an experiment on the aesthetics of sewing blogs

Me, crocheting.
Me, crocheting. In a handmade shirt.

This is long, so here’s a summary: I’m going to stop trying for pretty blog pictures, and start trying for interesting blog pictures. What do you think?

I’m a forever-blogger. I’ve been blogging since the ancient days of Moveable Type. (You can form whatever opinion about me you’d like on the basis of that revelation.) But I’m a very new sewing blogger.

In my limited participation in sewing blogs, I’ve noticed that there’s a very definite template for the widely read ones:

  1. Choose a flattering, cute project. Better if it’s a recent indie release and you can tie your post into the blog tour. Cute trumps practicality.
  2. Sew it up in a cute fabric, maybe even a cute new designer fabric that was just released. (Or one from Mood, and be sure to mention that it’s since sold out.)
  3. Take 3,000 pictures. Not because you’re going to use all of them, but because you want a few that show both the project and you to good advantage. Practice standing at an awkward 3/4 view with your head tilted at an appealing angle, smiling authentically, and for the love of god do your makeup.
  4. Add as many of those pictures to your blog post as you can stand. Touch them up if you have to. While three is considered a minimum (back view, front view, side view), you can go up to about thirty before anyone will publicly give you the stink-eye. If you’re young and cute and you know it, load ’em up!

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s kind of … well …

I spend a good deal of my non-sewing time thinking and talking about the ways women are expected to behave and present themselves in this world, and the constant expectation that no matter what else a woman does or is, nothing is as important as whether or not she looks good doing it.

Is she young and pretty and curvy but not fat? Is she smiling and does she look pleasant? You could be curing cancer and simultaneously writing a future Nobel-prize-winning novel, but if you don’t have good hair and the right lipstick, forgettaboutit. You can be a champion athlete, but you’d better look hot in your athletic clothes.  Save the world from apartheid or starvation or malaria, be our guest; but botox those forehead wrinkles, would ya?

I don’t think anyone is consciously buying into this with their sewing decisions, blogging decisions, or blog-reading decisions, but we do grow up female constantly surrounded by messages about what we should look like, and how much more important that is than anything else about us. So it’s no surprise that when we go to present ourselves visually to the world, we fall back on this. Look cute and non-threatening! Be attractive in a conventional way! 1950s housewife dresses are sure not to intimidate the men in your life!

This is the jacket I’m going to use (or try to)…

You know what, now that I think about this, I am going to make a suit this fall. A very intimidating suit. A don’t-mess-with-me suit. But I digress.

Wow that’s going to cost a fortune…anyway.

The aesthetics of sewing blogs and what it says about our own relationships with our bodies seems to be a pretty standard “look at how closely I approach the physical ideal!” kind of relationship. And again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I love lots of the blogs where the women carry this off with style (and I’m going to keep reading and loving them).

But let’s face it. I’m almost 40. Maybe I could have carried that off when I was in highschool or university. Hell, even at 30, I could have played the gamine with more conviction and put on some good doe-eyed smiles for the camera. But I am 39. I have a daughter, a full-time job, a house, a dog, type 1 diabetes, and many other lovely complications. And it is true that age brings with its wisdom grey hairs and crow’s feet. I’m ok with this, but I’m not comfortable with the standard sewing blog presentation, or about what it says about what I think about my body and its role in this world and in my life.

Whether it’s hot or not is … I won’t say meaningless. It’s not. It’s fun to be considered attractive and dating as a middle-aged mom is enough of a meat-grinder for the ego that whatever compliments come my way, I will take with a smile. (Almost whatever compliments. There are limits.) But it’s not who I am, it’s not what I value, and it’s not what I sew for.

I sew to have fun, functional, and yes attractive, clothing to wear in my regular life and do all of the things I like to do. Very rarely is that standing around in a girlish pose, smiling prettily into the middle distance. I read, I sew, I take care of my daughter, I laugh at our dog, I cook, I make ice cream (worth the effort if you’re wondering) without any concern for whether or not the results will be photogenic, I lift weights and actually kind of like the resulting bulk (I sew; I can deal with lats and glutes, you know?), I hike, I work in a cubicle and dazzle coworkers with my brilliance (ahahaha). Most of the time I do these things without any concern for whether my expression, pose and/or outfit are pleasing enough for observers.

So I’m going to run an experiment (and maybe you will join with me).

I’m going to ditch the sewing blog aesthetic, at least for a little while, and take pictures of myself in my self-made clothes doing the things that I do when I’m wearing my handmade clothes and not thinking about what someone’s going to think about the size of my ass or my hip-waist ratio.

Forget pretty. I’d rather be interesting. I’m 39. Haven’t I earned the privilege yet of being considered for something else? Even on a sewing blog?

Yes I have, because I say so.

8 thoughts on “an experiment on the aesthetics of sewing blogs

  1. I have read your post with a lot of interest. Yes, the online sewing community is very clicky and ageist, as with social media in general. I am 52 and have been sewing for 40 years. I have noticed a lack of regard for craftsmanship with the newer “sewists.” It’s about keeping up with each other and making the latest indie pattern. I strive for a balance of close up craftsmanship shots and “fun” photos on my blog I think I’m doing a good job but rarely gain young followers because I’m old and unglamorous.

    1. Well, I think the world in general is ageist–as well as a lot of other ists–and the sewing community online just reflects that. I also think I had my time to be twenty-something and now they have their time to be twenty-something, which is fine; I’m just going to stop trying to mimic the same aesthetic that works for a twenty-something. And I think (hope) it’ll be fun. 🙂

      You’re sharing a lot of the same concerns I’ve heard elsewhere, though. It’s a sticky mess and I’m not sure what the solution is, except to trust that when the new sewists figure things out a bit more, they’ll have the experience and judgment as well to know who’s for real and who’s just for show. In the meantime it must be frustrating to know that you’ve got skills and experience going unappreciated.

  2. Yup. The sewing community is ageist and, to a certain degree, classist. (List the top ten most popular sewing bloggers and they a) live in or near big cities, b) sew with pricey independent patterns, and c) use nice fabric. The last two might be comped, sure, but then how can people lower down the ladder keep up with the aesthetic standards being radiated down from the top? I think I’ve just spent too much time in school, and am hypercritical by nature.) I actively try to cultivate diversity in my reader, but do frequently fail.

    On to your actual post. I don’t really look at sewing blog pictures anymore, is that dreadful? I stick around for whomever writes compelling or informative posts, but, honestly, I am experiencing major sewing blog fatigue. Not just because of the photos staged in the same ways (by necessity, I know, as most people don’t have Anna Wintour’s budget for exotic shoots), but because the patterns are all starting to look the same to me, which is horrible. (Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference between a Lady Skater, a Moneta, and a full-skirted Nettie hack. Sometimes as in, all of the time.) That’s part of the reason why I basically never blog my makes, unless I need to troubleshoot, because I feel absurd doing the traditional “smiling woman, eating a salad” poses, and even more absurd if I try to vamp like I’m in a fashion magazine. I just want to write, “Ugh, guys, you’ve seen a By Hand London Anna before, done much better than this one.” Meanwhile, if someone’s aesthetic aligns with mine, I am absolute hungry for their feedback on patterns, even if they are posting a dress I’ve seen dozens of times.

    Actually, I have a few recently finished garments. I might join in your experiment.

    Oh, I completely stalked your archives a few weeks ago, when you first came onto my radar, and I am resisting the urge to send you dating meat grinder commiseration emails. (Loved your post about responding politely to requests you’d rather decline.) Once, I was running down the street, and a random dude just casually commented, “Fat pretty lady running for the bus.” I almost turned around and gushed, “Thank you!” After all, he did call me pretty.

    1. Dating meat grinder commiseration is always welcome. 🙂

      I don’t think it’s awful at all. I’m pretty new to this and I will often skim the photos. Not only are the poses all the same–and sometimes of the same person in the same dress from the same angle making the same face, maybe half a dozen times in one post–but you’re right, a lot of the patterns start to look the same too. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the new indie releases (god knows I’ve done that) but they’re all making very similar basics. There’s a lot of aesthetic overlap.

      The Big 4 have their issues, but there is more innovation in the styling in those patterns (particularly Vogue). Sometimes that means they fall flat, but at least I have more of a chance of finding something genuinely new and interesting. I’ve also got Style Arc’s Emily top pattern coming to me from Australia (!!!–and consider the economics of that purely indulgent purchase) because I really like the neckline detail. I’ve got a metre of jersey set aside for it already.

      It would be great to have company for the experiment. 🙂

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