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Sizeism in the Sewing Community

This is a topic that is near and dear to my fat self – and I am delighted to have a chance to share it in a longer form than my usual Instagram posts about the same.  I’ve shared a little about this in the past on my own blog here: https://thatssewjenny.com/episodes/being-part-of-the-solution.

And I accidentally shared a bit about how sizeism makes me feel in a YouTube pattern haul video here.  The video started as a celebration of the patterns I’d bought on sale, but by the end was really a commentary on how the “big four” pattern companies don’t really see my body at all.

Let’s dive in:  what do I mean when I say “sizeism”?  Well, there’s a default setting in sewing communities for a smaller body size – so when things are drafted, they’re generally drafted for that smaller body.  Bigger bodies end up as an afterthought (leaving the design challenges to the sewist instead of the designer) regularly.  This leaves bigger bodies in a marginalized space within the sewing community.  

Why do I talk about size extension instead of size inclusion?  Because it is impossible to include everyone in any sizing chart – so what I’m asking for is that pattern companies extend their sizing charts to include a more significant number of sewists.  I also recognize that it is unlikely that sizing charts will include all sewists (true inclusivity).  There are several designers who will draft their patterns to include your measurements (Muna & Broad, SizeMe, RubyNZ) which can make their designs very inclusive – but even then there can be a barrier to getting this done as the measurements required may be intimidating or hard to come by if you’re a sewist without someone to assist you in taking those measurements.

You’ve likely seen this at one time or another when you check out a pattern and find you aren’t able to fit it due to some measurement or another.  For me, it’s almost always hip size, but sometimes it’s also my waist size.  If you fit easily in the standard size patterns, you may have become aware of this issue when you recommended a pattern to a larger friend … only to have them report back that it doesn’t come up to their size.  This was Beverly’s experience when she looked for a pattern for her daughter to sew.  

In addition, the topic comes up regularly on discussion forums & Instagram posts when a designer is called out for their lack of size extension, usually with bad results. 

Want some context? Check out these discussions that have occurred elsewhere:

  • A discussion on size extension, inclusivity, & Gertie’s Charm Patterns here.
  • Before Tilly & the Buttons announced they’d be extending their sizing, they first said they weren’t going to make it a focus. @threadyforit started a conversation on size extension on Instagram in December 2021.  That discussion also occurred on Reddit here.
  • Designer Tessuti Fabrics committed to extended sizing, but then released a very simple pleated skirt without including larger sizes.  The fallout can be seen here (Tessuti turned off the comments on the post launching the new pattern in Jan 2020, so you have to read between the lines a bit on this post from Leila Sews with a tutorial for self-drafting a similar style skirt).  I did a quick review of their current offerings, and it appears extending their size range never became a priority.

So what can designers do to make a difference?  

  • Starting today, plan to create patterns in sizes up to 70” hips minimum for all future patterns
  • Create a plan to extend previous designs
    • Make sure expansion prioritizes popular designs
    • Make sure expansion includes updating the images on the website
      • Your models should reflect your size range
      • Your Instagram feed should reflect your size range
      • Update images of size charts (if I have to dig around to see if something fits me, I get the message that you don’t care about me)
  • Talk about what’s needed to make extending the size range feasible
    • New pattern block
    • Pattern testers
      • Paid
      • Fabric provided
      • Paper printing reimbursed
    • Additional training on grading for larger figures
      • Apple-shaped
      • Pear-shaped
      • Gender-neutral styles
  • Commit to transparency regarding your plans, your barriers to extended sizing

The fat sewing community is a significant underserved community.  Designers who get it right have access to $ that other designers – those who can’t picture bigger bodies in their designs – are missing out on.

We should also recognize the damage done to fat sewists when patterns aren’t designed for our bodies.  We’re all a part of the community until the latest pattern that’s all the rage goes around … and it turns out your body isn’t one that can participate due to a lack of size range.  This happens to me all the time… I rarely get to go all-in on the latest pattern you see on every sewist’s “must make” list because it’s all too uncommon for these to come up to a 61” hip.  Recently a favorite sewist shared yet another one of her amazing Wiksten Shift dresses – and I finally decided that I’d buy the pattern and make it … but of course, it isn’t sized for me.  This hip stops 9” before my hips do. This is one of those blind spots I have.  I am so used to being excluded, that I hardly get disappointed about it when it happens now.

Linked here are three conversations I had with members of our community about this topic.  I hope you take the time to listen to each one.  Share with us your thoughts here and on Instagram by tagging us #pfSizeExtension

First up, my conversation with Marianne (Instagram: @therotund)

Next up, my conversation with Leila (Instagram: @leila_sews)

Finally, my conversation with Aaronica (Instagram: @theneedleandthebelle)

In addition to actions designers can take, here are some things especially straight-sized sewists can do to make a difference (big thanks for Beverly for the suggestions here for straight-sized sewists):

  1. Refuse to purchase patterns that don’t come in decent size ranges.  You can draw the line where you please, but a good recommendation might be to avoid pattern companies that don’t have a larger block for plus-sized sewists.  Typically, if a pattern company isn’t designing for a 60” hip, they’re not reaching a significant number of fat sewists.  
  2. If that’s too big an ask for you right now, you could choose not to advertise for those companies – either not posting those makes or not tagging the designer/pattern when you do make something from a non-extended pattern.
  3. And if that’s too big an ask, you could post the maximum size of patterns that you make.  This is especially important for patterns with limited size ranges.  It’s not nice for plus-sized sewists to get excited to make a pattern only to go try to get it and find the largest size is much too small for them. 

If you aren’t ready to try 1, 2, or 3 above, I understand.  It’s really hard to look at the world of possibility and realize you can’t participate because you decided to be an ally to fat sewists … that inability to participate is a fat sewists reality every day.  

What do you think should change?  Where do you see problems? How are you going to help?

4 replies on “Sizeism in the Sewing Community”

Recently I purchased a raincoat pattern from Iampatterns called the Jacques. I am 5’2”” tall , UB 37”, FB 43”,W 35” and H ~ 42”. I ended up cutting out the size 46 which is the biggest size they make after doing an FBA because I have to do that to everything. I was floored that the pattern range was as limited as it is felt like calling them out on it. I might not be a big fat person but identify as a fat person and am wanting to see normal bodies in the sewing community. One of the reasons I ended up with so many Colette patterns is because I like their inclusive representation. Cashmerette is also a company I love and caters to me. I am too small to fit into Muna and Broad except for the banksia bralette which I plan on making. Thanks for your suggestions on how to make the sewing community a better place as I want to help. I guess my next challenge is posting my old self on Instagram with all my imperfections.

Thanks so much for listening. I (Beverly) had a similar experience with I Am pattern company! I bought the Joy top without even checking the measurements because I’ve never had that problem but yep, I was outside their range. Lucky for me they were increasing and let me try the upgraded pattern. I thought it might be big enough to make for my daughter, but even the upsized version was just two sizes larger than me, so basically the same as other non inclusive companies. If we all keep working towards it I have hope they will eventually come around!

Hi there, I’ve started to ask pattern companies whether they plan to extend etc. I’m based in Germany and there seems to be a lot less awareness of it so I focused on German companies. When chatting to a pattern maker from one company, the response I got from them was that, in their view, there was a lot of shouting about the necessity of bigger sizes but in reality the market was small, and secondly, there wouldn’t be any people around for pattern testing. Oh and according to them, the shapes of fat bodies show much more variety within their range than thin bodies do, so fat people have to alter a lot of stuff anyway on the pattern and pattern testing would be very complicated… I thought this was a very creative response… Anyway, thought I share! I don’t think I will buy their patterns even though I’m just about inside their size range…

That’s so great that you are approaching companies about size inclusion! Sometimes they listen and sometimes they blow us off. Hopefully they’ll hear the message from enough folks to change their minds eventually and if not, good riddance!

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