Walking into a fabric store is walking into a woman’s world, often a middle-age women’s world; and I like it. I like the variety of colors and textures, I like the array of notions (zippers, buttons, threads, etc.), and I like the possibility; the idea that with all these raw materials I can make anything I can imagine.
In a male dominated world, what I like best of all at the fabric store is literally being the odd man out. Aside from the dutiful husband who has come purely for moral support, I’m usually the sole man. I proceed joyfully through the store toting my notebook of sketches and materials needs. When I’m unaccompanied by my own wife, I usually get a wary look from the workers until I start talking shop. I love the look on their faces when they see that I know something about sewing and didn’t just wander in off the street. At that moment, I start to feel welcome.
When I went to buy fabric for my new cockpit tent, I explained to the saleswoman what I was making.
“This will be a Conestoga wagon-like design with battens in pockets made with a modified French seam,” I explained.
“Oh, it’s so sexy when a man talks French seams,” she teased.
Ultimately I found a fabric that I was excited about, but I left the store wondering where were all the men? The number of guys I know who can run a sewing machine is about as large as the number of women I know who can operate a table saw.
Andy Bike is my sewing mentor and the first man I knew who could sew, so I rounded him up for a drink to see if he might be able to shed some insight.
“Hey Andy,” I queried, “how’d you learn to sew?”
“I read Ray Jardine’s book about ultra light backpacking gear and got myself a thrift store sewing machine, so I could make my own stuff.”
From there he got interested in boats and found that it was fun and inexpensive to do his own sewing on his boat, and eventually got into the business of sail making.
“Sewing is so cool, there are so many things you can make. Why do you suppose more guys don’t sew?” I inquired.
“Well, there’s a stigma. It’s not a masculine thing,” he guessed. “An industrial sewing machine is a legitimate tool,” he continued, “but many sewing machines sitting around the house, unless they’re really nice, are just toys.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “think about how many people would have grown up to bake at home, if they only had one of those light-bulb powered Easy-Bake ovens many girls had as kids.”
We both stared at our glasses, considering all that men and non-sewing women were missing by not sewing. Andy summed it up well, “it’s an opportunity for your imagination.”
On my way home from our meeting, I wondered if men were just less imaginative and therefore uninterested, or if the long tradition of women sewing was just one that was hard to change. In either case, I’m happy to spend my spare time visiting the women’s world, creating my own imaginative projects.
And as for you men- you’re missing out!