Sew Queer is a project exploring the intersections of sewing and queer identity. To participate, use the hashtag #sewqueer or visit @sewqueer on instagram.
One of the things that draws me to sewing is the sense of connection: to a long historical lineage of stitchers of all kinds, to a body of knowledge passed down formally and informally, to my mother and my grandmothers, and to the people I’ve been meeting, face to face and online, who share the hobby. For lots of folks, too, connections are fostered through sewing for other people, partners, children, and other loved ones. That connection can be a fraught one or a funny one or one of seeming obligation (please don’t get me started on the “selfish”/”selfless” sewing idea).
However, some normative expectations around making, family, and community have felt really alienating to me: that sewing for myself is frivolous (when I could be making for loved ones or monetizing my hobby); that I should want marriage and children and a home filled with other people; that sewing should be about achieving a flattering shape, where flattering means adhering to gendered ideals.
I’m incredibly lucky to have a family that loves and supports me, but I nonetheless struggle with what it looks like to build relationships as an adult when almost nothing around me reflects what I actually want and need. For me, this all hinges on both a long formative time of not feeling like I could have a queer future, not having seen what that might look like, in person or on TV or in books, and on being demisexual, elementally independent, and ambitious in a career that does not broker much compromise. There’s not a lot of space or desire in my life for a traditional relationship, with someone of any gender.
I offer this all as a long and wordy introduction to a garment that carries in its threads multiple acts of making, a shirt I made for my sweetheart, Morgan. Longtime friends and more recent sweethearts, Morgan and I are trying to make something that, at times, feels cut from whole cloth without a pattern: a romantic, emotional, intellectual relationship that primarily supports our individual independence, solitude, and separate, personal life projects. We’re both makers, so creating for one another seems an intrinsic part of that, as we stitch and knit up items and send them across a couple of states, warm entwinements to keep us company in our individual lives.
Further, though, making this particular shirt at this particular time seemed quite an urgent and tangible way of honoring the making Morgan’s going through in their own life. As a trans nonbinary person, they’ve been in a process of transition over the past year, making changes to their life and their body that are bringing them to a place of greater comfort and happiness. It feels inadequate to say that they’re brave to do so, that I’m proud of the work they’re putting in; this world is eminently and viscerally hostile to trans folks, in small and large ways, and Morgan not only deals with that regularly but works hard to build a better, more loving and fulfilling world for their local trans and queer community in many beautiful ways.
In the face of this world, clothes are anything but insignificant, and I wanted to offer something that fit, in all the ways clothes can — the physical contours of our bodies, the ways we want to be seen in the world, the sensations of our skin and the climate of our environment. I wanted to create something that fit the breadth of their shoulders and their hips, that suited their pared down, practical, every so slightly vintage and earthy style, and that somehow, in the care of its stitches, communicated my love and care and pride.
We worked together to select a pattern and a fabric, settling on the Colette Negroni and Cotton & Steel’s Rashida Coleman Raindrop collection in denim. The Negroni has a slightly casual, vintage-inspired silhouette, with a camp/convertible collar (no collar stand), chest pockets, and a faced front rather than a button placket. It also has tower plackets on the sleeves and rounded-corner cuffs, though the sleeves are rolled in most of these pictures.
I cut a size small at the shoulders and chest, grading out to a medium at the hips (but at the length of a small), and shortened the sleeves by an inch for the first muslin. For the final version, I added 1/4″ at the bottom side edge of the yoke to allow just a little more give across the span of Morgan’s shoulders, and added about 2″ all the way around at the hips. (I realized later this was because I measured the pattern piece at the bottom of the medium but then cut it shorter, and didn’t allow for enough overlap — a good reminder to be precise when using pattern piece measurements for making up a garment!)
This is a common fit issue for transmasc folks and genderqueer/nb/butch folks with hips, because most menswear patterns are cut with quite close chest and hip measurements, and sometimes just grading between sizes isn’t enough. If you find you need more room at the hips, you can just add to the side seams by angling the side more steeply out and readjusting your curve as needed. This might take finagling to suit your body the way you like; the sides of the Negroni have a waist-to-hip flare which keeps the volume from being too full at the waist, but which might add unwanted emphasis to the hips if increased, but with a straighter-cut seam you might also end up with a lot of volume around the waist. To both avoid relying too much on that side seam and to give more room across the top of the butt, I added my 2″ of hip room by: 1) increasing the bottom of each side seam by 1/4″; and 2) adding a wedge to the center back fold that was 1/4″ at the top and 1/2″ at the bottom. This acts as a mock sway back, as it adds room for the rise of the butt, and the excess at the top is easily folded into the pleat(s) added when stitch the back to the back yoke.
The fit turned out so great, so expect to see a few more here in future! I’m particularly pleased with my pattern matching on the pockets as well as a few secret details embracing Morgan’s love for whales. The construction of the Negroni shirt also included some techniques I hadn’t tried before, such as flat fell seams all around, including on the sleeve heads, the attachment of a camp collar (which requires a different “burrito method” than you’d use if attaching a collar stand), and a nifty method of invisibly attaching the front facings to the yoke seam. It sews up really nicely in the quilting cotton from Cotton & Steel, and would also look lovely in textiles with a more homespun texture, linens, or even lightweight wools.
Sewing is an act of remarkable intimacy, a way of knowing bodies — your own, your loved ones — and a method of care that long outlasts the act itself. In our often-hostile world, in our political climate, that closeness feels at once incredibly urgent and immensely fragile, in need of nurturance and tenderness. Some of the reasons I started #sewqueer were to learn more about the way my fellow queer sewists use sewing to create and sustain those necessary connections, to have conversations about the ways making, identity, love, and care intersect, and to make space for visibility for the many ways of being and connecting that are absent from sewing communities and the world writ large.
What I’m trying to remind myself, and what I want to send out to all my fellow queer and trans and spinster and ace/demi/aro makers out there, is that we’re lovable even when the love we want is harder to find, to see, to make into being. We’re worthy of rich, meaningful friendships and relationships even when the things we want from them aren’t modeled for us. We’re deserving of clothing that suits our genders and our bodies even when stores won’t carry it. We deserve people who see us, and clothing that fits us, and to move through this world in confidence, safety, and love.