I Sew Because I Am an Artist (Not Because I Am a Woman)

Sometimes, I get a squirmy feeling in my chest when I tell people that I sew. It has less to do with me and more do with their reaction, which can go one of two ways: a very enthusiastic response about what a “classic” and “rare” woman I am, or a sort of sneer of confusion as to why I would want to partake of something considered part of women’s domestic past. These two responses land at opposite ends of the spectrum but are both rooted in the same misconception about what it means to be a sewist. Both see sewing as a submission to a woman’s traditional role in society, and both are wrong.

Assuming that I sew because I am trying to fulfill my role as “good woman” is not only insulting to women, but it is insulting to the craft. Often, popular understanding of what constitutes art is far too narrow. For most of my life when people asked me if I was “artsy” I felt compelled to tell them no, because I am not some type of painter or illustrator as people usually assume is attached to the title of artist.

Our culture leads us to believe creative activities historically associated with women, such as cooking and sewing, aren’t art. Yet, everything about them is artful. Art is not easily defined, and that is the way it should be. The only requirement I attach to the definition of art is creation. Sewing is creation. Looking at a rectangle of color and being able to envision it as something whole, to see exactly where I would place the darts and what accent colors would make it pop, to translate a piece of nothing into an expression of my being–I dare you to tell me it isn’t art.

Sometimes the people who reject sewing as art are well-meaning progressive women who just never want to be forced to squeeze into a traditional role. This fear of this forced assimilation is totally valid, but the way it is expressed is not helping anyone. It’s not feminist to reject and shame things that are traditionally feminine. Feminism is about the choice to express ourselves however we want. But it’s also about dissociating traditionally “feminine” things with negativity. That means supporting women and recognizing their artistic expression as valid, even if it is different from the way we choose to express ourselves. It’s an important act feminism to reclaim textile art as just that–art. Detach art from the gender binary. Give sewing the power and reverence it was neglected for far too long.

What other arts have we neglected because they are seen as feminine? Maybe we’ve never thought of our grandmas as artists but maybe they are the most artful members of our families.

I encourage you to give Faith Ringgold, Suzan Engler, and Toshiko MacAdam a search to see just how broad and innovative textile and fiber art can be.

Handmade and Recyled Holiday Gift Guide

For the good of humanity, I am exposing what I plan to give all of my friends for Christmas. I don’t want you to give your friends another round of body sprays you got on sale at Bath and Body Works this year. You’re better than that. Instead, take a look at how I plan to up-cycle most of the gifts I am giving this holiday season. I hope you’ll see that recycling or hand-making gifts does not have to look cheap and obvious.

Wax Food Wraps from Recycled Fabric


This is the perfect gift to passive aggressively prompt your friends and family to be more environmentally conscious! Wax food wraps have been all over the internet this year and it turns out they can be made fairly easily and almost entirely out of recycled materials. You’ll need fabric (cotton, or anything thick with no stretch), beeswax, and parchment paper. Separate them into gift sets of three or four different sizes, and add a label that explains to wash them in cold water and use around 150 times.

Do not buy new fabric to make these. Instead, turn first to what you have laying around. That bag of clothes you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill? Search it for pieces you can cut up into squares. If you can’t find anything, thrift. Thrift store usually have tons of fabric in bags on the back shelves but you could also buy clothing pieces to cut up for this too. Just throw them all in the wash before using. I actually already own tons of fabric scraps from past projects, so this is a great way to use up fabric that might otherwise go to waste. There is a way to make these in the oven and with a clothing iron. I’m linking tutorials to both because I definitely didn’t come up with either of these methods. I’m planning on experimenting with some other kinds of waxes for my vegan pals.

Treats to Go With

If you want to try making wax wraps, some kind of baked good would pair marvelously as a gift. Even if you are not much of a baker, there are tons of classic Christmas favorites like chocolate dipped pretzels, which are impossible to mess up. However, I feel like most people have at least one recipe that they really enjoy making, so I say go with what you’re best at doing. This adds a little more depth to the gift and gives you an opportunity to show the recipient how to use the wax wraps.

Books

Books are one of the greatest gifts of all time. From an objective perspective, of course. You can buy them second hand form your local book store, and will probably be able to find almost any book you looking for, or you can take time and dig through thrift store stacks. I think a book that was picked out with the recipient in mind is such a thoughtful gift. Add a note to the book about why you liked it or why you picked it out for your specific friend. Small personal touches make all of the difference when gifting.

Mugs

I am guilty of giving mugs as gift way, way, way too often. But who can’t use another quirky mug? I love finding super weird vintage mugs at second hand stores and antique stores. They are never too expensive and are always unique. I bought my sister one that said “sisters are forever” on it, which is wonderfully ominous. These can be filled with cookies and treats, or paired with some nice tea. If you are feeling more crafty, search Goodwill for some blank mugs and design a personalized mug. Using a sharpie, draw flowers, quotes, inside jokes, or obscure tv references only your friend would understand. They Sky is the limit. Then, put them in the oven for 20 minutes at around 350 degree, and then let them cool inside.

Gift Wrapping

I may be giving you the same advice over and over again, but a lot of people do not realize the variety of things you can thrift. On the back shelves in thrift stores there are giant bags full of ribbons and lace for just a couple of dollars. All of the notions pictured above were from thrift store grab bags. (And for you nitpicky readers, I know two of those are bias tape, but they work just as well as ribbon, promise.) I think tying up a gift in a bow, with no wrapping paper, is a super simple way to make your gift pretty with out a bunch of excess. Try using book pages to make gift labels or wrap small gifts. I also grabbed some pretty colored paint chips from the hardware store to make gift labels. I don’t think this counts as recycling but it is cute and free, which is also nice.

Bonus (for the brave):

Embroidery! It is not as hard as many people assume that it is. Shirts with little embroidered phrases or symbols are all the rage. There are tones of blank t-shirts in all colors and sizes at thrifts stores. Pick one up at Goodwill, a 50 cent package of embroidery thread (that stuff you used to make friendship bracelets in sixth grade) and needles, and just spend a little time trial-and-erroring and youtubing. This is another way to make a super personal, inexpensive, and recycled gift. This video is a super simple guide to a few different stitches.

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I suppose I should end this post with an apology to my friends and family for telling them (and all of the internet) what they are getting for Christmas. I’m not going to do that, though.