feminism, sewing, and pigeonholes

Yesterday, I was finishing a baby blanket for my brother’s first baby-to-be, and I recalled an anecdote from a few years ago.

My mother-in-law, with whom I get along really well, has been teaching me how to sew off and on for about five years. I am excited to be able to make things.  They do get done, they just take a long time as a result of me working very slowly and having a short attention span for sewing.

Anyway, after I’d made a few things — pillows, curtains, a jacket, a dress — I mentioned in passing to a friend that I was going to be working on something else.

“That’s one of the things I admire about you. You are feminist, and yet you sew.”

While I understood what I think she meant — your stereotypical feminist doesn’t do the traditional female activities — to me, the point of feminism is that women can choose to do what they want, whether that’s become an imitation Donna Reed, the complete opposite, or any mix-n-match combination in between.

But thinking about it in broader terms (as I’m not really intending to start a debate about feminism here), how much richness my life would have lost if I had chosen not to sew simply because I felt that the box I fit in didn’t allow sewing. It’s a label. There is no one label that completely encompasses who I am. (I had considered my name, but to some, I am Heather, to some, I am Heat, to one, I am a sweet Babe-A-Roo, to my students and colleagues, I have only a last name, and to the dog, I’m just the one with the food.)

Through sewing, I have:

  • learned a new skill
  • renewed empathy for the plight of my students, who are learning a new skill (sometimes we forget how hard a completely unfamiliar thing can be)
  • a deeper relationship with my mother-in-law, as we’ve spent much time together sewing and talking
  • homemade, perfectly-fitting dresses (for cheap!) for all four family weddings in the last three years
  • perfect curtains in the living room
  • skills to make attractive, useful, homemade gifts when appropriate
  • a bit more ability to critique store-bought clothing

I would have none of that if I lived by labels, or, in other words, if I lived by other people’s expectations.

Is there anything in your life that has the possibility to bring richness and joy to your life if you simply let go of labeling and followed your heart?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Betty on 16 December 2010 at 22:34

    I just recently ran into your blog after googling sewing and feminism. I am currently in college and will graduate with a degree in women’s studies. I also sew, quilt and craft. For some reason this seems to be at odds with many of my feminist friends who see sewing as oppressive and something that relegated women to the home. I just recently tried to debunk that myth by writing a paper about how home sewing moved women from the home to the public sphere during the early 20th century. While most women needed to sew for necessity, they also sewed for many of the reasons that you personally stated. Thanks for being another ace in the hole when it comes to validating why I sew! Thank you for a wonderful post.

    • Thanks for your comment! There seems to be the mindset that in order to be a feminist, you have to eschew all things that have ever been associated with “female.” The expectation that women will sew their family’s clothes is SO far gone … I don’t know anyone — stay-at-home or not — who is bound to the house due to the chore of tailoring clothes.

      I could go on, but I won’t 😉 I’m glad I could give you some validation! Enjoy your sewing!

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