Women’s World

sewing - 1 (1)

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.

sewing - 1

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!


  1. So true! Those who don’t sew are indeed missing out. I’m trying to get my son to see the light, he’s 15, 195 cm and not yet fully grown, a skinny thing, and is developing a sartorial attitude. Sewing is the way to go to get snazzy, well fitted stylish clothes without spending huge amounts of money. He’ll even get to use my machine (a bernina which I believe can handle what he throws at it), so no such investment needed. Hopefully he’ll see the point, but it’s too easy in this world to just buy whatever. Except clothing for tall, skinny men. Hoping that will shift his attitude.

  2. I’ve mostly hand-sewn things, aside from one tote bag I made a few years ago. It still had some hand-sewn work done on the details, though. My projects have all been relatively small – a waxed canvas pipe roll, a sailor’s ditty bag, a pirate flag, a wallet and various other things that border more on leather working. I think more men used to sew (sailors, frontiersmen, tailors, cobblers, etc.) but we moved away from it as more items could be bought readymade. I’m guessing, women, bound more to the home culturally for a longer period of time, kept to more traditional practices as a hobby.

    1. Interesting point about ready made. It’s hard to beat the price or the level of technical detail for the money on a lot of outdoor gear and even regular clothing. I’m guessing there are a lot of hidden costs environmentally and socially there…

  3. My beef about “sewing centers” is that the mostly stock lightweight materials. Try finding a 10 or 12 oz denim to make a pair of pants.
    Another beef is the wimpy sewing machines made today – they can make more stitches than you will ever need, but loose tension on heavier fabrics. You need a computerized diagnostic to reset the darn things.
    My mom (and my dad- he was good at repairing or altering) taught me how to sew and my favorite machine was a small portable Singer Featherweight. It was a very basic machine, but could sew through anything.
    I think the key to learning to sew and enjoy it is to learn when you’re young. There is no good reason to leave boys out of the loop, no more than a girl should be denied mentoring with power tools.

    1. Agree on many fabric stores. Even here in Portland where we have a few big ones, the materials aren’t always practical for “tough” or outdoor applications. Rose City Textiles does have an impressive array of hi-tech athletic/tent type fabrics though. The website isn’t so great, but the people there are. Check it out if you’re in town.

  4. My mother tried to teach me to sew, but I found it unseamly. I have a bit of a problem following a straight path, although I do enjoy hand sewing small things. My father uses his sewing machine to make useful things that he can’t buy or feels he can improve on (and usually for one of the boats he has owned). Whether sewing is a creative outlet or useful tool it seems you have stitched together quite a yarn.

  5. I took “home ech” in middle school long ago and learned a few basics of sewing, but I’m still intimidated in trying to make something with any complexity. Any advice on books or other ways to learn more sewing skills?
    Thanks for your great blog!

    1. I’ve read a few books and they all have something, but none of them really spoke to me. I find the best thing to do is work on something until you get stuck, then find someone who actually knows how to sew. Seek advice, ignore half of it, then go for it!

      I actually find it like woodworking. You get big pieces of wood (fabric), cut them up, then piece them back together into something else…

      1. Thank you!
        Although even with woodworking, which I have more confidence in, I often feel nervous planning on cutting that gorgeous piece of wood up, as it seems to lose potential with every decision I make. Then, sometimes, it gains some potential back, if I’m skilled enough in how I work with it. Sewing, for me, is not something I feel at all skilled at. I don’t even know what a French seam is. For me, it helps if I even have a place I think I can look up something like that. You’ve sparked the interest though, so maybe I’ll see what I can find at the library and dig out my copy of “The Sailmaker’s Apprentice” again.
        All the best,

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