Sew,Papa,Sew!: Thoughts on Fatherhood, Sewing + Gender Expectations
From Kristin: When Sew,Mama,Sew! was born, I was the owner of a small line of children’s clothes called Go,Goose,Go! My daughter (Goose) was just a toddler then and would sit beside me while I sewed dozens of pairs of pants at a time. She would chant something along the lines of “go, sew, mama, goose, go, mama, sew!” while my sewing machine purred. When it came time to open the spin-off fabric store, the name came quickly.
Part of me loves the name and I’m proud of the implication– “I’m a mother and I sew for my family.” I also love the connection to our female ancestors through this craft that was, for centuries, the work of women.
Still, there have been times when I’ve had regrets about the exclusionary nature of the “mama” in the name. I’ve always been an advocate and activist for fair and equal rights of all people in all areas of life. I think boys have as much a place at the sewing machine as girls do and have tried to encourage our readers to teach all their children to sew. Yet the reality is that a very, very small fraction of our customers and readers are male. In the past few years we’ve welcomed a handful of wonderfully talented sewing and quilting men to our blog, but still, they are few and far between.
Today we’re very happy to bring to you a new series called, Sew,Papa,Sew! At Quilt Market last month, Thomas Knauer approached me about his ideas for the series, which I loved. By speaking honestly and openly, we hope to invite discussion about gender and sewing and what our expectations and perceptions are in the sewing community as well as in our homes.
Find more from Thomas at Thomas Knauer Sews. Thomas recently launched his second and third fabric collections with Andover Fabrics, Flock and Savanna Bop. (Find Savanna Bop in the shop!) Savanna Bop Flannels arrive later this summer, along with a fourth collection: Frippery! Thomas just had his first quilt published in a magazine (Cover of June 2012 APQ), with several more scheduled for publication later this year.
“Is it for me?”
Every time I finish another project, Bee (my three-year-old daughter) excitedly asks that same question. And the answer is always the same, “Of course it is.”
You see, I make things for my daughter; it’s what I do. I may sew as part of my career, but what I make is for her. The very first time I sat down to a sewing machine, almost two years ago now, it was to make her a dress. She was nearly two and I was feeling inundated with Disney princesses and Future Mrs. Biebers. The fabric is thin, the stitches are wobbly, but I love that dress. It was quite definitely for her.
The First Dress
When I say I make things for her it’s about far more than the actual objects that I make, whether they be quilts, dresses, stuffed animals, or what have you. And it is about more than Bee growing up with handmade things, objects with no commercial ties, objects that she sees comes together, things that are uniquely hers. What has become enormously important to me is that Bee sees me sewing– making her those quilts, dresses, and animals. It matters to me that she knows her Papa sews.
For Bee this all is perfectly ordinary, and that is how I want it to stay. Far too often when people learn that I made this dress or that quilt for Bee they remark on how cool or remarkable it is that I sew at all, utterly surprised by the idea of a father sewing. While I know that we sewing fathers are a small minority at the moment, both in the sewing community and the world at large, I don’t want gender norms to ever intrude upon Bee’s expectations. Some Mamas and Papas sew, others don’t; it’s that simple, at least for her at the moment. What people do and what they are supposed to do have not yet clashed for her, though she is already picking up on standard gender roles; it always starts far too early.
You see, she has inevitably hit that princess stage, even though she doesn’t really have a clue as to what a princess is. Until recently I could be a princess too, but not any more. At least she still wants to be a princess with a sword, a princess-knight. It makes me sad that I am now resolutely a king; her remarkable imagination is becoming constrained as she begins to follow traditional gender roles, and that makes the sewing Papa thing matter all the more. It matters right now, but also for the conversations to come.
A Princess + Her Sword
My wife and I keep kicking around the idea of renting a studio space for my ever-increasing quantities of fabric, computers, and sewing machines, and everything else that comes with a career in this industry, but I’m resistant to that idea. I want to keep my practice in the house as long as I humanly can. I fear that in professionalizing my practice and taking it out of the home it will become simply “Papa’s job,” and I’ll be taking something away from Bee’s experience of my sewing. I want what I do to be part of our home, and of her life; it may be my career, but it is also just what I do. I want her to come into the studio and play with me, to pick out fabric and make things with me, to watch and learn, eventually to have a space in there that is hers with her very own sewing machine. I want this all to forever be perfectly normal.
And that is really the point to me. I never want to point out to her that it is unusual to have a Papa who sews, though I do know she will eventually figure that out. I don’t want her to regard this as transgressive, just as I never want her to regard her own choices in life that way. I know she will see the norm, but I never want her to feel beholden to it.
Animal Parade Dress
I don’t see sewing as a statement; I don’t do it as a commentary. I sew because I fell in love with making things for Bee. It is that simple, and it is precisely this that I want Bee to see and understand. I want her to live her life, not one she feels she ought to live. While I want my sewing to be perfectly ordinary for her, I know there will be questions over time: “Why are you the only Papa here?” and the like, and when they come I’ll be ready for them.
Savanna Bop Quilt Detail
Hopefully those questions will never really matter much. Hopefully the burdens of gender expectations will always be light for her. Hopefully Bee will always ask, “Is it for me?” and over time she will learn that the answer is always yes, even as the question starts to mean different things.
We hope this starts a conversation… Tell us: If you have kids, what do you hope they will learn from your sewing? How do you hope to pass your practice down to them? Are there traditions that have developed with your sewing over time?
Comment on any post this week to win a copy of Sew What You Love: The Easiest, Prettiest Projects Ever or Improv Sewing: A Freeform Approach to Creative Techniques! For more information on these books take a look at our June Book Giveaways post.
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