Sewing and the Question of “Amateur”

For some time I’ve been troubled by the proliferation of sewing bloggers or other craftspeople selling their own books and publishing their own patterns. It’s not the Coletterie or Sewaholic books that have bothered me particularly. It’s all the others. And I have to confess, I think it comes from a suspicion that the sale of work by people who I assume are less qualified than others devalues the work of those who are qualified professionals in their craft.

Note, in the above sentence, the use of the words ‘suspicion’ and ‘assumption’. I am aware of my own bias!

Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to grapple with what it is exactly that troubles me. It seems to boil down to these general themes:

  1. I want the people who’ve dedicated their lives to perfecting their crafts or professions to make good money from it. Especially in a field dominated by women.
  2. Blogs provide a usually carefully curated window into reality. Making the craft about which you’re passionate your day job is not as easy as some websites might lead you to believe – and I resent what I perceive as that narrative, perpetuated by the existence of these books. (I say this despite reading the very genuine monthly “Behind the Scenes” posts on Sewaholic.com; or Tilly’s post on how she ‘got published’, for example.
  3. I’m bored of all the boiling-down-complicated-sewing-language-into-concepts-the-home-sewist-can-understand-and-oh-look-here’s-some-pretty-patterns literature.

Yet there’s an internal conflict going on as well:

  1. I like the idea of people creating something they love and sharing it with other people, without the constraints imposed by long-established and dominant institutions.
  2. I wouldn’t decide whether I liked a painting based on whether the artist had studied at the Paris School of Fine Arts or just practised drawing in their living room after work for a while. Nor would I decide whether I liked someone’s singing voice based on whether they’d first studied classical music at the Conservatory.
  3. I’m extremely envious of people who have the skills, perseverance and bravery to make a life out of their art.

 

Let’s have a look at number 1 above (in the first set of numbered bullets argh wordpress), because I think that’s at the heart of my internal dilemma.

 

I work in a profession that was historically dominated by men. I’m a lawyer. Women now make up more than 50% of law graduates in Australia. And yet report after report shows that women in the legal profession earn less money and don’t get promoted as quickly as their male colleagues. Women leave the legal profession in droves and for all the journal articles I read in the LIV journal, in my view it remains a profession which hasn’t really grappled with the idea of ‘family friendly’.

 

I’m tired of women earning less money than men in the legal profession, tired of hearing that women aren’t on company boards in anywhere near the proportion or men and while we’re at it – Sophia Vergara and the Emmys. What the actual fuck?

 

Anyway, I’ll get to the point. Sewing, my down-time fun and creative release. My legitimate excuse for daydreaming about clothes and fashion. Something tells me that dressmakers don’t make the same money as tailors (with the possible exception of haute couture designers). Maybe I’m wrong about that – please tell me if I am. The point is, pattern making and design is an industry that appears to be dominated by women, and I’m especially sensitive about the importance of valuing ‘women’s work’, be it child care, social work or dressmaking. It’s highly skilled work that I would like to see rewarded fairly. My concern is that if ‘amateur’ sewists produce patterns and sell them for profit, it devalues the skill of those who’ve trained at the same craft.

 

I suspect my antipathy grew exponentially upon receiving a Burdastyle weekly update email earlier this year with the subject line: “How to monetize your sewing”.

 

*Unsubscribe*

 

A brief article exploring similar ideas was published on the Design Trust (UK website) last year:

 

The idea is not unique to craft and sewing either. Take, for example, the apparent dichotomy between blogging and journalism. It’s a topic which is widely debated, but for now I’ll point you to a HuffPost article, to give you a sniff at the scope of the argument: Watching the Watchdog: Why Citizen Bloggers Aren’t Journalists.

 

Compare and contrast with this historical exposition published in Uppercase Magazine in 2012: As Carolyn Fraser so wonderfully describes in that article,

“the word amateur comes from the Latin – amator – lover. This is what lasts – that which we love. Our culture depends on it”.

 

Nor do I have a fixed idea of what ‘amateur’ means in this context. Does ‘professional’ include someone who’s done a TAFE or fashion school course in pattern making or fashion design? Do I bend the rules for those whose day job is in the fashion, fabric or design industry? Am I trying to impose the idea of professionalism upon this craft with an approach which is itself inherently patriarchal? Would I apply the same principals to amateur photography, independent record releases or baking?

 

So despite all my bleating, I still buy these items. I own Gerties’ New Book for Better Sewing and cannot wait for book 2 . I bought Jennifer Lauren’s beautiful Bronte pattern (finished object in a post to follow) and have barely taken it off since I snipped the last threads on the final seam.

 

I practically inhale sewing (and knitting) blogs on my feed reader – lying in bed, standing on the tram, lazing around on holidays. If a particular blogger’s writing voice annoys me or I just don’t find their style pleasing, I stop reading. Not that difficult. I probably won’t buy Lauren or Tilly’s books because they’re just not for me. But no doubt they have a place in someone else’s sewing library.

 

I hasten to point out that I don’t intend this as a personal criticism of any of the sewing creatives who are self-published pattern designers or authors. Particularly given I know so little about most of their respective backgrounds and qualifications.

 

Similar ideas fuel my response to Beth’s recent post about independent pattern designers. Why do I buy them? Well, principally because I’m a lefty sandal-wearing feminist hippy, obviously, and I’d rather die than buy from the Big 4.

 

OK that’s not entirely truthful, but there are similarities in my motivation to buy from Grainline or Closet Case Files – still haven’t bought the bombshell swimsuit pattern, must get onto that – or Papercut in preference to Vogue as in my preference for shopping for veggies at the market or greengrocer rather than Coles – the promotion and support of independent producers. (The ‘local’ aspect of my vegetable shopping habits is less readily transferable to sewing). But the other dominant reason is that I am continually inspired and empassioned by these independent designers and other creatives. I am inspired by their designs, writing, photos and sew-a-longs. I more often find patterns among the independent designers that match my personal taste and aesthetic. And frankly, the pattern envelopes on the Big 4 patterns mostly make me want to chunder.

 

At the end of the day, I have limited skills of my own with which to judge the quality of what I purchase. But I’m not alone. The online sewing community is a broad church and people are generally unafraid to provide their opinions and moreover, to constructively explore areas of difference between each other. There is little danger of going along uninformed! And if something I’ve bought has provided me with a good experience and helped me create something I love, I’ll tell everyone I know.

 

Thoughts and ideas welcome.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Sewing and the Question of “Amateur”

  1. Jenny says:

    I’ve been thinking about your post for a few days. I definitely share the same conflicting thoughts on bloggers who have gone on to release patterns & the like. To be honest, my main gripe with these patterns is that I kind of feel like we’re being targeted/ taken advantage of because we’re such a captive audience. Despite this, I will still occasionally buy these patterns.

    Your thoughts about wanting to support people who have invested a lot of time, training etc into their profession got me thinking as well. I can draw the same parallels between food bloggers and chefs (i.e. me!). Food/ cooking blogs & books spawned from them used to really bug me. I thought ‘what would you know?! You have no training, you don’t know what you’re talking about!!’ It’s such a stupid attitude; I always tell myself that we can learn from anyone. I can learn from an apprentice- maybe not about cooking skills, but definitely about myself and how I interact with people. The same thing goes for food blog cookbooks- there may be no groundbreaking recipes or anything particularly inventive, but often they are designed really well & have a beautiful aesthetic which is also something I’m interested in. On top of that, creative pursuits such as sewing & cooking are very intuitive & therefore open to interpretation and experimentation- anything goes! I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, but my point is that everyone’s contributions & creations are valid. I think the most important thing is to put aside the fact that one thing was designed by a trained professional & the other by a blogger and just appreciate the thing for what it is, not what it is not. (Kind of good rule to apply to life in general, come to think of it :p )

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi! New reader! Love this blog post. I have been conflicted about the whole Big 4 vs indie pattern designers. I personally would love to support the indies, and not just because that would make me seem cooler than I actually am (oh don’t get me started on the whole mob mentality with social media!!)

    No – I buy Big 4 patterns because, well, they tend to fit me. I’m a plus sized sewer and there are very few patterns out there that will fit my Hips of Awesome. But the moment a pattern does, I am SO THERE.

    Thank you for writing this. There is so much good stuff to absorb and reflect upon.

  3. tinygoldenpins says:

    I love this. I feel the same way sometimes. I came to this sewing phase of my life through buying a pattern at Colette and I will always love Colette patterns. But, sometimes I’ll fall in love with a blog only to find that in the space of a year or two: it’s a book. Publishing and being worthy are two issues, separate from each other, but for me they belong together, they speak to me of women finding their worth through creating, but I’m still feeling my way through these issues. This helps.

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