I made a thing.
I wish I could say the return to garment sewing was a triumphant and unvarnished success.
I guess I could say that, but it would be a lie.
The truth is, I made so many mistakes cutting out the pieces, I have enough cut pieces to make a second dress. It wouldn’t fit, nor would it cover my bra straps, but it would be a complete garment.
I cut the whole thing out in the floral, with the front and back pieces too narrow over the shoulders; then decided to colour-block, so cut out new side pieces in the red; then found out that I’d cut the centre back instead of side back in the red; recut the front and back bodice pieces again to correct the shoulders; etc.
The mental process see-sawed between “I’m sewing again! Hurrah! Thank goodness!” and “Holy crap, I can’t believe I just did that; good thing I have more fabric.”
I’m still making cutting mistakes out of sheer distraction and lack of focus, several garments on from there, but whatever. They’re finishing up ok, eventually.
There’s a slight mismatch at the seams in a few spots. You can see it if you get close and look, but not from outside my personal space. I did try to fix them–multiple times–couldn’t be done.
And I think this version finally gets the bodice just where I want it. The shape of the side fronts is now just where it needs to be.
Now what we need is a few good hot days where I can actually wear it outside of the house without giving myself frostbite.
I also recently went to see the Beaver Hall Group show at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. It blew me away. Besides being stupefied by the amazing art in general, I was struck particularly by the very different ways female nudes were portrayed by the male vs. female artists.
(It goes without saying that there were no male nudes. And I said it anyway.)
The nudes by male artists were preening. There’s no better word for it. Twisting themselves in the torso to make the waist smaller and the curves curvier; posing precariously on the ball of a single foot; coy face angles. They were in every way constructed for the satisfaction of a male audience.
Those by female artists were not.
And were they ever not.
They were confrontational in their lack of interest in appealing to the male audience.
They were just women being naked. Standing, sitting, talking to someone off-screen. Prudence Heward’s (my favourite) weren’t just not-preening: they were actively muscular, painted in such a way that the woman’s musculature and strength glistened with light against a dark, blurry, abstract background.
The internet reproductions don’t do them justice; the contrast between foreground and background has been eliminated by the digitization process and the effect quite stripped away.
Clothed figures were less obviously different, but once seen with the nudes, the difference was clear: painted by the female artists, female subjects were portrayed as human beings with their own purposes, not defined by the audience’s potential hard-ons. Poses by male artists were more sexually provocative (Randolph Hewton, for instance, painted a lot of pretty girls in sassy hands-on-hips poses with shirts draping artfully off a shoulder.
Look at this:
“The Bather was the most controversial painting in Heward’s oeuvre during her life. This painting stands as evidence of the artist’s commitment to portraying female subjects with an unflinchingly unidealized approach…. That the unidealized white female subject caused anxiety in viewers of the time indicates that Heward had produced a work that challenged notions of how women should be represented in early twentieth-century Canadian painting.” http://www.aci-iac.ca/prudence-heward/key-works/the-bather
I would argue that this is still the case today. Plenty of people–particularly dudes–would find this painting very troubling. How dare this lady on a beach in her swimsuit not be trying to appeal to them!?
(The appearance of non-white women and their treatment in her paintings is problematic, I know. It’s a measure of our lack of progress, I think, that 85 years on, it’s still seen as controversial to depict any woman in a public place without reference to what a man might think of her appearance, and that the difference between how white women and WOC are portrayed visually has basically not changed either.)
It’s a show worth checking out, if it comes to a town near you.
It’s also got me thinking about the aesthetics of sewing blogs, again.
One can hardly imagine a photo from a sewing blog posed anything like The Bather, above. Even a swimsuit selfie taken on the beach. There are–well–a lot of sassy hands-on-hips poses with one shoulder artfully revealed.
The point of the pictures, of course, is to show the garment; no one wants to provide blog illustrations that show the garments in a bad light. However, most of us are not living our lives in 3/4 view, posed with one leg cocked, heads tilted, against an attractive background, sucking in our stomachs. What does it say that so many of us are attempting to show ourselves and our creations in ways that maximize our similarities with how male artists portray women they find attractive?
Not all–I’m remembering Idle Fancy‘s wonderful takedown of a comment suggesting she would look better in sheath dresses than in the shirtdresses she loves. And yet I can’t quite picture Mary posing herself as Prudence Heward posed her subjects.
Man Repeller takes a cheeky approach to the whole thing, acknowledging that her personal style is “offensive” to the opposite sex–apparently because not trying to appeal to men sexually is offensive to some men–but then indicating, by the very name, that to many of us the purpose of clothes isn’t to get through the day in comfort and happiness but to provide a very specific sort of happiness to as many men as possible. And when it’s not, it’s notable and unusual enough to deserve its own moniker.
There’s a … hmm. There’s a distancing, in Heward’s etc. works. It’s the opposite of objectification–it’s personification–but it’s an ego-destabilizing personification. Her subjects (and the other Beaver Hall female portraitists’) were portrayed as they are, as people, not as walking vaginas who needed to earn their presence by causing erections. Is it that so much of modern female identity is still constructed around fuckability–is that why it feels destabilizing to see portrayals so relentlessly asexual?
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I had fun playing with it a bit for the pictures. I’d love to hear your thoughts (not necessarily about the pictures, but about–to use the highfalutin art history lingo–the dominance of the male gaze in the way sewing bloggers portray themselves, which is you’d think a blogging genre pretty well devoid of actual male gazes.)