I made a thing.



Yet another make of V8997–this one colour-blocked, per the advice of FaceBook. And pegged a bit at the bottom, which would have helped the other one a lot, too.

Dear Readers–

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 Side
The Side

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.

The Back, minus frostbite
The Back, minus 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.)

24 thoughts on “V8997 NO BOYS ALLOWED

  1. I think you raise an interesting point here about sewing bloggers pandering to the male gaze, even though most straight men won’t be reading these blogs. It’s an internalized idea of beauty. Some women unconsciously think what men think is beautiful, is beautiful. I know I do it too. There’s a reason why thin, white, conventionally pretty bloggers tend to be the most popular, too. It can scare people who don’t fit that mold from posting pictures. I do wish more people posted pictures with natural poses… I should do “paparazzi” style shots for my own blog

    1. I totally agree. And the farther away a person is from the ideal, the less likely it is that they will get the same following.

      I’ve been part of online conversations in different venues about photos on sewing blogs and it surprises me sometimes how many women will be or act offended when other women don’t work hard to make themselves and their surroundings look as perfect as possible. Clean the house, use a nice backdrop, put on makeup, smile! WTH. I kind of like how your pictures are just the clothes, myself. (At least, the ones I’ve seen.)

  2. Have you ever read the book ‘The painted Witch” How Western Artists Have Viewed the Sexuality of Women by Edwin b. Mullins? I found it easy to read unlike most art history/criticism and thought provoking. You may have summed up why I find it so difficult to post pictures of myself. I have enough mainstream aesthetic conditioning to know which pictures/poses should ‘look good/better’ but I always feel very uncomfortable with those images. Your comments have helped me see why!

    1. No, I haven’t! I’ve put that one on my to-read list now. Thanks. 🙂

      Yeah. I get really uncomfortable with them too. There’s the whole fear of judgement thing, which I won’t deny. But I also end up feeling like I am acting a part and putting a very different image out there of who I am and what I value than is actually the case.

  3. I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment, because I don’t have an alternative theory to posit. While I was reading the part of your post about female nudes & the male gaze, I felt my usual relief/agreement when encountering an acknowledgement of my/feminine human reality/existence. However, there is a part of me that is frustrated by the feminist theory; it’s right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

    When I started reading sewing blogs, I consciously sought out blogs written by women who looked more like me. One blog in particular caused me a bit of consternation. I liked her sewing, her writing, but I kept flinching away from her pics. I almost stopped following her blog. Eventually I figured out what was bothering me: her glasses are slightly too large for her face, so she sometimes scrunches her nose slightly to hold them up, which looks a bit like an expression of disgust. Now that I’ve consciously identified it–it still bothers me.

    If I’m talking about sewing blogs, competence is pretty. I like reading about failures & the learning process, but my favorite blogs have pretty good photography and tend to feature pretty good fit/construction. I don’t think bloggers owe me polished visuals, but I can think of two blogs I stopped following because of pics. One didn’t have pics, & while I follow a few literary blogs, as far as I’m concerned, sewing blogs are a visual medium. The other featured mostly, it seemed to me, poorly lit pics taken in a bathroom mirror that thwarted my desire to see [clearly]. Embarrassingly, I stopped following a third sewing blog because the blogger was too pretty. She responded less than graciously to a style criticism (not mine, somebody else’s criticism) and every time I looked at her pics afterwards, I felt a ‘Who do you think you are?’ resentment that I don’t think I would’ve felt towards a more average looking blogger. (Ick, I don’t want to end with my ugly prejudice showing. Maybe I can end with a mention of male nudes.)

    I guess what I’m getting at is that we’re a visual species and and a social species and these biases are unavoidable. Status is a little complicated though. If someone seems higher status than me, I can look with admiration, or with envy. If someone seems lower status, I can look with sympathy, or with scorn. I love coming across acknowledgement of the underlying rules, & feminist theory does that partially, but it’s not sympathetic enough. I want to look at realistic female nudes, but I also want to look at male nudes, and while I’m being honest, I prefer the lubricious, David-style ones. I’m interested in ogling low-status bodies, but I can’t deny the pleasure of gawking at pretty.

    1. This is a really amazing comment. Thank you for taking so much time to respond and articulate your views so clearly!

      I hear what you’re saying and I think you raise a lot of good points. We are a visual species and we respond visually to a lot of different input. This is just off the top of my head (and honestly I’m still not 100% sure what I was getting at in the post proper) so I might come back later to clarify or expand–but I do think there is an element of conditioning to what we respond to, visually. And I think it is really really sad–heartbreaking, really–if what we are conditioned to respond to, as women, has been so informed by male preferences that we impose them on ourselves so totally. Kind of a panopticon of aesthetics.

      There is definitely a conundrum, of how to present the clothes well and show the technical aspects while not defaulting to the standard aesthetic/photographic shorthand, if that makes sense, and I feel it too. One would not post a sewing blogger photo of a swimsuit like The Bather fundamentally because you can’t see the damned suit–but surely there are options that show the suit besides the provocative and flirty. It’s an interesting thing to think about and (for me) to play with, but I have no idea where it might end up.

      I’m not 100% convinced that technical skills=pretty in sewing. It depends on what you’re making, to me.

  4. That painting is extraordinary. Isn’t it amazing that a painting of a woman in an ordinary posture with a preoccupied face can still read as incendiary? I don’t think I’ve made much more peace with this topic of sewing blog photography since you wrote about it first. My explicit goal is still to present the clothes in a very straightforward manner while still showing them on the body they were intended for – mine. But aiming for “straightforward” can be blinding because no aesthetic comes without meaning. (The movie “Helvetica” illustrates that well.) And I do find myself catering to implicit goals of conforming to beauty standards, especially when it comes to selecting one photo over another.

    I like your photos. I like that you’ve taken a stereotypically feminine dress and taken photos of yourself looking defiant in it.

    1. It is extraordinary. And if you’re in a place where you can look at the nudes, try googling Prudence Heward’s “Girl Under a Tree.” It uses the same symbolism as a lot of the classic nudes but is easily the least sexy naked lady picture I’ve ever seen.

      I like your pictures a lot. I think you get the straightforward across very well and I was thinking of your shots as examples of ones that aren’t male-gaze-y, but then I didn’t want to get into a long thing naming names about different sewing bloggers and their photo styles. So I left it out. And you’re so right about every aesthetic choice carrying its own meaning. There’s no easy way around it.

      Haha–so the recipe for defiance in these photos turned out to be a 100% completely neutral stance and facial expression. I aimed for blank. I even covered my eyelids and lips with concealer, and tried to position myself so my face would fall in the shade. That is really interesting to me that it read as defiance for you!

      1. I think there can defiance in obscuring a female face – especially when it entails minimizing or erasing features we’re told must be emphasized. What are your thoughts on Cindy Sherman?

      2. My thoughts on Cindy Sherman are that I don’t know enough about her to have thoughts about her, but now I think I need to rectify this. I just read her wikipedia page and giggled at this quote of hers: “The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.” Awww, man–I so like theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.

        Her pictures are really interesting, though, and I love a good thinky art piece.

  5. Fascinating post. I’ll see if I can grab time to see the show. It always amazes me how so much of women’s art is controversial yet male artistry that ought to be controversial goes unchecked (Monet and Gaugin, I’m looking at you!) Great dress!

    1. Thanks. 🙂

      If you have the time, I think you’d really like it. It’s interesting to think, too, how they were contemporaries of the Group of Seven, but for some reason have been wiped off the map of Canadian art consciousness. Maybe as a country we’re just happier with pictures of trees than of people?

  6. I once had inattention to cutting out end me up with a maternity smock in courduroy that had one yoke backwards. Wore it anyway.
    This is a fascinating discussion on portrayal, Andrea. Love it. I like the way you record your work. Straight on and a clear depiction of construction and fit.

    I do not post sewing photos, but I have a bit of a different take on your thesis. As a young woman, I was a model for artists (clothed and nude. Me, not the artists. Cripes). And one of the biggest surprises I had was how similar the poses were that different artists and teachers of sketch and painting required me to take. Unlike photography, posing for sketch requires a pose that can be held exactly for some time, especially under artificial lighting and with a big group. Teacher needs time to go all around the circle with comment and correction. Outside the hold is usually until the light changes. Good teachers want texture, muscle definition and a smooth composition from all angles so poses tend to require a lot of muscle to hold (explaining why I was a model). Your painted lady above was posing only for one person, obviously. A single painter can be much more versatile in what is required.

    Mostly the model is a thing, not a person. You could be (and sometimes were) replaced by an articulated puppet.

    My take is that the sexuality is put in by the artist in spite of what he/she sees on the stand. A leaning pose with one shoulder up is pretty common (fairly easy to hold and good from all sides) and the renditions range from highly sexualized to first cousin to a clothes pole.

    As for prettying up the background before recording the sewing project, a good photo editor can do that afterwards too.

    Fascinating stuff. Thank you!

    1. Thanks as always for such a detailed comment–and for sharing your experience, too.

      I take your points. I’m not sure they entirely apply, though, since all the work in the show was a single painter painting a single person for a single work of art. There were a couple of studies, but they were landscapes. So in the case of the work seen in the show, all of the poses (and while some were models, most were not) were chosen by the artist to portray a particular vision.

      I found a shot of the nude sculptures, done by a male artist whose name I can’t recall.

      Beaver Hall Sculptures

      Hopefully that worked.

      Anyway–take a look particularly at the one on the far left. That cannot have been an easy pose to hold, or to sketch before the sculpting. And this gives you an idea of the kinds of poses chosen by male artists when portraying female nudes.

      I’m sure sexuality can be implied afterwards, too, with further artistic choices, onto something that was neutral to begin with. I don’t think it really applies here, though. (Or at least, not solely)

  7. Dang! I am late to the game commenting on this. I tend to catch up on blogs once a week.

    All this stuff about posing & the male gaze is something I think about a lot & tried to write about a couple of years ago when I first started reading sewing blogs. As anyone can clearly see from looking at my blog, I don’t put a ton of effort into my photos. I never wear make-up anyway, so obviously I’m not going to put it on for blog photos. I usually take photos in the house because I don’t have a tripod or remote & haven’t had much luck explaining to Jared how to photograph sewing. (He always stands too far away so you can’t really see the style lines of the garment.) My house is always covered in a thick layer of preschooler ephemera. I routinely take photos where my hair is dirty or hasn’t been combed in days. I try to show the garment to its best advantage, but I don’t see that that necessitates posing, per se.

    & this is why my blog will probably never really be a big deal in the sewing blog world. I just posted something on FB right before I read this about women photographing themselves seemingly for the male gaze on Instagram. Like, I came across a photo of a woman at the beach with her female friend, supposedly all about having a girls’ day out, but the photo was of their asses in skimpy swimsuits, with their backs arched to show the outlines of their vulvas. Like, whoa. I’m not necessarily objecting to asses & vulvas. People have them & it’s fine! But the only time they are really the focal point of a photo like the one I saw is in straight up pornography. Some charitable part of me wants to say they were reclaiming those body parts…but let’s be real. They were trying to be sexy. I guess that’s an extreme example that doesn’t have anything to do with sewing blogs, but yeah. I don’t spend much time wearing my handmade wardrobe posed in a rose garden with my hand behind my head & a big smile on my face.

    This is a terrible rambling comment, sorry. I wanted to be eloquent! Another reason my blog will never be big, haha.

    1. No, it is a fantastic rambling comment. Long comments are a compliment, most of the time.

      I know what you mean. We all have to make peace with sexism/patriarchy in our own ways. There are more goodies for women who participate, that’s for sure; if you agree with the structure of femininity and stay in your place, life is easier; it’s just that the cost is chopping off your personality and character at the knees and staying in a little box that makes other people comfortable. (Oops, do I sound angry?)

      So, do I understand why women would live their lives–willingly–on display for the pleasure of men? Yep.

      Does it break my heart? Also yep. And to me it’s just more obvious in such a female-dominated space, where the same rules (slightly altered, eg. Retro! Vintage!) apply, and are still enforced and policed.

      1. I am reminded of an article I read in the “New York Times” about the uptick of teenage girls going to plastic surgeons requesting cosmetic labioplasties. In trying to explain this sudden surge of young women who feel like their genitalia are unsightly, one person floated the theory that young women are more aware of what their genitals look like because an estimated 70% of them shave or wax their pubic hair. Maybe this speaks to what a completely different generation I am than teens of today (duh, I’m almost 37), but I was blown away. I don’t remember any of my friends shaving, waxing, or fretting over their labias when I was a teen. & it’s not like I had a particularly chaste &/or body-positive circle of friends.

        As far as sewing blogs go, I wonder if part of it also the fact that fitting is easier on “standard” bodies. Meaning, it’s not just about the styling or the posing, but also about how being closer to the size of the standard fit model or sloper block is going to mean that patterns fit you with fewer tweaks. If you have to grade up three sizes from the largest size offered, that’s a lot more opportunity to make mistakes &/or distort style lines.

        & then there’s the fact that we are all conditioned to view clothing on certain types of bodies. Seeing it on other kinds of bodies means you’re seeing certain bulges or whatever that make you wonder if it’s a mistake in the sewing or just the way the person’s body is. So in that way, women of different shapes & sizes have more struggles to develop a readership in the SBC because they have to overcome a lot more obstacles to having their sewing skills seen for what they are. Does that make sense?

        Kind of a tangent, I guess.

      2. Oh for sure. I think a lot of that feeds in. It is a bit tangential, in that it feeds into the visual reactions of readers rather than the aesthetic choices of presenting ourselves in a certain way–at least, it’s hard to see how this would result in a very common need to present as coy, for instance. But it does feed into which blogs are more likely to grow larger readerships, I think.

        The funny thing for me is it seems it should be the opposite. Someone whose body is substantially different from the norm and who makes well-fitting and well-constructed clothing is demonstrating a lot more technical skill than someone with a more standard body and size. Scoliosis or limb differences or dealing with wheelchairs etc. etc. is a much, much harder thing than a forward-shoulder rotation or FBA.

      3. I guess it is semi-related in that I feel like women with body shapes that deviate from the usual standards of beauty have to work harder to be seen at the same level. & that includes styling & presentation: nice make-up, doing up the hair, posing in such a way as to not only show the details of the garment but also to mitigate the “problem areas”, etc. There is something really confrontational about being “fat” & also not trying to “make up for it” by “having a great face” or whatever. I say this as a 215-pound woman who does not wear make-up or really make any effort to be “attractive”. I barely make an effort to be presentable, haha.

  8. I had to mull over this post as well as the comments here for a little while. Part of it because you gave me a Eureka! feeling and I had to analyze why. It answers why I wouldn’t dress like a cute girl (kind of punk rock back in the 80’s –anti style and where the bouncers at clubs that we would go to experience different bands would tell me that “you could be hot if you took all that crap off and wore some normal clothes.” I had men and women telling me that I was making life difficult for myself — that I could certainly find some moderately wealthy man that could take care of me easily if I just did.. .this this and that-ie, conform to social-sexual norms . A young woman could not walk down the street without catcalls, men demanding or expecting that you stop whatever you are doing to talk to them etc. Now that I am of a certain age and practically invisible to the male gaze it is much easier to proceed through life’s activities as a person vs. an object and I feel so much more free. This post also explains my visceral distaste for those blogs of 20 pictures of the same outfit, usually in retro pinup girl poses. It reminds me too of the prevalence of young women’s selfie posts and the duck lips (a technology (online sharing– but we did have cameras) phenomena that did not exist when I was of that age– back then the wisdom was to never agree to sexually-compromising photos, now they seem to all be self-published. I don’t know if they are owning their own sexuality in a way by doing this or if it is just self-exploitation to get more hits, likes and shares.

    1. It’s always suspicious to me when “empowerment” of the new days looks just like “exploitation” from the old days.

      People should be able to make whatever choices for their life and presentation as they want, of course. If anyone, male or female, wants to look a certain way or take certain kinds of pictures of themselves for social media or whatever–go to. Have fun. I don’t want to restrict it. But I do wish there were more of a conversation about why it is that “what is attractive to men” (or at least, what is presumed to be attractive to men) has such currency and prestige in a nearly-100% female group that we unthinkingly and automatically reproduce it.

      That you had so much pressure to conform to those norms so you could enjoy the goodies that come along with it is very sad, but not surprising.

  9. When I make a swimsuit, I’m totally posting a picture like that painting. That’s an awesome painting.

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