Exorbitant Bodies: Where do we fit in the sewing world?
In the introduction of this post I compare the movements happening with size inclusivity in the sewing world to the recent calling out of Karen Templer. I realize now while trying to make a point that about standing up to creators who seem untouchable, I have paralleled size inclusivity with racial justice which is not in any way on equal grounds. I have left the rest of this post unedited for transparency, and I would also like to say that as a white woman calling the movement in the knitting community “thrilling” is a poor choice of words to use to align myself with their work. Thanks for understanding!
As some of you may know, roughly 2 weeks ago there was a blog post made by a hugely popular knitter, Karen Templer, which offended many in the knitting community with its imperialistic undertones. I found the response to the post within the fiber community to be thrilling and empowering and thought to myself that I hoped if the time came to speak up in the sewing world, that we would be brave enough to do so with grace and dignity. I didn’t realize how quickly it would come.
Today on instagram, sbccpatterns posted an image to accompany a blog post they had published called RTW Explained: Why Size Inclusivity is not Always Practiced. I don’t have much to argue with this post as it is a concise roundup of reasons why ready-to-wear companies do not cater to plus sizes. I don’t live in a world where I don’t understand why multi billion dollar companies don’t want to make money using my body. I understand under capitalism why 1 year ago when I was a US size 16 it wasn’t possible for me to walk in to a fast fashion or high end store and walk out with something that fit my body. The issue I have is that this same post is being advertised as a viable excuse for indie pattern companies who do not serve body sizes that fall upwards of a size 12 or 14. Not only am I skeptical of this application of the reasons listed in the blog post, but I was incredibly disheartened by the comments responding to this post on instagram from pattern designers who I looked up to. Elisalex of By Hand London, Paper Theory, and Sew House 7 all commented agreeing with the post, along with Closet Case Patterns, who I am most disappointed by at the moment.
I would like to start my response to Heather Lou, or whoever on her team who posted this, by saying I have been a huge fan of her and her patterns for many years. I have given them money, I have her blog pinned to my homepage and check it often. Heather is in many ways the poster child for strong, independent sewing women moving in the community with style. I have heard her speak on many podcasts and know her to be a concise and well articulated business woman. She also runs one of the largest and most lucrative indie pattern companies in the game and I think it’s an absolute cop out to say that you don’t cater to plus size women because you are intimidated by the process and do not have the resources.
First of all, I don’t think it’s mandatory for anyone to make and sell anything they don’t feel passionate about, but if you’re going to share your reason for letting down the HUGE demand for plus size ginger jeans and all of the other massively trendy patterns they’ve made then I feel like it’s fair game to say that’s not a good enough excuse. There are so many smaller companies, companies made of one or two people, who have successfully expanded their size range. The first ones that come to mind are Helen’s Closet and Megan Nielsen. I mean, worst case scenario you could hire someone to come in to teach you how to draft patterns for fat people. Knowing the skill, craftsmanship, and love put into all closet case patterns, I feel like if you really wanted to cater to plus size customers you could. The way this post reads to me is that the fear of failing with a plus size expansion is bigger and scarier than trying which I find immensely disappointing.
I reached out to a few of my friends on instagram who were also reacting to this post to see what they had to see. I felt it important to include other people in this conversation considering the fact that right now I currently am sewing straight size patterns. If this is your first time coming to this blog you might see my picture and think “wow this mildly tubby girl is getting really wild over here” but you might know that I had a successful blog post 2 years ago about how being plus size lead me to sewing. I still am very invested in the communities ties to body positivity, and am glad to share some of my fellow sewist’s thoughts on the subject.
Emily of @the_catwood
“The blog itself was technically interesting, but made the mistake of implying marginalized sewists can’t be upset about the lack of inclusion in patterns. The article, and the comments from designers, all suggest that larger bodies are unpredictable and don’t conform to standardization, when really, no one body is standard. Thin sewists make fitting adjustments too. Pattern designers don’t want to accept the harm that their choices cause for larger sexists, because their intentions were at best uninformed. But there’s no excuse in 2019.”
Whitney of @whitneyknits
“I found Closet Case’s response (in particular) to be extremely condescending. Advanced patterns with several pieces? That could describe Cashmerette as well. Jenny is clearly willing to share resources (she shared several that were already in the public domain in the comments of the original instagram post). I don’t think anybody expects Closet Case to expand their size range of their entire back catalogue overnight. I think Megan Nielsen is handling this issue brilliantly: all new releases cover her new size range, and piece by piece she is slowly re releasing her back catalogue in the Curve size range. Colette is also re-releasing some of their older patterns in full size ranges. Helen’s Closet crowdsourced measurements from potential plus size customers help build her new block. Sorry Heather, it’s not about resources. It’s about whether or not you value the plus-size market. I’m never going to pay $20 for a pattern I have to grade up myself.”
Shannon of @rare.device
“If your discussion of plus size pattern drafting doesn’t include attention to the way real structural discrimination shapes the education and resources available to pattern drafters and designers, you’re missing a huge part of the picture. If your discussion of plus size pattern drafting starts from the assumption that all pattern companies must start at a size 0/2, you’re beginning from a place of internalized fat phobia that doesn’t recognize the reality of the body size distribution in our current world. If your discussion of plus size pattern drafting treats fat people as a difficult niche market without acknowledging that ‘straight’ sizes are actually a smaller niche and that to design for them one still must make decisions about ‘average’ fit that will exclude plenty of thin people with different morphologirs, you’re being willfully ignorant. If your discussion of plus size pattern drafting states that the exclusion is not purposefully chosen, intended, or malicious, you’re ignoring the way fat phobic discrimination works through systematic repetition and you’re gaslighting the experiences of those of us who know some designers don’t want their patterns/rtw made for fat bodies because they value the cultural cache of thinness.”
These ladies said it better than I could, but if I had to settle on a thesis statement to this post, it would be: our bodies are only as difficult as we make them be. Plus size bodies are only “other” or an addition to straight sizes if you siphon off your clientele into groups and only dedicate your time to the one that is most traditionally already catered to. If you have the time and effort to make straight sizes, you have the resources to build a sloper for plus sizes. You can test it amongst the community and learn from us. Heck, even hire someone specializing in plus pattern drafting while you're at it. I do not want to hear that my body is a burden to you, to your industry, and to your company.
I want to see us do better in 2019, and I’m absolutely happy to hear what everyone has to say on the topic in the comments below or in private messages on instagram.