipes, if you’ve ever looked into it call for like, four, six. I was like, I gotta get rid of all of these. So that’s, that’s what I did. And so what’s hanging behind me for the YouTubers, is my first dye batch. So these two are cuts from the same thrifted 100% cotton, like, sheet. And then, this, these two are tea towels, there’s like, that I mopped up the dye bath with. So after I like, put the dye bath back in bottles to preserve for a second time, I was like, there’s still moisture and there’s just like a tiny bit left that wouldn’t fit in the bottle. And so I was like, I’m just gonna mop it up with some tea towels. And that’s what this is. So let me, let me just show you what it looks like. So this is, this is a tea towel that was the second mop up. And you can see like some of the stains from it. It’s, it’s like, I don’t know, can you see that?
Ada: It’s got a cool ombre, kind of, effect.
Nicole: Yeah. So the rest are solidly dyed. But there’s some spots where there was like, the actual avocado material, like that. I didn’t strain out, which I don’t really care. I’m not that worried about it. So you can see here, Ada, like, here you can see the darker patch. Maybe? Yeah.
Nicole: So it’s not perfect. But I didn’t mordant, more-dant? The fabric, because I am like, this is all really scientific and precise. I’m not about that life. So I was like, it should be fine. Right? It’ll be fine. So right now, they’re curing. I pulled them from the dye bath a couple of days ago, maybe Thursday, no, Friday morning. And then, I just, I’m just letting them dry for a while and I’ll probably just let them sit for a week or two before I actually run it through like, a cold rinse to see what dye ends up staying. And I have a couple of other sheets now to do the dye, to like, to use the dye bath a second time just because it’s so much and it’s so, so thick, like, Ada, I showed you the bottle. That was like, one of the bottles that sitting in, it’s very very concentrated so like, we’ll just try again. I think, my question for you, and I will have already made the decision by the time this podcast comes out, but listeners if you have like an opinion, definitely, you know, throw it in the, on our Instagram. I don’t know what to make with them…
Ada: Like, the fabric?
Nicole: With the fabric, yeah. So, these two are cuts, I meant to make a, like, a boxy tee, and then maybe another, a tank top. And maybe it’s just because they’re curing now, but it’s so stiff. The cotton is like, super stiff. And I’m a bit like, I don’t know how I feel about this. So the thrifted cotton that I’m hoping to get in the dye bath tonight after like cleaning it properly, and I will mordant it this time, is a softer cotton.
Nicole: But I don’t really know what I want to make with it. I… I… Okay, here’s what I, here’s what I do want to make, because it’s something that I’ve been meaning to really nail down. I want to make a shirt dress. Is there like… Is that a strange or unusual project for a dye… Thing?
Nicole: Like, I don’t know why I’m hesitant about it. I’m like, make it like, putting all the effort into a shirt dress. Okay, now that I’m saying out loud, it sounds like a great idea. And I have no idea why I have this hesitation. But yeah.
Ada: I mean, if it’s, if it’s too stiff to wear, you can always line it with something softer. That does obviously add to the work, right? Twice as many pieces or even like, if you do it partially, it’s still, you’d have to line it somewhere. But yeah, if it’s too stiff against your skin, I don’t see why you couldn’t line it with something that would make it more comfortable.
Nicole: If these new cuts are… They’re soft, they do feel softer. One is a pima cotton and the other is like, an organic cotton. Which doesn’t necessarily make it softer, the pima makes it really soft. I’m hoping that, you know, leaving it in a dye bath for a few days, which is what I did with these won’t make it as rough. But I can’t, for whatever reason, I can’t think of anything else. I wanted to make separates and then I saw this post from someone on Instagram, I want to say her name is Alice from the @polkadotpalace? Just a post about how when you make separates you really should wear them together, because I think she had worn out the skirt a lot more. And then when she put them together, you could see that the skirt color had faded. And so they weren’t quite matchy and I was like, oh, that’s gonna definitely happen with this avocado dyed stuff. Like, if I were one more than the other.
Ada: I mean, I think that also comes down to washing, right? Like, I think we’re trained to overwash… Like, you should wash your clothes. Um, let me rewind. You should wash your clothes. If it’s really, if it’s touching any, you know, sensitive areas, you should definitely wash it when you sweat, and every day and change your clothes, be sanitary, all that stuff. But I think stuff that like, we don’t necessarily get that dirty, like pants, for example, unless you’re like, dropping ice cream on it. I don’t think you’d have to wash it every time. You could give it a nice steam or press, but you could wash it every few times. And I think part, part of that issue might be like, that the dye was maybe not colorfast on the separates and so maybe it faded, which is a concern here. I was trying to think of different, you know, different projects that would get less washing because you are using the natural dye. But if it’s, you know, fabrics that you bought from the fabric store or thrifted somewhere that isn’t naturally dyed. I think that comes down to like, your, your fabrics ink ran in the wash and maybe you were overwashing it. Not necessarily, not saying that they did anything wrong here. Just saying, like, I wouldn’t have an issue wearing it. It’s like…
Ada: For example, like, black, right? Like, it’s so hard to get two of the same black.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah.
Ada: So, but if I’m wearing all black, I kind of don’t really care that like, my top is like, two shades lighter than my pants.
Nicole: Yeah, that’s what, that was how I felt when I’d see, I saw her picture of like… I mean, literally, it’s one of those things where if you didn’t say anything, none of us would have noticed. But then that got me thinking, like, I’m not really sure what to make. But perfecting a shirt dress has just been on my mind for a long time. And when I was abroad I picked up some fabrics, I’m like, I’m gonna do this. So it’s a $2 thrifted sheet, right, it’s fabric from a $2 thrifted sheet. It’s more just like, the effort of the dyeing where… That’s where the value comes from, you know what I mean?
Nicole: I’m like, if it was a plain sheet I would be like, alright, whatever, right? But now I’m like, all this effort that’s going into the dyeing turns it into like, a $20 per yard, like, cut for me, like, value wise. But yeah, I think… Maybe I’ll just do a shirt dress. I’ll, like, the root, my hesitation, as soon as I started saying it, didn’t make, it made absolutely no sense why I wouldn’t do it. And so maybe that’s what I will do with the pima and then these will be the like, the shirt separate that I’ll, that I’ll make from it. And I have an idea for these. I’m just going to need to see how soft, like, how much they soften up after. And I’m totally cool with redyeing it later, like, it’s fine. I think after this stint I’m done dyeing for a while because I’m like, this is just taking a lot more than I thought it would and I’m certainly not being as scientific as like, uh, like, I read multiple like ebooks on it like from the librarian, like, I’m sure that it’s going to not turn out as like, professional looking, as if I had done everything perfect, but I’m not professional, so it’s fine.
Ada: I think it’ll give it a nice handmade quality to it.
Nicole: Yeah. And then maybe I’ll make like, an apron or something. We’ll see.
Ada: That was gonna be a suggestion of mine. You can, if it’s stiffer, it’s great for an apron.
Nicole: Yeah. It turns out I have a lot of pink, it seems like. Apart from doing this, I was going through some of the fabric that I bought from England, I think specifically from England. I was like, oh, this is all like dusty rose colored. I would guess I was really attracted to it. I had to get rid of those avocados though, I needed freezer space. So next time I get too many avocados, I think, will be the next time I do it. But otherwise, this is just like, way bigger of an endeavor than I had planned on being. It’s gonna take me probably three, four weeks to get to the very end of just doing the fabric and I need to be okay with that. But I mean, I’m fine with that… But I mean, you’ll see the results, I’m sure, on Instagram if I’m feeling like sharing, but definitely the podcast folks will see it or maybe I’ll throw it on Ko-fi. So if you’re not subscribing, if you’re not supporting our podcast on our Ko-fi, why not? So you get to see exclusives. But anyway, I couldn’t resist the plug. But let’s, let’s stop talking about me. Ada, what about you? What are you currently working on?
Ada: I am panic sewing.
Ada: Surprise, surprise, very classic Ada move. I realized yesterday that the, we’re leaving in… It would have been five days yesterday, four days for my partner’s brother’s wedding and therefore it’s like an in-law’s wedding. So, not in the wedding party, there is no wedding party. But suffice to say, being part of the family, we will be in a lot of pictures, we’re going to dinner after. It’s a whole deal. I had this brilliant plan I came up with like, months ago, probably two or three months ago, to make a longer version of the Stitch Witch Patterns Capulet dress which I did pattern test in a light blue, felt kind of like, a tencel blend fabric. And then, I just didn’t do it, didn’t do it, didn’t do it, was kind of busy with work. My sewing space was a mess so I wasn’t really feeling like cutting anything out. Went on a huge cutting binge. I don’t know if anyone also does this, but I, I will, some, I will stack my projects. So I’ll cut for like, a whole day, like, months’ worth of projects and then get to actually making them. I cut it maybe like, two weeks ago, and then it sat and it sat and I started doing another project. And then I realized yesterday that we were leaving soon and I needed this dress so I am panic sewing. I’m through the bodice, the difference between now and when I pattern tested for it is that I know what adjustments to make. So I took in the bodice about two centimeters. So one centimeter on the fold, because it was just a little bit too wide and gappy. And so I took that in, and then I lined it. So I didn’t line the original one but I lined this one because I’m making it out of this sheer, kind of chiffon-ish, very shiny gray, black, blue. It’s a really cool fabric, it’s just kind of a pain in the butt to work with because it’s very shifty, as everyone knows, my walking foot is out. The bodice is put together with the lining pinned up on my dress form behind me, the sleeves are now done. The only annoying part is the sleeves are, the sleeves on the bodice part, the outer bodice are obviously see through. So you have to French seam, everything. So I just French seamed the sides and the sleeves, and it’s a puff sleeve. so it was, it took a little longer but I’m, I think, safely out of the woods. So all I need to do is put together the skirt pieces, which should be pretty straightforward. I lengthened it to be floor length, but I might cut it to a mini and I need to put those together, gather it and then install the sleeves and the zipper. So it’s looking like today I will finish, I… There are some other projects I need to finish before I go, which I’d be curious to get your thoughts on, which is… I’m making, I thrifted this sandwashed silk and it’s great. It’s this black silk, it’s kind of not black, because you know, the sandwashing takes away from the deep, deep color.
Ada: But I thrifted it for a friend who had asked me to, I guess, rub off her fast fashion tank top that she loves wearing out and about to like, raves and stuff. And you know in those environments, you want to be in something light and breezy and your arms can be free and you’re, you, you want to have a lot of breathability, is what I’m trying to say.
Ada: The top that she was wearing a lot, she’d worn it so much that it started just fraying everywhere and it was falling, it’s literally like, disintegrating in her hands because it’s 100% polyester and it probably wasn’t made very well and in, in fair and ethical practices. So she asked me to make her one because she wanted to stop supporting fast fashion brands for this particular use case. So we’ve been through like, two or three toiles at this point, and I would, she doesn’t live here. So when I would go back home, I would like, take a new one, and I’d always be panic sewing a toile for her to try on. And so I finally got it, right, after tracing her pattern, making adjustments, toiling it, cutting it, adjusting the toile. And so now we’re finally at the point where like, it fit, last toile fit, no adjustments, I can go ahead and sew it. It has to be, it’s fully lined, because it’s so light. So I made out of this, like, five yard cut, like, six, I think, of the tank top, plus it has straps, but it’s lined. And so I’m like, I fully self drafted this thing. But I’m regretting it because I’m just like, not really looking forward to sewing it.
Ada: And I feel like I should have just said no. I don’t know.
Nicole: That’s a tough one. I mean, this person is your friend, and you want to do something nice for them. And I think, I mean, you’re already doing it. So, but I understand…
Ada: It’s cut out. Yeah.
Nicole: Yeah, I understand, you know, not really wanting to go through that. Because you’re, there are other things I’m sure you want to be doing. And that says nothing about you…
Ada: Finishing this dress!
Nicole: Yeah, it has nothing to do with like, your friendship with her or how you feel about her. You know, it’s just like, there’s stuff that you want, you would like to get to and time and energy is finite. So, I hear you. It’s hard when it’s like, people you love or like, your friends. My best friend, I just saw her yesterday, and she’s like, can you make that for me? And, you know, I was like, no. Like, it takes a long time to make stuff. She’s like, I’ll pay you, I’ll pay your worth. I was like, I barely have time and energy to pay, you know, to like, make stuff for myself. So it’s a no. I will, you know, get your sewing machine out, I’ll show you how to do it. But you know, and my best friend in the world and I said no. You’re much nicer than I am, when you’re telling this story, I was like, I said no yesterday to my best friend and she understands. I know she does.
Ada: Oh, I mean, I think from here on out.
Nicole: She listens too. Hi Barb!
Ada: Hi Barb!
Ada: I think from here on out, it’ll be, it’ll be a firm no with the exception of people like, my sister. And people that I make it, they don’t ask for it, like I want to give it to them as a gift. But yeah, I think for friends who ask, I think it’s gonna be a hard pass now, like, I’ll teach you, I’d gladly get any of my non-sewing friends into sewing. Teach you and all the stuff. But it’s just… Ugh, what a slog. I, kind of, yeah, regret.
Nicole: And that’s okay. But this stuff happens. It’s okay. So, the dress and these tanks need to be done.
Ada: Yeah, because she’s actually, she’s working the wedding. Right. Like, I hooked it up. So she’s working the wedding, and I’m, that’s like, when I’m gonna see her. And she also, her uniform as a wedding planner, day of coordinator, is black. And so it works out, because it’s gonna be a hot July wedding on the roof in the middle of Manhattan and it’s gonna be like 150% humidity, which is why I’m lining my dress in silk. Like, the original plan was to line it in an acetate, kind of, traditional lining. But as soon as I looked at the weather and having grown up there, I was like, and we’re switching to a natural fabric if the outside will be unbreathable.
Nicole: Yeah, fair. Well, good luck. You are, you are the queen of panic sewing and you get it done so I’m sure you will. And I hope it’s, at the end, an enjoyable thing for you.
Ada: I’m sure I’ll post a picture and then people will listen to this episode in a few weeks and be like, what was she talking about? That one? Panic sewing, who?
Nicole: Exactly, exactly. They would only know if, if, they wouldn’t know if you hadn’t said anything, right?
Ada: True, true.
Nicole: Hi everyone. Welcome back to another episode on the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Today’s topic is on the intersection of sewing and gatekeeping. And yes, we love our intersections, thank you, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. And if you didn’t know, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw is an American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory. She introduced and developed intersectional theory, the study of how overlapping or intersecting social identities, particularly minority identities, relate to systems and structures of oppression, domination or discrimination. So we say intersection a lot, just want to make sure that, you know, our listeners know why, you know, the core of this, this idea and why it’s so fundamental to the podcast itself. And a lot of what we’ll share with you today is based on anecdotes or informed ideas from knowledgeable folks in our collective and in the sewing community. We struggled to find data to back up these stories that was focused on the experiences of the Asian diaspora, which seems to be a recurring theme as we research topics covered in previous episodes. And basically we just want you to hear how our members, the members of our collective experience gatekeeping in the sewing community, and to broaden your knowledge about how other people navigate the world. Hopefully, it will also help us all be more mindful and help others to be more mindful about how they interact with others in the sewing community.
Ada: We also wanted to make it clear that there’s very likely many other ways that gatekeeping occurs in sewing that we won’t be covering today. Each of us in the collective has privilege, different viewpoints and knowledge of the sewing world. So it’s very natural if we haven’t covered it at all, and you might know something that we don’t so, if that happens, please let us know, slide into our DMs. In fact, we would love it if you could share the names with any folks who have expertise in those areas as they could be potential future guests on the podcast. Now, before we define gatekeeping and talk about how it occurs in sewing communities, let’s examine the general barriers to sewing that currently exist. Essentially, it’s the obstacles that make it difficult for an individual to enter and navigate the sewing world. Doesn’t take a genius to identify said obstacles and in fact, some of our past interview guests have discussed these obstacles with us at length.
Nicole: So here are some common barriers that we see in sewing. Financial, for example, how costly it is to break into sewing and maintain a sewing habit. There’s machines, there’s fabric, there’s notions, there’s all sorts of things. Accessibility, in terms of how physical and mental abilities cause individuals to be shunned in various degrees. There’s size exclusivity, as in how many patterns are available to the home sewist. There aren’t enough sizes for everybody to partake in. And we’ve covered this in more detail in season 1, episode 10, where we interviewed Leila of Muna and Broad. There’s cisnormativity, which shows up in many ways that we covered in our episode on gender nonconformity and sewing a few episodes back. There are other gender norms, you know, men who sew but we don’t see them represented in the sewing community. We see representation of men in the sewing community increasing. If you search hashtag Dope Men Sew, you’ll see many, many posts of men proudly sewing. Hashtag Dope Men Sew is a hashtag popularized by Norris Danta Ford, who runs a style and DIY blog on his website, NorrisDantaFord.com, and as a menswear sewing and design instructor for SewItAcademy.com. And while this is great, it does bring another thought to the foreground, you know? Are men reclaiming, quote unquote, sewing which is traditionally been seen as something you know, either low class, or not that skilled labor that is generally thought of as women’s work. But something to think about. Back to more common barriers in sewing. The last one is interpersonal barriers. As far as we know, this isn’t a commonly used term, just something we’re bucketing for the sake of easy understanding today. And today we’ll break down this particular barrier in two parts. There’s society’s perception of who actually is a sewist, as well as gatekeeping, between a sewist or potential sewist and their peers.
Ada: Now, initially, when we were planning this episode within the collective, we wanted to do a deep dive on financial costs and sewing and accessibility in that context, but there’s so many resources out there that have already, kind of, covered that topic. So if you Google sewing and save money together, you should hit the jackpot on that. We would like to note that even though we’re not focusing on costs and sewing today, we’re not saying it’s not a big deal, it is definitely a big deal. In fact, Esther in our collective who has produced a few episodes and was a guest on our vintage sewing machines episodes, shared with us that when she first dabbled in sewing, she wasn’t sure if it was a hobby she would like, so she didn’t want to invest too much upfront. Unfortunately, what she found is that fabric and indie pattern costs up front were pretty steep. She pointed out that designers and makers should indeed be paid for their work and expertise, but the initial investment puts sewing out of reach for many folks. Now if this resonates with you, we will include some resources in our show notes that you should check out. These include a Seamwork link on how much it really costs to sew at home, an episode of Love to Sew on how to find free things to sew, and blog posts on how to keep sewing costs low and more.
Nicole: Disability as a barrier to and within sewing was another topic we were initially interested in covering. However, again, people with more expertise and/or lived experience in this have already covered this information in detail. Rachael of @minimalistmachinist on Instagram wrote an article in Threads Magazine where she discusses features a sewing machines should have to make it more accessible to everyone. You can find more information on ergonomic sewing saved in highlights on her Instagram page. Simone of @intenselydistracted is another sewist with a highlight and a post on ergonomic sewing on her Instagram page. And then, you have sewists with disabilities who are very vocal about their experiences and have a wealth of knowledge to share on Instagram. These include Marie of @marie_stitchedup, Samantha of @purplesewingcloud, and Gina of @sew – s-e-w, sewdisabled. None of these sewists with disabilities are of Asian descent, or so we can tell, but you can learn from and support their work.
Ada: What we did think was worth exploring was interpersonal barriers to sewing, including what the Asian lived experience is like within the sewing community. It’s quite underrepresented and we felt we could add more value by focusing on this instead. So let’s start with who sews and who we picture of when we think of a sewist and how this can be a barrier for entering or navigating the sewing world.
Nicole: If you search in Google Images with the keyword “sewing”, the majority of images returned are images of sewing machines. If there is a person in the image, they often appear to be women who are white and a range of ages. Please note that this is what shows up for Koss, our researcher for this episode, who is based in New Zealand. You may have different results based on your browser history, stored cookies, where you’re based and many other factors. Google looks at these factors in order to serve you up search results that it predicts will be the most relevant to you. Our producer, Mariko, tried the same search in various browsers, in incognito mode, where browser history and cookies don’t apply. But her search results were different and still seem to be affected by where she is based, in the US. But for our researcher, people showing up in these images were mostly white women. They also found a bunch of photos of white women with a child in their lap while sewing. Few images hadn’t been present, and when they showed up, the content on the webpage where the image appears contains the word “man” and specifically “sewing”. With these keywords, our researcher found very few images of people of color in it, which I guess makes sense because many of these images were taken for marketing purposes. And it’s supposedly difficult to relate to ads, if a person depicted in them isn’t white. And I think, we all know the standard, quote unquote, for marketability is to cast white folks, which I think most people understand is nonsense now. But you know, marketability is a whole other topic that’s outside the scope of our podcast for today.
Ada: If you search with the keywords, quote, “people sewing” that increases the diversity of people represented in the image results to about half white, half BIPOC. But from a pessimistic point of view, this could be due to companies trying to virtue signal or participate in diversity theater, or perhaps those images are used in companies who use sewing machines as a tool and are looking to hire immigrants or people of color, or people in developing countries to cut costs. Either way, it’s still clear that the general Asian hobby sewist isn’t represented in most images that you would find through Google Search, which likely translates into what people think of when they imagine who a sewist is in their heads. Representation matters because if we don’t see people like us in the sewing community, then potential new sewists might not end up picking it up, or even seeing sewing as a possible hobby or thing to pick up.
Nicole: And it’s interesting that Google is pulling up photos of mostly women with sewing machines using them for fun at home, which is what I do as well. But taking it to way back… Before the 19th century, sewing played a more practical role in the lives of women. Clothing was an expensive investment for most people so women sewed to extend the longevity of their clothing for their households. Once clothes reached a point where they were too worn to be mended, women would take apart these clothes and repurpose them into either new clothing, made into quilts, or otherwise put to some practical use. The many steps involved in making clothing from scratch or mending existing clothes or repurposing them meant that women back in the day would barter their expertise in a particular skill with one another. So for instance, decorative needlework such as embroidery was a valued skill that mostly young women with time and means would strive to pursue, and master. Even as the sewing machine became a thing and became more affordable to the working class, women were the ones purchasing and using them. They would see the latest fashions and periodicals during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and try to make similar garments for themselves. Their sewing practice, however, was still out of necessity, and only later on in the 20th century when ready-to-wear clothing grew more popular because women were joining the paid workforce in larger numbers, while leaving them with less time to sew. Hobby sewing is a relatively new thing. We’ve spoken with folks on the podcast about how they and their parents and their grandparents sewed because back then it was necessary to clothe themselves. This might be why whenever we think of a sewist now it’s likely someone who just does it as a hobby or at least one we’re not thinking of someone who makes her, alters clothes for a living. And it’s no wonder that we only picture cis women as these hobby sewists when throughout time, general garment sewing was delegated to women in a household.
Ada: So on a related note, I have my own story to share. Threads Magazine, a magazine for sewing enthusiasts, has always until recently I guess, catered towards sewists who are older white women is how I would characterize it. Their podcast interviews and pattern reviews kind of demonstrate this lack of diversity, and even their staff and experts have been predominantly white. It feels like they’ve been making an effort to shift that image in the last two years. But it feels a little performative for reasons I’m about to get into. So Threads actually reached out to me a while back to see if I was interested in writing an article about accessibility and patterns, because I’d been talking about size inclusivity in the sewing space and accessibility in patterns. And, you know, I care about both topics deeply, but as someone who is straight sized and able bodied, size inclusivity and accessibility in patterns don’t necessarily impact me personally. So, I on those topics, view myself as an ally, not as someone with the lived experience to share. And so I thought it would be better for an article to come from an actual expert, aka someone who had that lived experience, right? So I wrote back to the editor, connecting them to somebody who has actually lived in that experience wearing accessible patterns and advocating for them, and who’s worked with pattern companies on making accessible patterns, and identifies as Indigenous and although, they are white passing, and sadly, as far as I know, that didn’t really go anywhere. And it felt like to me, they were only reaching out to me, because I was a non-white sewist who had spoken out and maybe they were just filling their own kind of internal quota or something for whatever issue that we’re working on. Because like, there’s so many other people who could be able to better speak to that topic. As we mentioned before, there are so many other sewists who have that actual lived experience, right, of needing accessible patterns, or accessibility and sewing.
Nicole: So in that case, then you’re… The people that are being gatekeeped from sewing are people who have those lived experiences, right?
Ada: Right. And it kind of goes to show, I don’t know how much folks know about how content actually gets published in magazines like Threads, but it’s traditionally an exclusionary space where if you are an independent writer, like a contractor, or freelance writer, you’re constantly pitching these places to write your articles. And generally, you are not being asked to write it unless they’re specifically looking for a specific viewpoint. And I’ve been, I’ve been on the other side, right, as a blog editor, and you know, managing many content sites of, kind of creating my own content farm for lack of a better word, of finding folks to write for me. And so, I was very deliberate in finding folks who did represent different viewpoints but then I would keep them, kind of, on assignments and keep them on our payroll for, again, lack of a better term, to try to keep their content coming into us. But for someone to reach out to an individual to specifically find a topic for them to write is very, very rare, unless they specifically want something from that individual, whether it’s because of, you know, the diversity that that person might represent bringing into that publication, or, you know, something else that they have, as, you know, an industry leader or something like that. And even when it’s quote unquote, an industry leader writing it, like, let’s all be honest, CEOs aren’t writing anything for any of these places, they’re all bylines, those written by people like me.
Nicole: Yeah. Okay. That’s interesting. And so why did they go to you and not people with the lived experience when you clearly don’t have it? And maybe they selected you because you fill the diversity quota, like you said.
And I think that is something to think about, Because it’s like, why wouldn’t you go to many of the other vocal sewists who speak about size inclusivity and adaptive sewing?
Ada: if you are approached by a magazine like this or a publication to write something that you shouldn’t be honored or flattered that they want that. But I would challenge everyone, especially now to kind of think critically of what, in that interaction, like, what are they gaining from your name and your likeness being on their website and being published? And what are you gaining from it? And if anybody’s asking you to write something, A, you better be compensated for that writing, because that takes time. And B, you should have a complete understanding of what you were signing up for before you agree to it, because I just know so many folks who get shafted as full time writers, right, in that position. And, you know, not being a full time writer, but having the ability to take on that work, I’m very discerning, I guess, in doing that, because I’ve seen so much of it but the average person, I think, isn’t, as much.
Nicole: Interestingly, my first encounter with Threads Magazine was only actually a couple of weeks ago. I picked up one of their magazines at Heathrow on my way back from England, just because I wanted to buy a sewing magazine, I’d never actually bought one like, off of a shelf. And, you know, one of the things that struck me about it was the, the lack of diversity in thought, and even in like, the editorial board, just general diversity and in thought, and race and size, you know. And I think, that’s something that I do look for, if I’m gaining knowledge from an area, I like to make sure that I’m reading things or viewing things that are representative of multiple experiences. And I just found, like, could not relate to anything in the magazine. The reason why I picked up Threads and not like, I don’t know, there was maybe one or two other ones was because I saw Ithacamaven’s Top Down Center Out techniques were featured in it, and I was like, cool, then I don’t, when I decide to use it, I think I will use her technique, I can like, not have, to have to go to my iPad or whatever for it. But I’m kind of old school, I like paper, but yes. Okay. So I do look for diversity, multiple intersections, and we said, we like our intersections, more now than before. And, you know, my experience with Threads was super lackluster, to say the least. So they need advocates, preferably white folks to move them toward involving more diverse people and perspectives. And not just because they are Asian, like, you, you know. Like…
Nicole: Not for that reason, but just, you know, being thoughtful about it, like…
Ada: To, like, more accurately represent the sewing community.
Nicole: Right. And this is, this is gatekeeping, right, this is, this is, you know, gatekeeping and virtual signaling, virtue signaling simultaneously. So, you know, they could definitely do better. And there folks out there in the community that can help move them toward another path. I can’t say I will be super interested in purchasing a Threads Magazine again in the future. But okay, let’s move on to gatekeeping as a barrier in the sewing community itself, we were talking a little bit about sewing publications. And so as we’ve been saying the word “gatekeeping”, let’s define it. Gatekeeping is the act of controlling and usually limiting general access to something. And the way it manifests itself in sewing itself is vast. As we said in the intro into this episode earlier, it was hard to find concrete data online that was specifically pertaining to experiences of people of color. So instead, we’re mixing it up a little bit and we’re sharing some stories and thoughts from sewing folks in the Asian Sewist Collective instead. And by the way, while we are talking about gatekeeping today, it’s not our intention to point fingers and shame everyone who has done it in the past. If you are a person of color, not just Asian, we would love to hear if any of these experiences resonate with you. We’re guessing that it will, with a lot of you. And if you’re white, we encourage you to consider if you’ve contributed to these situations, or seen them unfold in front of you, consider what you can do to stop them from happening as well. One thing we recommend is looking into something called bystander intervention training, what you, a bystander, can do to help someone who is being targeted with harassment due to their race, sex, religion, color and other traits. And we have a link to free bystandard trainings run by an organization called Right To Be and I’ve taken their bystandard training, I took it last year and it was really great. I learned, things that I learned that were unexpected, so I definitely encourage everyone to take that training, the organization is called Right To Be.
Ada: So first up, gatekeeping can manifest between sewists who are considered dress makers and those who are tailors. Brace yourself for some gendered language, I know, we just did an episode on gender nonconformity, vut here we go. A dressmaker, also known as a seamstress, is someone who makes custom clothing that is traditionally considered for women such as dresses, blouses, and evening gowns. On the flip side, a tailor is someone who makes or alters clothing, with a focus on men’s clothing. Both professions have a perceived difference in skill set and techniques, which results in a lot of judgment and thus gatekeeping. Then there’s gatekeeping that occurs between pattern designers and their testers. For Mariko, who produced this episode and is in our collective, she mentions that it feels like people who barely have time to sew, let alone maintain a social media presence related to sewing are often passed over for pattern testing. She notes that she is straight sized and in a size band that many sewists could fall in and that it makes sense that designers want to take advantage of free promotion while folks are testing their pattern, but the key is to be upfront about it. Pattern designers may also inadvertently block potential testers due to the cost involved. Esther, who is also in our collective, sees a positive trend towards paying pattern testers, but it’s still a practice that’s not widely done. She pattern tested did a wool coat last year and ended up spending about 150 US dollars on materials alone. It was a splurge for her, but she really wanted to try her hand at making a coat. I just want to say that the system of pattern testing right now is inherently unequal. For giving the pattern to the tester for free, which for the sake of argument, let’s like, assume that it’s an indie pattern and it costs, let’s say US$20, retail price listed price or so. The designers get so much more labor and return than just $20 worth of a pattern. They get free feedback photos of the person wearing their pattern, tagged content and promotion for their patterns. And most of the time, the pattern tests that I’ve produced or participated in, they’ve upfront said, you don’t have to give us these things, but there’s always that kind of like, implied pressure that if you’re doing it, and you also kind of want to be part of that hype, right, when the pattern launches. So I can see it kind of being inherently unjust, the way that it is currently set up for most pattern designers. That being said, personally, if I liked the pattern, and I want to get the pattern for free, yeah, I will see if I can get into the pattern tests because I don’t want to pay for it, or I want to contribute to it, you know, to get that in exchange for my labor. But it is that, does that work out quite equally in terms of like, a dollar amount per hour for the labor? I don’t think so.
Nicole: I don’t think it ever does. Like, it won’t ever do it. And I, what would you said about the promo pictures, I don’t do it anymore. If somebody, if I pattern test for someone, even if they pay me, I generally am not going to do promo photos for them, I’m going to do the fit photos for them, because that is labor as well. And I think, so it’s an… You’re right, it’s inherently unbalanced, and those who are gatekeeped from it are, you know, number one, those who can’t afford the materials and time. Even if you give something of value to them, like a $20 pattern or a stipend at the, you know, in their own fabric shop or a fabric shop, you still have to have that materials up front, you know, so people who can’t afford to do it, or is prevented from participating in this part of the community. And then I think something to consider as well is the way that you are selected, you know. If you, you are often selected based on what they see of your work that is available online. And if you don’t have a body of work or your, your internet folk, you know, despite whatever your expertise, level of expertise is, your focus on the internet is not showing how you make things. If you have expertise, or passion or an interest in doing it, you know, you’re not allowed or selected as somebody who’s ideal for pattern testing. So there’s a lot of things there that, where gatekeeping is involved in pattern testing. And that’s not to say we don’t understand the challenges of pattern designers. We talked about this before, we get it. It’s still just something that exists in in the sewing community. So another form of gatekeeping that we’ve seen is racial gatekeeping. Again, this manifests in lots of different ways. And here’s one example. A while ago, a fabric store, Isee Fabrics, was called out by a Black sewist who was collaborating with them to promote their fabric and their store. And the Black sewist’s images of her modeling her finished makes, they weren’t ultimately used in the final promotion campaigns, whereas all of the other non-Black sewists, their, their work was featured. And we tried to track down the original incident but all we were able to find is that according to the Wayback Machine, which is an Internet archive, Isee Fabrics’ Ethics and Sustainability page did not contain an anti-racist or DEI policy until sometime within the last 12 months. And another example comes from Sareena, one of our editors. She needed to buy a specific type of yarn, six balls of expensive Japanese linen, in order to test a knitting pattern. And when she got to the store, the only store that carried it, taking note that, you know, she was pushing her kids in a double wide stroller through a super narrow doorway. Of course, not getting any help from anyone. The woman working at the store didn’t greet her with even a hello and immediately said, the sale yarn is over there. And the sale yarn was like, on a box sitting on the floor. That… When I read that story, I was like, excuse you, I’ll just turn right back around if you…
Nicole: Yes, I love sales. Don’t get me wrong, but you looked at me and you said the only thing you are going to be interested in is sale yarn and I’m like, that’s rude as F.
Nicole: But so, that’s Sareena’s experience, thank you for sharing it. And let’s not forget, the, I found to be heartbreaking, story that Sandeep of Sister Mintaka shared with us when she was a guest on our podcast. That was season 2, episode 16, and make sure to go back and listen to it if you haven’t, or if you have, you know, it’s worth reminding yourself that these things happen to people in your community. But she talked a little bit about how a sewing shop in her hometown pretended not to be running any sewing classes, despite very clearly having students in the store learning to sew, because she’s of South Asian descent. And thankfully for her a sewing shop in a neighboring town was far more accommodating in the end, but she felt like she needed to change her name in order to feel accepted, and that those are the effects of gatekeeping on people in our community.
Ada: The biggest form of gatekeeping within sewing that we found in our research for this episode, or at least the one that generated the most buzz in our podcast’s Slack channels was gatekeeping in terms of one’s perceived sewing ability. Now, when I bought my very first sewing machine, I was set on buying a specific type of fabric for a project I had in mind. Never mind that this fabric has been sitting in my stash for almost a few years now and I reorganized it recently. Like, right, I haven’t made that project yet. But when I bought it, I found it was about $1 per yard cheaper at a local store about 30 minutes from here versus like the closer local store to me. So gas prices weren’t ridiculously high at that point. I was like, oh, it’s gonna make a difference because I was buying like five or six yards and I wanted to see what else they had in that store, I’d never been there. So I went in to make my purchase. There was an older white lady who was working at the store who questioned why I was making such an expensive purchase, and even though I specifically said I’m here for THIS specific fabric, kept steering me towards this like cheaper Robert Kaufman linen, which I think most people have seen it, it usually ranges from eight to $13 per yard range. And the fabric that I was looking for was like, more than double that price. And, but, like, you when you felt them, like, there was a difference. And so, very clearly I was after one thing, and I just kept getting steered, like, pushed towards the other. And related to this story, let’s touch on the use of unsolicited advice. That same woman upon hearing that I wanted to sew as long as I could without a serger because at the time I didn’t have one, insisted that I absolutely needed one and kept trying to tell me where to find a secondhand, cheaper machine. And you know, I’m totally capable of sticking up for myself and fighting bullshit like that. But like, if you’re an inexperienced, and perhaps younger sewist or someone who’s just getting into it for the first time and you don’t know, I could see that being a total turnoff for you to getting into this hobby, this craft.
Nicole: Unsolicited advice has been something that has made me not want to participate in the sewing community. Just to avoid it. Like, it’s happened, it only happens rarely to me, but just… I’m like, there, after it happened, I just don’t want to share any more. I’m like, I didn’t ask you your opinion, you know, well, right? Unsolicited advice is a little bit different, like, but I didn’t ask for advice so don’t give it and it’s such a strange phenomenon. Maybe it’s a crafting thing where people are just, they want to share their knowledge and like, and you should when you are asked like, when in the right setting.
Ada: It’s not just crafting, I mean, like on my, if you go to my Instagram page for sewing, you’ll see I have a set of rules on my highlights. And it specifically says no unsolicited advice after like, whatever number of times after I warn you I’m just going to block you because that’s not why my page is here, and I don’t really want to deal with you having that problem. But like, I find that it comes up a lot everywhere I go, right, in a professional setting, heck, even if I’m at the driving range, practicing and minding my own business, headphones in, there will be men who come up to me and say, oh, you know, you should really do this. And I’m like, I’m sorry, did you see my 200 yard drive? You can right bug off. Like, did I ask you for advice on that. No, I did not.
Nicole: Right. I… Yeah. And I can, I can see just again. I mean, I have and I could see newer sewists, like you said, younger like, or just less experienced folks not really feeling like it’s a place they want to be and, I don’t know, why would recreate, why would anyone in their endeavor to share their knowledge with other people, create a space where they just don’t want, they don’t feel welcome to be a newbie, you know? I just… [Sigh] Unsolicited advice. But so we’ve been talking about, you know, ways that we’ve seen gatekeeping happen and we don’t assume that it doesn’t happen, we don’t do it as well, you know, like, it’s, it’s something that anyone can do knowingly or unknowingly. And Koss, our researcher for this episode, was very upfront and had an anecdote where they, where they said that they were doing the ones doing the gatekeeping. They have a friend who is new to sewing and wanted to make a coat. And Koss admitted that their knee jerk response, which luckily they kept themselves in check, was to tell that friend, it’s not that easy to make a coat. And Koss wonders if it’s simply because they were coming from a problem solving perspective or wanting to provide unsolicited advice, or even just being defensive, taking the attitude like, it wasn’t that easy, it took me a long time and a lot of skill to make that coat. But interestingly, you know, Koss has a great take on this and it’s just interesting to do some self reflection on maybe how you have reacted to folks that could have been gatekeeping in the sewing community, and precisely the sort of thoughts that we’re hoping to encourage our listeners to think about, you know, after listening to this episode. And we also have a story from Shilyn in our collective on her experiences with sewing and gatekeeping. And in summary, she was pressured to do things, quote, unquote, the right way.
Ada: So Shilyn, one of our producer and editors, was… She used to drape almost all of her garments for years, because back then, she didn’t understand how to fit or read patterns, or make alterations and so on. And, at some point, she wanted to take an advanced class to further uplevel her skills but every time she tried to enroll, she was blocked by teachers who told her that she had to take a basic course first. Mind you, this basic course was things like how to thread your machine, or how to sew in a straight line, and so on. And she obviously you had to do that already, because she had been sewing her own garments. She said she even tried to bring in samples of her work to demonstrate that she definitely already mastered these basics but that didn’t work. And if she asked questions to these teachers about something she was working on, again, they would just shut her down and say, that’s an advanced technique, you need to take a certain class or learn certain other techniques, because then you wouldn’t need to ask this question.
Nicole: She also noted that there was a lot of talk about needing to take classes and go to school in order to learn, quote, unquote, the proper way of doing things, especially pre-Instagram. And yes, that’s another example of gatekeeping right there. She eventually got into a college costume design course, that covered beginner to intermediate techniques in an accelerated fashion. Shilyn realize that she already knew how to drape and how to do many other things. albeit in a fast and supposedly, quote, unquote, not the proper way. In her opinion, she found that the proper way was a long and confusing way to teach beginners the theory behind it. Her teacher insisted that it was needed so that “you can appreciate the technique”. And for my part, I’m just like, okay, great. You know, it’s just so funny to hear that and not funny, but like, in a tragic way, you know, like, why do you do this to each other. And I get frustrated, when people say in sewing that there’s a proper way to do it, when, when in the end, you get the same result. Certainly there are things that really should be done in a certain way. But I’m the type of person that pushes with the whys. You know, like, why do I need to do it that way? And I have not heard any satisfactory explanations. Whenever I see conversations online, when people say, well, you have to do it this way, because it’s the right way. And you know, you do your way, I’ll do mine,
Ada: I am the exact same way. Like, one time at work, I asked, why does your team want it this way? Basically, kind of, in the context of, hey, can you give us more context, so our team can better assist you and figure out like, what is the best way to give you the thing you want? And I remember, it was like, this four person meeting. So it was me, my manager at the time, my peer and his manager. Both of them were two white men. And the manager, an older, straight white man just lost his mind and blew up at me in the meeting for asking, why do we need it this way? And keep in mind, my manager was there, right there, and his direct report. And it was just like, I kind of just like froze, like, I’m sorry, I can’t ask why? I’m not even asking you why, like, hey, I don’t want to do it. I’m asking you, why, can you explain it so that we can figure out how to do it? Like, yeah, I’m not saying no, I’m saying why. And later on, this man’s manager made him apologize to me later in the day, but then he tried to kind of make all kinds of excuses. And I was just, I was over it. Like, don’t give me that kind of BS. And all that is to say, in my experience is that people in positions of power and authority don’t like being questioned, even if it’s just for other folks to better understand their logic.
Nicole: We’re also going to touch upon gatekeeping from an ageist point of view. Another response that she got from teachers was that she couldn’t possibly know how to drape because it’s considered a more skilled technique. Older generations, say people with children in their 40s and 50s, were taught these techniques in school in home economics class, because back then it was expected that everyone should, should know how to drape.
Ada: That’s awful. I am really glad Shilyn has left all that behind. Plug for Shilyn’s YouTube channel, she clearly shows that she’s a very talented and skilled sewist, if you want to look up Shilyn Sews, s-h-i-l-y-n-sews on YouTube. And luckily for us, Shilyn also pointed out that professional pattern makers have also noticed that there is a gap for technical skills like drafting and draping, that is, learning those techniques outside of a, quote, proper class was nearly impossible. And so they’ve kind of filled that gap by creating workshops and courses both online and offline for our community. However, they are still quite pricey, which feeds back into the whole sewing having a huge financial barrier. Now before we wrap up this episode, we wanted to leave you with two uplifting stories where there were fewer barriers to selling just to end things on a more positive note.
Nicole: Sareena in the collective says that where she is in Western Canada, the big box store Fabricland is mostly staffed by 50 year old and plus women who are majority Indian, Hijabi or African. Quilt and wool shops, on the other hand, are mostly staffed by white women. She had a favorite local yarn store in Edmonton many years ago that was run by two extremely helpful East Asian women who taught her how to install a zipper into a cardigan, and she notes that she felt very comfortable to ask for help from people who looked like her. And Eileen, who is also in the collective and also based in Canada, but on the eastern part, says that she sees similar demographics at her regular fabric stores, and the little shops in the fashion district. Again, the fancy quilting stores for her are the ones with less diversity. She does note that Fabricland’s prices have gone through the roof in the past few years, though.
Ada: Now, that’s all we have for you today. And again, listeners, we did our best to provide a wide view of barriers to sewing, including how gatekeeping manifests and how society’s image of who a sewist may be may block people who look like us from ever partaking in it. We also wanted you to hear more stories from members of our collective and how these issues impact them. Be sure to check out their work and show them some love on Instagram and YouTube, you can find their handles and links in the About page of our website, asiansewistcollective.com Lastly, thank you, thank you to our collective members for sharing your stories.
Nicole: If you think we missed anything crucial, let us know or if these anecdotes really hit home for you, also let us know. Feel free to hit us up via IG DMs, leave a comment on our posts or drop us an email. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. No snail mail though, not telling you where I live.
Ada: 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 Ko-fi. 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, PocketCasts 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 email@example.com This episode is brought to you by your cohosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Kossoma Kernem, produced by Mariko Abe, and edited by Sareena Granger 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.