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Feb 2, 2010

Why Johnny Can't Sew


I've read a few articles lately about guys who sew.  Or rather, guys who DON'T sew.  Gertie explored this topic on her blog last October, and it generated a huge number of comments.  Someone even mentioned me by name, as an example of a guy who sews and sews well.

Why don't more guys sew?

Having grown up -- and still being -- male in the United States, it doesn't surprise me in the least that most men would never even consider sewing.

Here are some of the reasons, in no particular order.

First, let's define terms.  When I refer to sewing here, I'm talking about home sewing.  It's obvious to anyone who follows fashion that the majority of big-name designers are men.  This has been true for a long time and probably comes out of the men's tailoring tradition.  Of COURSE there are exceptions, perhaps more and more with each passing generation.  But currently, at least, women's (and men's) fashion is still dominated by men.

So let's get back to home sewing.  Why are there so few men who sew, or at least admit to it?

1.  Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, sewing was taught in high school home economics classes.  It was part of a standardized curriculum for girls.  Boys took shop.  Sewing was not considered to be part of the masculine realm.  Remember this instructional film from 1948?  Johnny aspires to be an architect. Betty aspires to make pretty dresses so she can have the "know how" look.

2. Nearly every book, old or new, about sewing, is written for a female audience, including the ones written by men.  I have never seen a sewing book exclusively, or even inclusively, written for men who sew.  (Perhaps this could be an untapped niche product!)  Illustrations are of women's bodies and discussion of garments focuses on a woman's wardrobe with a few exceptions (there's sometimes a chapter tucked in the back about sewing for men and children).

3. The marketing of the home sewing industry targeted women.  This includes everything from sewing machines ads, sewing pattern ads, promotional ads for new fabrics, etc. 

 

Sewing machine companies understood who their market was.  They didn't advertise in "Field & Stream," "Sports Illustrated," or -- God forbid -- "Boy's Life!"

4.  The big pattern companies created few commercial patterns for men and hence there was little for a man to sew if he were interested in making clothes for himself.  This problem has only gotten worse.  The majority of patterns for men continue to be pajamas, boxer shorts, and bathrobes.  These are items that women can sew for men (i.e., their husbands, sons, and boyfriends) relatively easily.  It isn't clothing men are going to be sewing for themselves.  Many men don't even wear those things.

5. Due to many of the reasons listed above, there is a stigma attached to sewing for men.  It's the same stigma that exists for any activity generally associated with girls/women.  These include ballet, knitting, figure skating, playing with dolls...you get the idea.  We still live in a society where gender roles are clearly defined and the person who tries to experiment with them becomes an easy target of others' ridicule.  

Of course things have changed somewhat, due in part to the success of TV shows like "Project Runway" and with an incremental relaxing of gender roles. Still, the stigma persists, perhaps more covertly than overtly.  

6. Finally, when we wonder why men don't sew, aren't we really talking about why straight men don't sew?  Most of the men I know who sew are gay, and my hunch is that most straight men sense this as well (just turn on "Project Runway").  Homophobia in our culture makes it even less likely that a man is going to venture into Mood Fabrics and rifle through the cotton shirting.

The sad truth is that few people sew for themselves, period.  The home sewing machine industry has contracted dramatically and no longer advertises in mainstream publications.  Home sewing is a niche hobby, arguably growing more popular among young women, but much, much smaller than it was only a generation ago.

I attended the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan last September.  My friend Brian and I were two of only a handful of men in attendance.  Most of the other men looked like husbands who'd been dragged along for the ride.  There was nothing offered at the Expo in the way of workshops or booths catering to the male sewer.  What might those even be?



On Pattern Review, other than Brian and me, there are only a handful of men who are active and a few of them primarily review and/or discuss vintage sewing machines.  The mechanics of sewing does seem to interest a fair number of men -- anything that involves oiling and adjusting motors (ha ha).  I know there some younger men active on Threadbanger which, I sense, tries to appeal to a (hip) male audience.

The last thing I'll say, and it won't be news to any of you, is that sewing takes time: time to learn and time to practice.  How many men are willing to commit the time it takes to learn to sew when the payoff is a pair of pajamas or a slightly passe pair of cargo pants?

Let's face it, it will always be easier, if not cheaper, to get your wardrobe needs met at Banana Republic than by your own hand.

Sewing is a labor of love, and it's a love not many men share.  Could we cultivate that love today? Do we even want to?

I'm interested to hear what people have to say about this topic. I cede the floor.

79 comments:

  1. When I decided to learn to sew, it was my fiance who took me to the store and paid for the first machine (a cheap Brother plasticy model from Sprawlmart, I have since upraded to a vintage 1970s Kenmore at the suggestion of Briansews, who prefers the older machines. He's right, they are better). My fiance was the one who sat down and fiddled with the machine and then proceeded to make a pair of flannel pajama pants as a means of instructing me how to sew. He even added button holes to the waistband to run a drawstring through (not part of the pattern) and altered the fit of his pants pattern to make them more low rise (using a non scientific process that makes these pants a little too low rise for decency if company comes over, but I like them). He even zigzagged the seams as a finish to make them more like RTW. For the first month that I had the machine it went like this:
    Me, sitting starting at the empty bobbin case: "HONEY! I can't get the bobbin loaded properly."
    Enter Andy who would patiently take care of it for me. He also was the fix it man whenever I would jam the machine. Now, to be honest he has not sewn another garment since that first pair of pants, but that is mainly because I am always sewing. He isn't that familiar with my vintage Kenmore and is thus afraid to use it, although he did figure out a basic straight stitch in order to let out the hem on his boring black princess seam dress when he needed it altered (he didn't want me to see it, it was a surprise). Ever since that first machine purchase last January he has said on numerous occasions "I want to sew a pair of jeans." When I asked him how he even learned to sew he said that when he was a kid he taught himself to use his mother's machine when he was home alone one day.

    So although he does not actively sew, I think he would if he had more time and access to a machine of his own. But then, he's not a typical guy.

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  2. Good post. My brother sews, but no one outside the family knows that he does. It does not jibe with his Master of the Universe image.

    As for this comment, "I have never seen a sewing book exclusively, or even inclusively, written for men who sew. " There actually are a few, including David Page Coffin's books and Roberto Cabrera's books, that are just as useful for menswear as womenswear. Some Japanese sewing books that you can get at Kinokanoya (sp) are full of mens patterns.

    But yes, I agree with you. Men who want to make things are generally more drawn to woodworking.

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  3. If this isn't obvious to you by now, it should be; you need to write a book. I'm completely serious. The timing would be perfect since you can still ride the Project Runway sewing wave that's generated much more interest in sewing and there really isn't much out there in the way of books geared towards men. Clearly, you have both the writing skills and the sewing skills. It doesn't have to be an in-depth how-to-craft-a-David-Coffinesque-shirt type of book, but a beginner's book for men, by a man. You could tell your sewing story as the inspiration and since you're so good at ferreting out inexpensive fabric and coming up with practical and completely wearable projects, you are in an excellent position to pen a book.
    You and Brian are the only two males I know that sew. I have quite a few gay male friends who wouldn't be caught dead sewing and, unfortunately, even they have succumbed to "sewing is a girl thing". In Ireland it was the men who traditionally knitted Aran sweaters.

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  4. I have one other possible reason: while women can make themselves cute dresses and any number of style of pants, unless a man is very adventurous with his style, there's just not a lot of variation in men's wear. It might get dull. I think my husband could make 90% of his clothes (if he were to sew) with two shirt patterns and two pants patterns.

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  5. I was going to mention Coffin's excellent work. And, there are a plethora of male quilters out there. John Flynn, et. al. Mike Connors (star of "Mannix" in the mid-1970's) was a tailor. Rosie Greer needlepointed. Of course, that was big news during the birth of women's lib. :) My Dad could make the sewing machine work, and hemmed and repaired his stuff when Mom couldn't/wouldn't. My son is fascinated with both my modern Viking, and my treadle. He started some pot holders as a start, but has yet to finish them. LOL.

    By the late 70's, kids of both genders got a semester of shop and a semester of Home Ec. Can't remember if the curriculum differed, tho. Again, women's lib in action.

    I taught hand sewing to my kids' Boy Scout troop, just to get us mothers off the hook for patch sewing! There should be a badge for that! The closest they currently come is Textiles, and it is about creating textiles, not using them. And, I don't even see one for anything close in the discontinued list!

    Good post.

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  6. I'll ditto David Page Coffin's work. His shirtmaking book is fantastic and definitely not written for a female audience, though it helped me tremendously when I was making a shirt for my Mom.

    My husband doesn't sew, but I would totally be at a loss without him. He has helped me puzzle through a lot of fit issues and bad directions and is always my pinning assistant. Though he knows not much about fabric and less about sewing, he sees things I don't see and thinks so differently than me, which is just what I need when things aren't going well. I wish more men would sew so that they would bring this freshness of perspective.

    I just started reading this blog. You're fantastically talented, and thank you for being one of the brave few men who sew. The world is better off for your talent.

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  7. I have two comments: 1) The ASG sponsors a sewing contest every year. They select 5 Simplicity patters which you can make "unique." They have NEVER included a men's pattern (and not usually childrens). Seems like this would be a natural forum.
    2)You should really write a book, start teaching classes, etc. Look up Ricky Tims in quilting. Standard classes at Quilt Festival have 12-24 participants. Ricky teaches in an auditorium for up to 500 at a time. Us "Little Old Ladies," (new meaning for LOL) love men. Doesn't really matter whether they have talent, as long as they are charming. You certainly qualify -- San Antonio Sue

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  8. Another reason I can think of -- men's bodies are so much easier to fit, most men can dress well right off the rack. Plus, men's clothes usually cost less, are better made (again, usually) and last longer stylewise. So there's a lot less motivation to start making your own clothes (or even having them made for you).

    I am excited to see that there are books out there addressing sewing for men, the McCunn book was the first I'd ever seen! I will be looking those up in about 2 minutes!

    There is definitely a need for a good beginner's book that's at least gender-neutral though, that's for sure.

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  9. Can I just ditto the others and say that you should write a book? I'm willing to bet it wouldn't just be men that purchase it, either. :)

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  10. My husband sewed when he was a kid, until peer pressure cut him off in his prime. He's still a better draper than I am; I wish I could keep him in the studio with me when I'm fitting, instead of letting him be off making pottery we'll get paid for! LOL

    It sounds like a lot of men who do sew, do so clandestinely, and that's a shame.

    I'd like to see a series of books about draping and fitting the male body; their shape is obviously different from the average woman's, and they have their own "trouble spots" to work on. When I sew shirts for my hubby, who has a humungous chest and huge arms, I always have to alter the pattern. He can get into the shirts without busting them apart, but they don't look as good as I would like them to. He's just happy to have something he can fit into, at this point.

    I'd like to surprise him one day by giving him a shirt that is more tailored to his shape, and more flattering. I'm sure male sewers would love some resources too...c'mon Peter, write us a book!

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  11. I think part of the problem is that men aren't taught the utility of sewing. My exhusband sews a lot. He's a sound engineer and often sews things to help him with his job (cable wraps, small padded bags for holding microphones etc.). He has been known to sew clothes, but prefers to make his own customized, utilitarian items. He also did a lot of home decor sewing when we were married: curtains, duvet covers, sofa slip covers. Mostly because he could never find anything he liked, anything that was manly enough for his spaces, so he made it himself.

    Lots of men, I think, don't care that much about clothes, but if they could be taught to sew other things, I think the act/skill/accomplishment level of sewing would be very appealing to them.

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  12. Men don't sew because sewing turns men gay. Just kidding :) My (straight) partner Dan sews from time to time (and dabbles in crochet and knitting and has even taken a ballet class once because he wanted to know what my workout feels like) but on the whole he's not nearly as intense as I am about sewing. I think part of it is that he doesn't really have the same motivation to sew as I do. There aren't any clothes that he intensely wants or can't fit. So for him it would have to be a lot more about the process than the result. I would imagine that a man (straight or gay) would have much more motivation to sew if he were really into nice clothes and fashion. Much in the same way that I probably wouldn't be motivated to sew if it were only to make basic t-shirts, Dan doesn't really stand to get much out of it since he's not the type to flip through the NY Times Style section and drool over a really sharp shirt. That and I think he gets fidgety doing anything that requires him to be in one place for a couple of hours. He can spend a whole day on his feet cooking though- there's much more reward for him in that activity :D

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  13. Great post. My husband (who was the unofficial "photographer" at the Novi event) is much more open to sewing than he is to knitting. He will often help me figure things out that aren't making sense and he likes the construction/engineering/making stuff aspect of it. Knitting - he would never sign up for, though I've tried a number of times. I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to share my fabric/yarn stash or sewing machines with him anyway :)

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  14. I enjoyed this post. My sons did take a brief sewing course in middle school. One of my sons has experimented with sewing. I have known of another man who sewed, but he made his wife's clothes. I like the idea of you writing a book, even if it is self published at first. Isn't that how Patti Palmer got started?

    One big reason why women do domestic sewing is that they have been taught by their mothers. In general, mothers have not taught their sons to sew. The Home Ec courses would then simply enhance that knowledge. So this gender separation of crafts continued. But I think shows like Threadbanger and Project Runway might allow guys who never thought of themselves sewing to be interested. A book by you might be another catalyst.

    Wonder if you are surprised where this discussion is leading?

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  15. The reality is that modern sewing as a female trade was an invention of the industrial revolution. After the trade guilds were finally broken in 19th century, industrialists replaced male textile workers and tailors with women (and children under the age 13) because they were cheap labor and paid far less than men. Sweatshops did not exist until women and children were ruthlessly exploited in textile trades. In the 20th century women up until the 70’s (and this would include me) were taught sewing because it was a skill a good wife had to know. We should not be so nostalgic for the "good old days". At the time sewing had nothing at all to do with fashion and creativity.

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  16. Fantastic conversation; it's GREAT to hear from so many readers.

    I actually own David Coffin's shirtmaking book and you're right: it isn't exclusively for women. I was thinking more about general sewing books like the Readers Digest guide or Vogue Sewing Book.

    OK, OK, I'll write a book. Give me a few weeks (ha ha).

    Phyllis, you make a great point and I was thinking along these lines myself: Home economics was just that -- instruction on how to run a home economically. Back when commercially manufactured clothes were relatively expensive, it WAS more economical to sew your own, and you family's, clothes. Fewer women worked outside the home (after WWII) so they had (or made) the time.

    Most women stopped sewing when clothing costs dropped relative to income. It was no longer necessary. Not to mention more women were holding jobs outside the home (out of necessity if not out of choice) and no longer had the time.

    My guess is that most people prefer RTW and are willing to make whatever compromises they must (inferior fit, mass-produced styles) when they buy it.

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  17. A great discussion, Peter. My husband does not sew, but can thread that serger every time or fix the machine problems that come up. I now older men that can hand sew, my uncle could embroider, crochet, etc, was taught in a summer bible school and practiced alot. My grandfather taught my grandmother the basics (he had learned from his mother), then she went on to be a great seamstress, learning as she went. One of our old neighbors made a baby quilt by hand for our oldest daughter when we brought her home. My youngest daughter's godfather said he was taught to quilt and other hand sewing by his mother. So they are out there, just far and few between. And you are so right about available patterns, most things I can buy for him or the boys cheaper than I could make it. My time is better spent on the girls, making them matching holiday dresses or whatever. Even my mom, who sewed alot 30-40 years ago, cannot believe I sew for them, she has gotten so used to RTW, she thinks I spend too much time on sewing. It is my therapy, with 4 kids, 8 and under. It helps me to stay sane!

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  18. My son wants to learn how to sew... He's been learning bits and pieces here and there from me, and even wants to learn how to use the sewing machine... I think it's great!
    PS - Peter - you mentioned a few methods of pattern grading in your post earlier this week about your weekly goals... What books do you recommend for learning the methods your mentioned - are they both described in the Margolis book? Thanks!

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  19. Excellent post. I have to say if womenswear patterns were as thin on the ground and uninspirational as mens I wouldn't be sewing either.

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  20. Hi Peter, there are some good "sewing for men" books out there...however they are often hard to find.

    2 great ones to add to your library are:

    "It's Easy To Sew Menswear", by Kerstin Martensson (sorry no ISBN)
    and
    "Kwik-Sew Method for Sewing Menswear", by Kerstin Martensson, ISBN 0-913212-06-7

    And of course there's my ShirtMaking Studio and Sewing Tutorial site ;)
    ~Off The Cuff Style~ ...where I feature "not often seen" menswear sewing techniques...like the "Span Stitching" done recently on a mens shirt I designed with Bias Sleeve Pleats.

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  21. Honestly, I think there's still somewhat of a stigma attached to the notion of males sewing, knitting, or doing other "traditionally" female pastimes. I think that this has lessened somewhat over the past 10 or so years, but it still remains.

    In my limited sewing experience (as so eloquently explained by Kerry above), I've found it to be both fun and challenging. Once upon a time I even knew how to knit, but over the years have completely forgotten how to do so. Personally I view sewing as a fun construction project that generally appeals to my sense of playing with gadgets, but then again, I'm probably not the typical beer-swilling, football-loving, NASCAR-besotted stereotypical guy who has issues with doing things that are not perceived as inherently male.

    So why don't I sew?

    Mostly because I lack the motivation to do so - while it is somewhat of a struggle for me to find clothes (try finding a 29x32 set of jeans in a store, or a truly well-fitted shirt for someone with a 28" waist and 42" shoulders), I can at least get them online from stores like Gap or Express. That means that there isn't much of a necessity for me to make clothes for myself, quite apart from Kerry's complete hogging of the sewing machine.

    Even if I had the motivation to sew clothes for myself, it seems to my casual research that there really aren't all that many patterns available for men, and that the pattern making industry caters almost exclusively to women. One can only sew a certain number of flannel PJs before getting bored with it and instead starting to rip hybrid batteries out of cars :).

    And then of course there's the trump card: Kerry is a far better seamstress than I am, so there's really no point in me even trying to sew :)

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  22. Great to hear from you, Andy. Thanks for adding your voice -- and my best to the wife.

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  23. Wow-- what a great day for interesting, thought provoking social commentary--anyone been over to Gertie's blog today to catch her conversation with Carolyn about plus size sewing?

    I think the men's sewing, or lack thereof, is directly related to the deeply ingrained "female" and "male" interests. If clothing, and fashion, quality and fit are of interest to you, you are more likely to be interested in sewing. And more likely to be female. I can no more see my husband sitting behind my Bernina than I can see myself captaining his charter boat. Certainly not because neither of us possess the necessary qualities or characteristics to learn how to do so, but simply because I would rather have a root canal than be stranded on a fishing boat all day, and he would probably rather have treble hook through his palm than be stuck in my sewing room for more than...30 seconds.
    Nature? Nurture? Who knows. Write your kick-ass sewing book. You clearly already have an audience!

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  24. Some of the male designers on Project Runway this season are not gay. What about all the male tailors out there, as well as male designers? Gay or not, there are men out there sewing. However, still in mainstream society, it's looked at as being odd. I took a beginning quilting class a couple years ago and it was all females, but the class that met after mine had one male student. He wanted to sew a quilt for his son. I think as more time goes buy, hopefully more men will sew.

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  25. As a child my father had serious Asthma problems, long before the treatments we have now. As a way to keep him alert and busy when he was ill, his grandmother taught him to knit. As a result, his hand eye co-ordination and motor skills were quite good he was trained to be a classic violinist, played bass fiddle (some for the Dorsey's and Frank Sinatra, then joined the Army Air Corp and trained WWII pilots) Later in life these skills paid off as he was able to assemble Heathkit equipment for the family Cabin Cruiser and figure out the wiring for the wiring harnesses Clements Manufacturing sold to Ford and Chrysler. I do not know if he sewed, but I would not be surprised if he knew how. The point, sewing is not just about sewing and all children should be taught how to sew as they are in many European countries. Many of Daddy's life skills can be traced back to those days of knitting when he was a boy.

    Now, both my sister and I sew. When we were in high school, we both took "home-ec" but at one time Penny wanted to take mechanical drawing, but the school did not allow it as that was a "boy's class". I was quite angry at my parents at the time (late 1950's) because they did not stand up for her. She has always had a high mechanical ability and was quite hurt and frustrated by that turn of events.

    When I taught for a year at Bourbon High School in Missouri, I was impressed that their school system required Life Science in middle school for all students and all boys were required to sew as well as the girls. One of my 9th grade boys wore a shirt he had sewn and I was quite impressed at the quality of his work.

    Check out this blog: http://www.quiltdad.com/

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  26. Oops, I forgot this blog. Ryan does good work.
    http://imjustaguywhoquilts.blogspot.com/

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  27. Hi - just found your blog - very interesting! When my son was about 8, he liked to use my sewing machine, trying out all the stitches. Then one time he made a small quilt top, and that was the last time he sewed. Unless there's something he *really* wants to do (like playstation games) if it requires practice - forget it. I think he found out that sewing well takes practice.

    I wonder if presenting sewing as an engineering problem would make it more interesting to men?

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  28. More great comments! I have a confession to make: except for a few episodes the summer before last while I was on vacation, I have never watched Project Runway. I don't even own a TV. But I do recall the male contestants were somewhere between me and Liberace on the Kinsey scale.

    It does seem like, gender constructs aside, most men simply don't have the need to sew to dress the way they want to. Many women, on the other hand, are frustrated with the fit and quality of the clothes they can afford and recognize they can do better on their own. Since our culture supports their interest in sewing, the only obstacle to surmount is the rather steep learning curve.

    But as we all know, it's do-able with time, commitment, and a good seam ripper.

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  29. Back when I was staying at the hospital with my mother who was in the surgical intensive care I was struggling with the pattern for a knitted afghan in the waiting room to kill time and was stuck with a mistake that I did not know how to correct. This older fellow whose wife was sick told me quietly don't tell anybody but he would fix it for me so I could continue knitting. He told me his wife taught him to knit and sew and he enjoyed making things when they were at home but didn't want anyone to know it.My first sewing machine dealer was a man who sewed some of his wife's beautiful clothing and was a handsome man. He had been around his parents' sewing business and that's how he got started.So few people I know now can do any type of sewing. In my area only a few older women sew and they are quilters not garment sewers. It used to be only the females were taught sewing in home economics now neither sex is being taught. As for shop class, lots of women have to do things themselves so I think both sexes should have an intro to a wide range of skills.

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  30. Peter, I believe another reason why home sewing languished was the passge of Title IV in late 70's. When I was a girl in the 60's our school non-academic activties were pretty much limited to girl scouts and home ec. After Title IV that all changed because now by law girls could participate in sports at the varsity level during the schoool day. Sewing fell by the wayside because girls could do so many other things other than learning wifely skills. You're right also on this point: the American textile industry moved off-shore to Asia during this period (70's) and the subsequent flood of cheap RTW meant there was no reason to sew. Also, as I mentioned,when I learned to sew it was taught like a trade, we had to spend hours and hours perfecting straight seams and technical details before we moved onto garment construction. It was certainly was not taught as the creative outlet it is today.

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  31. Phyllis, that's fascinating. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  32. I know quite a few men who sew, while in the minority, it's not remarkable. Could it be that men who sew tend to adopt it as a profession?

    My husband has recently taken up sewing but had wanted to do so much sooner. In his case, the lag was me. I resisted taking on a rank beginner but he's done fabulous work! It looks as good as anything I would do (including perfect welt pockets). I'd add the link but this form will not permit pasting.

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  33. Kathleen, if you could post the URL that would be great; it just won't be a live link.

    I'd love to see his work!

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  34. Great post!
    I agree whole heartedly that the early marketing of sewing for the homemaker and women in general - is still ingrained in our society today. I feel odd discussing sewing classes/projects with people I work with, because sewing is still considered a woman's craft/hobby.

    I started taking sewing classes Nov. 2009. I've been the only guy in all the classes I've taken. There were 2 little girls in the first class I attended and when I arrived with a sewing machine and supplies, they both looked at me like I had 2 heads - LOL.

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  35. Wonderful post! Here's another thought I'd like to add to the mix. Many men sew, but they don't consider themselves "sewers." My friend's husband is an *amazing* woodworker, and all around DIY guy. He's also an avid hunter. One day he finally had it with the hunting clothing and gear for sale, and started making his own. Does he consider himself a sewer? No. Do the women at JoAnn's know him by first name? Yes.

    I'm sure he's not alone, as the "Camoflague" sections of both JoAnn's and Hancock's are much bigger than their knit sections.

    Also - WRITE A BOOK!

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  36. Here in Australia I think home sewing took a dive when the cheap Asian clothing market opened up. We don't get cheap fabric here, either, so when you can buy garments for $10 at the markets, people don't bother to sew. Australian schools are now teaching woodwork and metalwork to girls and cooking and sewing to boys, should they be interested. I think things are changing. I agree with you about sewing literature being targetted at women. I make most of my partner's clothes as he is very hard to fit in RTW. He has very large shoulders and chest and a tiny waist and when I tried to find fitting advice for men, there was absolutely none, save for a few ideas about how to cater for pot bellies in shirts. There was not even fitting advice for muscular men in the David Page Coffin book. In the end I made about 95 muslins and eventually got a TNT shirt pattern. But then I wanted to make more interesting, stylish and contemporary clothes, so I started searching all the commercial patternmakers sites for patterns. There is a complete dearth of modern menswear patterns, as you no doubt know. What man is going to be inspired by patterns for garments that look they like should be worn by pensioners at the RSL club? The good thing that has come out of this for me is that I was forced to get creative. I developed a TNT shirt, pants and jeans pattern for him and now use those as a starting point, adding features I see in magazines. Finally, he has clothes that fit and flatter. I'm going to hunt down the books that Pam Off The Cuff mentions. I've not heard of those before. Thanks for this interesting topic and I apologise for the length of this comment!

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  37. Hi Peter, I'll try again...but it won't take it. I hit ctrl+v and it won't appear in this form. You have paste disabled. The post is called "Training Green Sewing Operators". You can also search by date (Jan 7, 2008). This entry also includes a lined vest sewing tutorial at close.

    Also, at the top of the entry is a link to a post he wrote about the experience. His comment about welt pockets is hysterical.

    Amended: Oh wait, the commenter form allows me to put in whatever URL I want for myself. So, I've pasted in the address to that post. Just click my name to go there.

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  38. I was watching an episode of Are You Being Served? the other night in which there is a fashion show. The manager guy wears a gorgeous, very English suit in the show, and I told my boyfriend that once I have the skills I'd make it for him. I started looking around the internet for patterns for gorgeous suits, and found that Burda has a fair selection of mens patterns, not just the vests and robes of the Big 4. There are some good basics and some more adventurous shirts that a caftan-fan like yourself might like. Good luck, and keep up the good work!

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  39. My manly ex husband learned to sew by watching his mother who is an accomplished seamstress. Once he learned not to overfit he used to be my valued fit assistant. Too bad I couldn't keep him. He's made all the curtains in his new flat, though. And moved a few of the walls around, built a new balconied deck etc. Handy guy (but not so fun to live with for other reasons.) And not at all interested in making clothes.

    Vibeke in Oslo

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  40. Interesting discussion. A couple of years ago, I taught my high school son to sew a pair of pajama pants for his girlfriend. He earned tons of points, and it even upped the ante for a creative gift from her. Alas, he hasn't wanted to make anything else. I think the solitude of sewing doesn't appeal to him, though the engineering of it does (or did anyway).

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  41. My dad was an integral part of sewing in my household. True, he didn't make clothes, but he'd learned enough to mend his own pants... and threading our old Pfaff (Pfaff 1222) and making buttonholes were strictly his responsibility. Setting in zippers was, too. All three were something I had to learn to do for myself later on, because it was Daddy's job!

    Now, well, I sew more than my Mom does and anything that needs mended is my job. I made clothes for me and anyone else, especially my nieces, and toys. My sister-in-law and brother bring me things to fix, because neither one of them can even sew on a button.

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  42. ACtually, I know quite a lot of gusy who sew, but that's because they are live action role-play guys. Have you seen the prices they charge for those costumes?!
    I'm willing to help my boyfriend figure things out, but I'm not making all of those clothes. When he constructs his vestments mostly himself, he treats them better, and is really proud as well :) it really gives you bragging rights at these events.

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  43. Hello Peter,
    I just discovered your blog via Gertie's link, and I finid it fabulous.

    One thing a few people mentionned in the comments but is very important to me on this topic is: why do we sew? I mostly do, as do my sewing friends, to make clothes I fancy, but can't find or can't be bothered to find. If most sewers are women, to me, this is also because most of the fun in fashion is for women. Sewing would be badly considered for men, but isn't it also because caring about fashion is not that well-considered? And I have noticed that among my male friends, the ones that are the most interested in my sewing stuffs are also the most 'dandyesque'.
    I think that if men were more interested in fashion, there would be more of them to sew, a thing that, with the raise of fashion blogs that not only concern women, but are also very acute on men's elegance, might happen in the future!

    (apologies about any grammar/vocabulary faults, by the way)

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  44. My husband enjoys the things I sew for him and will participate in choosing fabrics for things I make for him, and I think my brother-in-law may help my sister with their Renaissance Fair outfits and Halloween costumes. But the guys both participate with the idea and design rather than the hands-on sewing. Yeah, the girls work the machines.

    Overall, I enjoy how stylish men look in Europe and Asia more than the Midwestern US where I live. Seems like men take care to look like slobs here (if that makes sense) and as the poster above commented, if our culture was supportive of all men being more interested in fashion, fit and fabrics, maybe it would follow that more men would create men's clothing.

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  45. Both my husband and son know how to use a sewing machine, but neither has ever been inclined to sew for themselves. Mending, sewing on buttons yes, but they don't care about fashion and can readily find clothing that fits off the rack. My son recently took up knitting to help him quit smoking and he found he really likes to knit. But, does he want 'the guys' to know about it? No way, and this is from a man who believes in equally sharing both the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood with his wife. But some stereotypes just linger.
    It's ok for a man to make his living as a tailor or shirtmaker, but not to do it as a hobby. David Page Coffin has been sewing and writing about it for years, and he is straight. But he makes his living from sewing. Maybe not directly, but from his writing. His shirt and pants books are really more geared to men than to women. He makes his own shirt patterns copying many details from rtw The only mens patterns that are remotely interesting are those that Burda publishes in the magazine, but not every month, so they really aren't available to most men. Why buy a magazine subscription that will only get you a few patterns a year?
    When I was in junior high Home Ec was still for girls and shop was for boys. When my son was in middle school, as Phyllis stated, the schools had to offer both to both boys and girls. Consequently I think that both classes got watered down to drivel with nobody learning much of anything useful or interesting.

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  46. You all make excellent points. Basically, American men have never NEEDED to sew because society doesn't expect them to follow fashion. Their clothing needs are simple.

    I wonder if more men sew in places like Italy or France, where it's more accepted (and expected) for men to be interested in fashion. I remember being blown away by how important fashion was among men when I lived in Italy after college.

    Nancy, it's sad to think the today neither girls or boys are benefiting from what passes for home ec today.

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  47. I sell patterns for a living and try to make sure I am not just speaking to women when I write about them. But I find that when I sell to men it's usually costumes or plus size. I think that men are "allowed" to sew anything that isn't directly clothing...they can sew tarps, sails, or do upholstery...but not make regular wardrobe items. The historic and fantasy costumes are a "safe" area...after all they need to get it exactly right! But again, it's not sewing things you actually wear to work. That would cross some line.
    Years ago Ms. magazine had an article encouraging boys to babysit and said "If you can wash a dog you can bathe a baby". I have quoted that at many young guys who wanted a button sewn on.

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  48. There is nothing I can add by now, I can just agree agree...

    Just one thing... European men's fashion is not that idyllic as you guys seem to think!
    I don't think that in Italy or France it is more accepted or expected for men to be interested in fashion than in America.
    I suppose that, just like on your side of the pond, there are men who care for what they wear and men who don't, and maybe some men that sew.
    But the stereotypes are the same: there was a very well dressed man on a popular tv-show lately, and people immediately started wondering whether he'd be gay just because of his original style...

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  49. My teenage son learned to sew from me and to knit from a gal pal - but he also owns a kilt. Oh, it's a 'manly' UtiliKilt, alright (smile) but I applaud his guts for wearing it in public. Not easy in high school. In Texas, no less. Sadly, if some type of Home Ec/creative-creating-of-anything class was offered at our school, the boys would 'save face' and run the other way. But they are highly accomplished in the creative process in a smaller group.

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  50. A little late, but anyway: Peter makes an excellent point, society does assume that men don't sew. I started sewing in a medieval group, and it was interesting what happened with a lot of men there in regards to sewing. When they started, they were very "oh, no, I don't sew, I couldn't even if I wanted to". But in that group somehow it had become cool to sew. A garment made by yourself, no matter gender, were a lot cooler than something someone else did. Of course, there are people who don't like sewing, and then yes, someone else made their clothes.
    The interesting point is that in an enviroment that encourages men (and women!) to sew, a lot of guys have discovered that they like sewing, and they have become very skilled. So I don't think it's a question of how much time or natural talent one has, but perhaps a mix of society's attitude and, as Peter said, the lack of interesting patterns (historical clothes offers a whole lot more in that departement).
    Interesting post!

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  51. Welcome, all, the conversation continues.

    Re costumes, I've actually seen some very cool looking Nineteenth Century-style mens frock coat patterns that were probably intended for some community theater production of "A Christmas Carol."

    A company called Laughing Moon Mercantile puts one out, LM109, that I like a lot.

    Great insights, everyone!

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  52. I add my voice to Erika's : the guys I saw go to sewing (including my boyfriend) went through costuming (expensive RTW, and often uncustomized/low quality/not fitting except if you get it done specifically for you).
    Now my man makes sewn gifts, costumes for himself, but is mostly limited by his lack of patience... He is very open about it with his friends. I also taught my brother to make a medieval shirt, but he hasn't sewn since, unfortunately, and seems shy about it (he is 19, so it mighthave some relationship with his reluctance). At least now he knows it is not above his skills.

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  53. Teri's younger son, C, sews. She posts several of his projects. http://mermaids103.blogspot.com

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  54. Greetings Peter,

    Just wanted to give you a shout out on this very important post.
    I wanted to introduce myself and be accounted for when it comes to the gay male sewer reading blogs and in Pattern review.

    Actually it's thanks to PR (which I just recently joined) that I found both you and Brian. I think what you guys are doing is important and fun. In fact quite inspiring. I find that both of your style tastes are similar to my own, Stretch knit tshirts, button up shirts, slacks, underwear ect.

    I've long considered starting my own blog....but about what?
    Thanks to you guys I think I may finally get it going. I never thought that I'd take so much interest in seeing what other people learn and make on a weekly basis. Perhaps people will take interest in my projects too.

    Keep doing what you're doing. I love it.

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  55. Great to have you aboard, Brian. Welcome!

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  56. You had an interesting comment about the stigma of sewing. I do sew myself, for the hobby of costume work. I have made a couple of Victorian style out left field jackets for a steam punk outfit.

    Its a pity there is a stigma for sewing and men. Because one can up something really unique. I like how that the threadbanger series is trying to appeal to the young hip males audience.

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  57. My Grandmother taught me to sew when I was very young, maybe five. My Mother started sewing when she was quite young, taught by her mother. Both sides of my family are filled with women, all of whom sew. When I had two boys of my own I was a little sad that I wouldn't be able to pass on the art of sewing. And then almost two years ago, when they were ages 5 and 8, I thought, "why the heck not?" So I started teaching them. They are both proficient with the machine and have made themselves stuffed creatures, the requisite PJ bottoms, and pillowcases, but my younger son (now 7) really took to it and wanted to go further. So he's actually made some shirts for himself (with plenty of help from me, of course) that he delights in wearing. I don't know where that will go, or if when they grow up they'll continue to sew. But it is satisfying to teach them and see their little lightbulbs go on as they think of all the possible things they could make for themselves. It was fun for them to learn - they were happy to get my undivided attention - and both are proud of what they accomplish. I'm glad I didn't pass up the chance to share my knowledge just because they are boys.

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  58. (Actually I'm Steve from NZ) I am glad I discovered this site.
    I am a male who enjoys sewing but am so scared folk will think I am gay (I think it is fair to say that is the portrayed image) that I keep it quiet.

    I learned on my mums sewing machine from watching her continually. Sadly she died when I was 12 so I boxed on myself.

    LAUGH WITH ME...Learning had a few hick ups. Like when I got a fright when the machine 'took off' on me. I planted my foot on the brake but then realised it was the accelerator (sewing machine pedal)and screwed up my pants a beauty. As a teenage guy I was telling the machine not to dare let on to my friends that I was frightened. Teenage guys take things like that seriously.

    Also I pulled the machine apart. I love machinery and I just could not thread the bobbin so it would do what it was meant to do! Answer- Pull the machine to bits and figure it out. Quite clever machines inside!

    I think I will take heart and make a jacket as I have always wanted to do so. I just have to figure out how to approach a shop for necessary supplies without feeling like a real prune..! THANKS FOR YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT.

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  59. I do not mind if men sew, some in my family have done so, but the big issue for me is that men generally do not do well in a fabric store. They always wait until they are at the head of the line and at the cutting counter and then they have a big discussion with their wives about how much to buy and what color would be better. Maybe we need a coffee bar in the fabric store so we can have a place to discuss that sort of thing.

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  60. Waayyyllll.....I sew and I like to sew. I'm a seamster who will, someday, be a tailor; although I don't need to become one to authorize and justify some of my interests. I've come completely out of the closet, so to speak, the last 10 years and am glad of it...and a little nervous, but that's ok. I'm "straight," but greatly respect those with skills that aren't. That doesn't get in the way of sharing cool hobbies and ideas for me.
    Peter, you and Brian are very cool and I'd hang out with you guys in a flash if I had the chance. Plus, Cathy's a hoot and I'd love to take her out to dinner! I don't know Brian's persuasion and it doesn't matter to me, it just doesn't get in the way. Most of my "democratic" upbringing in the late '60's and '70's has gifted me with a certain androgeny, anyway.
    I've always liked working with my hands and started textile crafting as a child, but most sharing of that was with the standard macho versions. In SW Texas (not the place to be artsty fartsy in those days,) I was truly blessed to befriend some very serious ex-military guys who liked to sew and would help anyone wanting to learn. They're sog's and seal's who cross-pcs'd out of Goodfellow AFB. They're very intelligent, macho guys who can kill you literally 200 different ways without weapons. I don't need those attributes to define me (although I'm a big, fairly strong guy,) but they represent the extreme of traditional "acceptable" manliness which helps to dash the notion that "real" guys don't sew, wear pink or eat quiche.
    They sew parachutes, tech-clothing and their personal duds (and one knits) and lended a certain comfort to my pursuit of the same. They don't advertise, but they don't hide, either. As I've become more accepting and nonchalant about this, I've also found more compliment and encouragement from others; more social arena's where sewing and design is just...sewing and design. Gee, what a marvelous idea! I had to take those first few steps and...it was alright to hold some hands while I did :)

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  61. Great to hear from you, Gene. Welcome!

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  62. I just found your blog.....Congrats to you for doing this. I have a small sewing school in Southern Oregon and I do have men and boys in my classes. My husband, son and son-in-law all sew and they are not gay. I encourage anyone that is interested in learning to sew to give it a try. It can be very rewarding to wear clothing that you have created. My husband and I also own a custom bra business and yes my husband can sew a bra, but he prefers to draft the initial patterns for me. Keep up the good work.

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  63. Thanks for the comment, Mary. Welcome!

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  64. I'm late to the party, but generally agree that it's a combination of stigma, the complete lack of instructional material aimed at men, and patterns for men once they've learned how to sew. I started sewing bow ties to feed my own habit; freestyle bow ties are both hard to come by and expensive, but they're also pretty easy to make! I've even started selling them on Etsy... but I am having a hard time making the leap to something a little more involved because there are simply no "how-to" skill-building books with anything I'm remotely interested in making... and when you look at the mens' patterns in the catalog books everything just looks either cheesy, or strange.

    I hope someday to be able to sew historical garments, but the gap is dauntingly huge. I would pay real money for the male sewing equivalent of Debbie Stoller's 'Stitch & Bitch', but I know of know such book.

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  65. Thanks for the comment, Andy. If you check the archives here (look under "men" or "men's" you'll find there's a lot of info about sewing menswear. Also check "sewing basics."

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  66. SeamsterEast@aol.comAugust 30, 2011 at 10:29 PM

    I've using tools since I was 5 years old. Not well at age 5, but ...

    In grade school I built a number of things, including a "telegraph" system using the necks of broken bottle as insulators. In junior high school I built a boat, in high school a hot rod, in my 20'ss an airplane, in my 40's/50's I rebuilt three boats.

    The first of those boats, beat up from a hurricane and in dire need of new cushions (and me not excessively long on cash), I called my sister who used to do a lot of sewing to ask if I maybe might possibly perhaps get by sewing new vinyl cushion covers. Sis interupted me inside of four seconds to say, "Of course you can."

    Since then, I've done many, many canvas and sail projects for boats. For kicks one snowy winter day me couped up inside, I made some canvas tote bags. Then I lowered the waist on a couple pair of jeans (when I buy a suit, the waist needs to be lowered to fit properly), then took in the waist of some (cheap) K-Mart knit shirts for a (much) better fit, then made a Polartec (the Windbloc version) fleece jacket for myself (fitting closer to my body than the standard "curtain drape" of RTW fleece), etc. I now buy jeans without regard to inseam size as it is easy to hem them properly.

    I made a halter top for a busty friend of recycled blue jeans, and recut a $3 thrift store "top" (read, ugly) into something that fit her well enough to cause men to introduce themselves even while I was standing there.

    I have made shirts for myself because I like the fit better (FAR better, RTW mens shirts hang well off the shoulder, to fit more men with fewer sizes). Three yards of fine material and some buttons gets me a shirt that candidly I couldn't begin to afford without crimping the budget somewhere else.

    That last statement -- budgets -- is I believe young women are so inclinded to take up sewing (with practice, they can get fine, fine clothing at a fraction of the price of same quality fashion clothing).

    Young men spend their money on (and often lots of time to fix) cars for the same effect.

    Also, young people are told (again and again and again and again) that "men are visual" (which means women in nice looking clothing are a more valuable commodity) while "women are more interested in a man's personality" (which means a fancy car, or maybe his ability to make a bookcase on a Saturday afternoon).

    Nice clothing on a man can be had for the price of working a lot more and harder hours. The perception is, for young men, that working more/longer/harder is a valuable career move, while learning to sew a well-fitted linen shirt with two-needle top-stitching is less so. Reality is, working out lifting heavy weights in a gym for six months is probably more effective in the dating game.

    Besides, sewing clothing has the stigma of doing so because money is in short supply. What man -- young or old -- wants to say he ain'ta makin' e'nuf jing?

    Me, I started using tools when I was 5 years old in the same way some people start writing novels or painting portraits when they were 5 years old. A sewing machine is just another tool, like a set of Snap-On six-point sockets, or a Fluke VOM, or a set of numbered tip cleaners.

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  67. You make some excellent points, SeamsterEast!

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  68. I found this article via Gertie's blog (blogforbettersewing.com).

    You really hit the nail on the head! There's near to nothing for men who sew for themselves.

    I even gave up on searching for books and patterns. Just copy my patterns off of RTW and chase the internet for (instructional) material to learn about new details of sewing.

    Nice angle on the 'threat to masculinity' angle as a reason for 'those other men' not to sew.

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  69. Thank you SEW much (couldn't resist the lame pun) for writing such a thoughtful and relevant article! I am in the process of researching men and sewing because my thirteen-year-old son loves to sew, and has taken an awful lot of heat from his peers at school! I posted a link to your article on his Facebook profile page, so that not only will he read it, but so, too, may some of his classmates. There's so little information out there on the topic of men and sewing. I absolutely love that you invoked some of the well-researched and documented psychosocial and cultural phenomenon (such as gender roles) influencing the stigma attached to male sewers. I have a masters degree in psychology, and am a practicing psychotherapist. And I couldn't have explained it any better myself. Even if I had tried, I am a woman and my son's mother. I think that by reading an article written by a man is critical in helping him to feel related to. I also think it's important that he read such words coming from a man because his passion for sewing arts will be further normalized, making it easier for him to accept this activity for himself, allow himself to engage in it, and appreciate the benefits it brings to his life! Though this is the first time I've visited your site, it will not be the last! I've also bookmarked the site for my son. Thanks again!

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  70. Forgive me for adding to an old thread but I imagine it's one of the most interesting to other men (like me) who are new to your blog. Two things interested me in sewing- frustration at paying to have trousers hemmed when I could do it myself, and a typically male interest in how my sister's sewing machine worked from a technical standpoint. A bit of survival sewing seemed like a reasonable eccentricity, an uncommon but understandable form of DIY self-sufficiency at first. But as I have started to become more proficient I've discovered I genuinely enjoy sewing above and beyond trying to screw my local dry cleaners out of ten bucks every time I buy a pair of pants. There is something challenging and therapeutic about sewing and I'm currently making my first shirt from a pattern. I don't really see sewing as being fundamentally different from welding or car repair (a couple other self-taught skills I have that just happen to conform to traditional male stereotypes). Still, I am pretty secure about my masculinity as a sewer because I am now a middle aged combat veteran with more man-points stored up than a lot of guys; when I was 17 I might have been too embarrassed to go into a shop and ask about sewing machines. And I've found most girls who work in sewing shops are really nice to men brave enough to come in and ask for advice, should any single men be reading this looking for motivation to take the plunge.

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    1. You make some great points, Anon. Welcome to the wonderful world of sewing! :)

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  71. One area that I'm aware of that has straight male home sewers is a portion of the long distance hiking community, especially those that favor the very light weight approach. However, these guys are usually focused on sewing things such as tarps (or tents), packs and maybe sleeping quilts. Ray Jardine wrote at least two books on his light weight hiking approach and talked of his strategy of sewing both clothing and gear so that he could get exactly what he wanted, for a lower cost, and in a lower weight. (Weight matters a LOT if you're carrying a pack every day for 8 or more hours of hiking.)

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  72. Men making their own clothes is wrong on so many levels that it just has to be the right thing to do.

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  73. Straight man raised in the Home Ec/Shop Class world. Never learned to sew - just now dipping a toe into it.
    Looking back - or forward as the case may be - I think school age boys should have a Home Ec program (do they still teach that in schools?) geared toward basic skills. They should learn to make a shirt. If nothing else it would instill a certain respect for all the work that goes into something taken for granted.

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  74. I know this is an old post but I had to comment. The men I know that sew are cosplay or reenactment addicts. They aren't making day to day clothing, but it is a start.

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  75. Hi! Found your blog looking up sewing for men resources as my best friend is a guy who really wants to get started in sewing.

    You mentioned there's no book written for men & boys exclusively or inclusively who sew. I found the book Sewing For Men and Boys on Amazon. (http://www.amazon.com/Sewing-Boys-Simplicitys-How-To-Illustrated/dp/B000ASB2WM) It's by Simplicity and from 1973. Is there a reason you didn't include this book, or have you merely not heard of it before? If you intentionally excluded it, is there a reason why? I was considering picking it up for my friend's birthday, hoping it would be a good introduction for him.

    Thanks so much!

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    1. I didn't own it when I wrote this four years ago but I do now. It's definitely worth getting.

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    2. Thank you so much! It's being shipped to me now!

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    3. The 70's fashions in it are hilarious but the tailoring techniques are valid.

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