What I want pattern companies to know about their fat, queer customers

A close-up of the side of a fat, white body, showing rolls and creases and a hint of a tattoo.

We exist, and we always have.

Fat people have always been here; queer people have always been here; trans people have always been here. We might have used different words and understood ourselves and our bodies differently than we do now, but we are not new. We are not an epidemic. We are not snowflakes. We are not confused. Our lives are not newfangled concepts you need to wrap your mind around. Our lives just are, and we deserve full consideration and inclusion.

We are intersectional.

Many of us experience multiple marginalizations on the axes of gender, sexuality, size, race, ethnicity, ability, health, class, and citizenship status. We know that liberation for the few is worthless. Our fat activism, our queer liberation, is for all bodies. We pay attention to the bodies you put on your pattern covers and the voices you include within your company. We know that visible diversity and tokenism are worthless if you don’t hire and solicit feedback from consultants and testers with a variety of bodies and experiences.

A closeup of the side of a white, fat body, showing the crease of the waist and some pale stretch marks.

We are not the same as you.

Much of the professional indie sewing world is made up of thin, straight, cisgender, white, middle-class, able-bodied women in their thirties. We don’t fall into those same demographics, and as such, we have different experiences of moving through this world, of understanding our bodies, and of building relationships. Slapping a “love is love is love” post up during Pride isn’t the same thing as understanding and respecting what it means to live experiences of marginalization, nor does it recognize that we don’t want to be the same as you. We want to have a full range of resources to choose and build our own lives, not copy the diet-culture-ridden world of compulsory heterosexuality. Please don’t assume that your experiences are universal, nor that discrimination you might experience as a woman allows you to speak with authority on other forms of marginalization.

Your language matters.

Folks sewing button-fronts shirts are not all “sewing for her man.” People wearing dresses are not all women. Folks stitching up pregnancy and post-partum gear are not all mothers. People in bigger bodies aren’t all “curvy.” Don’t call us ladies; don’t use euphemisms when describing our bodies; don’t make assumptions about our genders, pronouns, partnered status, or parental circumstances or aspirations.

You are already excluding us.

Every pattern company has to choose a size range, so by definition every pattern company has to exclude many people and demographics. However, due to the nature of our society, which privileges thinness, straightness, and cisgenderness, pattern companies are much more likely to exclude folks who are fat, queer, and trans or gender non-conforming. You might protest here: “But I didn’t mean to be exclusionary! I don’t have prejudice!” What I’d like pattern companies to learn is that often, the impact of your choices matters a lot more than the intent. You didn’t mean to exclude fat folks, you just used the pattern drafting resources already available to you (which almost exclusively cater to “straight” sizes); you made things that you would want to wear (as a thin person); you made things in sizes the market already promised would sell (because capitalism is predicated on cultivating aspirational desires, and in our society thinness is aspirational and fatness is not). You don’t know much about how gender non-conforming people might use sewing to affirm their genders and presentations (because the world at large tells you we’re abnormal); you don’t use visibly queer or trans models (because you’re afraid of alienating your “normal” audience); you gesture towards queer inclusion but don’t make an effort to use gender-neutral language (because big parts of this world feel more comfortable in their binary gender role niches). The choices you make exist in context. We’re not asking you to go back in time and make different choices, but to be honest and reflective about the way those past choices have and do exclude queer, trans, and fat folks — and about what small steps you can take to do better now.

A close up of a white, fat body, showing the rolls of the belly and thighs next to a chubby, creased elbow.

Don’t tell us how we should experience our bodies.

As folks who are fat, queer, and gender non-conforming, we relate to and understand our bodies in complex and myriad ways. We are not that concerned with being perceived as “beautiful”; our daily concerns are about the violence of a healthcare system that doesn’t care if we die, about governments that want us to have no legal rights to affirm our genders, about violations to our bodily integrity, privacy, and kinships in large and small ways on a daily basis. Don’t give us platitudes about the beauty of all bodies; don’t give us advice about being confident in our skin. From folks who experience thin, cis, straight privilege, such input can only come off as patronizing.

Similarly, don’t assume we hate ourselves and our bodies. We don’t give a fuck if your pattern is “slimming,” “flattering,” “forgiving,” or “hides problem areas.” Our bodies are not problems; our bodies do not need forgiveness. We don’t give a fuck about your heteronormative and binary ideas of gender. We can make whatever we want with whatever gender we have. Let us decide for ourselves how our bodies and our clothing relate to masculinity or femininity or both or neither.

We gave you body positivity.

Before you gush about how sewing make you love yourself, think about what bodies you really value. Body positivity came from the fat acceptance movement, which pushes for the liberation those bodies most systemically discriminated against (you know, not thin women who have a belly roll when they bend over). By embracing its watered-down tenets (self-love even if you’ve got a stretch mark or two) without actively pushing against the systemic discrimination of fat people, you’re simply capitalizing on the work of the more marginalized. What bodies do you serve in your size range? In your tester pool? In your models? In your staff? In your social media?

We’re watching and we expect better.

The sewing community has an inclusivity problem. Again and again, in posts, pattern releases, hashtag challenges, and media features, we see the same bodies, the same narratives, the same assumptions. We spend our time calling out companies that tell us fat bodies are too difficult, challenges that exclude plus-size makers and patterns, magazines and podcasts that ignore queer voices, discussions left and right that make incorrect assumptions about who we are, who we love, and how we understand our bodies. We carefully compose our words to avoid offending and receive pearl-clutching and defensiveness in return. We notice when folks learn and do better. We want to give our money to companies that want it and show us they want it. Will that be you?

We have expertise to offer.

Listen to me: most of what we’re taught about bodies, gender, and sexuality is wrong, incomplete, and defined by the fatphobic, transphobic, sexist, homophobic society we live in. It takes a lot to unlearn. We don’t ask for perfection or for you to say the right thing every time. What we do ask is that you listen when we tell you that what you say and do harms us and try to do better.

Unsure of where to start or why folks in the community are upset? Sit back, read, and truly listen. Dwell in your discomfort for a while. Try to identify areas where you have more to learn and seek out resources.

Interested in improving the fit of your patterns? Make sure your tester pool truly and deeply represents the range of measurements covered by your sizes. Wanting to develop more inclusive patterns, social media, blog content, and branding? Hire folks from various axes of marginalization as consultants (or, better yet, full-time staff). Hot tip: I’m available to hire as a consultant, and I bet other sewists would be up for it if you approach them and offer fair compensation.

Offer a service other than patterns and wondering how you can be inclusive? Work on making your space safer by moderating comments, developing commenting guidelines, and making specific, deliberate, and public statements about the importance of inclusion. Educate yourself and your staff about unconscious bias and make it clear that discrimination and microaggressions are not welcome within the public and private spaces of your business.

Want to show your appreciation to those whose words teach you something new? Consider dropping them a few bucks (my Ko-fi) or reposting their words with full credit — and enthusiastic support! — on your social media. Back them up if your exposure brings them hate. Follow and engage with a diverse range of makers (consider following SewQueer to find new folks!)

We’re honestly pretty fucking great.

Because we’re constantly forced to reinvent narratives of our own lives in order to survive, we challenge established ideas of how we should live and move in this world. Our presence in the sewing world makes it a better and more inclusive place, and we deserve respect in turn.

38 thoughts on “What I want pattern companies to know about their fat, queer customers

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  1. I love this post. and it makes perfect sense even though my experiences are different as a hetero mom of three sons. I support my family by working in tech, and many of my professional experiences have been defined by a sense that because of my gender, age, and / or weight, I’ve got a steeper hill to climb than my male colleagues (and being in tech, my colleagues are mostly male). Much of what you articulate here about pattern companies applies across the board, where despite decades of research quantifying the gazillion ways diversity makes any group / company / community stronger, more effective, and more resilient, there are still fundamental biases at play. Thanks for sharing, and let’s keep the conversation going.

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  2. So many good points! For me, the most obnoxious thing a pattern company can do is dismiss critiques with platitudes and poorly researched explanations/excuses for why they aren’t more inclusive, rather than simply acknowledging they have room to improve and asking for some suggestions on how or where to do that. Clearly, no company can accommodate every possible difference in body shape or size, especially not the tiny, one-person shows. However, they all choose a base range of sizes to work from, and anyone of them can or could have chosen to start with sizes that don’t fall along the smaller end of the spectrum of human sizes to begin with. The problem lies (at least in part) in their defaulting to a privileged ideal due to their ingrained assumptions about other demographics. Having said that, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong to want to specialize in producing for a specific body type or size; I just want people to acknowledge that is what they are doing, and that when they do so they are necessarily excluding some; and to be open to having a real dialogue about how their choices may affect those who are excluded, and how they can be more supportive and accommodating of other kinds of people while also staying true to their visions for the businesses. This is definitely one of the areas where thoughtful use of inclusive language could go a long way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! It was actually the excuses and the constant “it’s not about exclusion” comments that get me more than anything. It’s not fun to own that you’re part of a broken system, but if you are it’s your responsibility to see what you can do about it. And I think there are a lot of things companies can do about it that aren’t only expanding their range! What I’d like to see is those with some influence in the sewing world doing what they can to foster an environment where companies specializing in plus sizes can flourish, which includes things like promoting customer makes at the top end of their size range, etc.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I would follow your blog only for your amazing makes, but your thoughtfulness and fight are what really makes me come back again and again. As a white, cis, cusp sized, queer woman, I know the feeling of exclusion – and also the shock when someone points out how much I still speak from privilege. I’m trying to read and listen to people whose experiences with what I feel is a safe space are so different. So often it’s easier to make assumptions (sometimes even necessary, I’d say), but all these assumptions exclude someone, many someones. And with that I’ll stop my late-night rambling over what you already said so much better. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read your post with interest – I am an indie designer and also am classed as very obese in BMI. While I understand that you want inclusivity in indie designs I have to say that sometimes – alot of times – it just doesn’t work. I see quite a few of my fellow designers starting to up their sizes for new pattern releases – and the garments when modeled by the outer sizes look absolutely dreadful. The style and design just doesn’t work on an outer size. Just because you want to wear a particular style doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to WORK and look good on you. I see the call on many FB groups for increased size ranges…and these designers are grading their sizes up higher…but the fit of the garment when getting to these sizes looks HORRIFIC.

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    1. Well, that’s mostly because so many indie designers aren’t properly training in pattern cutting. Grading up to larger sizes is more complicated and requires more skill. So, yeah, it’s harder. But it’s not impossible. Also, it’s not up to you to decide what ‘works’ or doesn’t ‘work’ on someone else’s body. You might not want to wear some styles on your fat body and that’s your choice. You don’t get to choose what styles I want to wear on my fat body.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ros, agreed! Though I would even say that it’s not that drafting plus sizes is more complicated or requires more skill, just that it requires different techniques and different skills, ones that often aren’t taught. Jenny from Cashmerette posted an apt metaphor in her stories — it’s not that it’s difficult, it’s that you’re (the general you) having difficulties. It’s like learning a language as an adult compared to learning it as your first language — it takes different skills than what you’re used to, so it seems harder than what you already know.

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        1. Yes! Drafting plus sizes is not inherently harder. Grading up from a smaller base to a large size is what’s hard. It’s better just to start from a different base.

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    2. I think you might be talking about two different things here. If you’re saying that some companies improperly grade when it comes to larger sizes, ending up with garments that have misproportions, I agree! I’ve made patterns at the top end of size ranges and found that their method of equal grading means my sleeves are miles too long and the shoulders too broad. That, to me, does not mean that companies shouldn’t grade up but that we need more education and resources for ways to build plus sized blocks and grade them.

      If, however, you mean that some designs simply don’t “work” on plus size bodies, well, I fundamentally disagree. Any given design will look different on every body, and it’s not up to any of us to decide that it’s wrong on any particular body. I’m tired of companies and magazines and fellow sewists and other women telling me something is going to look bad on my body — fine if you feel that way, but you don’t get to tell other people that. And honestly, if you can’t make a design work for many bodies, even if it looks different across those bodies, it’s not a good design and you’re not a good designer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey my friend.😊. A question re your answer to Erin above. I grade up to a 54″ hip and is the equivalent to a 26AU here. I also provide an very extensive sizing chart that reflects the fit/lengths parameters of my patterns..would you check this chart of mine and adjust the pattern accordingly to your fit requirements?.

        And in answer to your question about plus size blocks and grading…and this is coming from me who has been a pattern engineer for a long time and have taught equally as long…..if specifc blocks were to be built the choice of “fit” parameters for the block are wide open and again will not fit a majority of the population – so in my mind a general pattern/block will work in conjunction with everyone consulting the provided chart of sizing measurements pertaining to that company.

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        1. Hi Ann — I think I follow what you’re saying and agree with you! Definitely a single block can’t fit all bodies within its size range, because body types vary. And I think all sewists plan to make adjustments to every pattern — I know I do! Providing detailed body and finished garment measurement charts helps so much with that. My comment was mostly directed towards grading that ends up with sleeve lengths, shoulder widths, etc, increased at the same rate as busts and hips, so you have very very long sleeves.

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          1. Hey again Shannon – I am nearly 6ft and have very long arms and need this graded length – it is the same as my pattern customer being 5ft and of asian ethnicity – where should we stop the grade ?.
            And I am so glad that you also confirm that a one “sized” drafted plus size fit block wont fit everybody – the trouble is that my reading of posts around this subject that this is what some expect – and the loudest always get heard.

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            1. Regarding this comment: you seem to be deliberately mis-reading my comment. Do you expect someone whose bust size is 1.5x the size of another sewist’s (say, a 36″ bust compared to a 54″ bust) to also have arms 1.5x as long? That’s what I mean by poor drafting.

              Regardless, I said nothing about drafting, about demanding every company expand their range, or about how blocks should fit in my post. My concern here is that there are pervasive ways queer, trans, and fat bodies are both talked about and disregarded in the sewing community that disturb and distress me. No need to conflate my post with others you’ve read.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. ” Hey there. Interesting post and even more interesting discussion over on IG. I am personlly a very plus size, pattern engineer of 35 years+, operate my own private fashion school and also am a Indie pattern designer (so I do have street creds). I take my sizes up to a 26AU/22US/54EU and am considering offering one/two more outer size in my range ( my designs are largely for woven). But there has been an underlying on-going problem – we all run tester calls for pattern road tests and post calls in various places – the biggest cry from the Indie designers themselves is that there is not alot of interest in the plus size market tester pool – they dont get responses for the tester phase of the pattern. So in some cases it is largely a case of a “rock and a hard place”. I would love for anyone with ideas how this can be solved so I can pass this on to my colleagues. Love to you all. Xx”

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    1. Hi Ann — I’m not sure if you already follow Cashmerette or the Curvy Sewing Collective on IG, but they both have posted resources around this! Jenny particularly suggests getting in touch with the CSC moderators to ask for permission to post tester calls in the Facebook group — companies that do often get more than they can take.

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      1. Hello again – interestingly enough – and only today – have any of us as designers in our collective group – and I am talking 100’s of members – have found out that we can post tester calls in Curvy Sewing Collective – and this is because I posted this question in a public forum for answers a few hours ago. So I think there has been alot of miscommunication between alot of people for a very long time.

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        1. I’m curious if you ever sought the CSC out and asked for permission to do a tester call before this? Do you follow the CSC? Are you in the FB group? I’m asking not to be accusatory but because I’ve heard similar things again and again in this conversation — that designers don’t know what plus size customers want, or how big the base is, or how to find testers, but it’s unclear to me to what extent designers have been accessing the biggest plus size sewing community/resource out there already.

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          1. Hey Shannon.
            Yes – I posted tester calls there approx 2 years ago and they were deleted.
            And I am in countless groups all over FB where I see plus size tester calls from countless designers – and not once has any reference been made to reach out to the CSC. When I started discussion in our designer group this morning about placing calls into this group many of my fellow designer colleagues were as surprised as I that this was now an option and allowable. It certainly has not been general knowledge that we can reach out in this group.
            We all have our own tester groups and we all have our own FB community groups (some memberships are huge) – we post tester calls in our groups and in generic FB groups for plus size testers and generally all we hear is crickets.

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            1. Well, I’m not an admin of the CSC group (though I believe they prefer to approve tester call posts), so I can’t speak to that. What I, and many other plus sized sewists are saying, is that we don’t feel welcome or wanted in parts of the sewing community, including the feeds, pages, and communities of brands that don’t go to our sizes. Speaking for myself, I also avoid FB groups that have rampant weight-loss and body-shaming talk, something all too common in the sewing world. I suggest that instead of blaming plus size sewists for not answering your call, you consider some of the reasons why we may not hang out in the same spaces as you.

              Now, as for testing itself: I haven’t done it much, but it seems to usually be unpaid and with a quick turnaround, another thing that might put plus sized sewists off. We *do* have to buy more fabric to test and might anticipate needing to do more adjustments in order to get a garment that fits on our bodies (again, this might vary), meaning it takes longer, and fat folks as a demographic make less money. I don’t test very often because my schedule and budget do not allow it, and that might also be the case for other plus sized sewists, perhaps moreso than straight sizes — just a supposition.

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                1. Suzanne, I fully believe that the intent is simply to explain what feels like a miscommunication on designers’ ends. From my end, and that of many other plus sized sewists, after hearing the same thing over and over, it begins to communicate to us that designers are stating that they can’t design plus sizes because plus size sewists either don’t exist in large numbers or won’t show up and do (unpaid) labor (labor that many of us find worthwhile, but that nonetheless does take up resources).

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    1. I don’t agree with all of her interpretations, but she does have really good points about the costs of bootstrapping/self-financing pattern lines! They are expensive, and hard work, and tough choices have to be made.

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  6. I was initially interested in reading your thoughts on this issue but the anger and language you express as the article goes on just left me cold and I quit reading. Try us again later, please.

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    1. Hi! What you’re doing is called tone policing, which is stating that your singular view of “politeness” is more important than the content of a marginalized person’s words or experience. When discussing marginalization, many people do find it necessary to express anger, because, naturally, being marginalized is an extremely frustrating, disempowering, and distressing experience. Sometimes it’s necessary to express that anger in order to fully communicate the experience of marginalization, and by refusing to read things that use language that expresses a full range of emotion you’re denying yourself the full picture and a chance to learn something about another person’s experience.

      Or:

      I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like my language. Choosing to moderate my tone is a *choice* and a privilege and not something I owe to you. If you think this sounded angry, you should have heard the first fucking draft, where I actually expressed something closer to the indignant rage I feel every time I get a DM from someone who wants to sew but feels excluded and hated in the sewing world because of their size. THAT is what is really disgusting, not my (honestly, pedestrian) use of the word “fuck.”

      Take your pick.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m late to the party but WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE? I spent most of my life as a fat girl before accidentally becoming ‘standard size’ as I was diagnosed with coeliac a few years back, and not a day passes without me wondering – really? You mean all those clothes and patterns just fit me? Straight from the box? What an effing privilege it is to have a body that companies think is ‘normal’ and ‘default’.

    Thank you also for talking about the cloying, ever-present heteronormativity in the sewing community – as an ace/aro lesbian, I sometimes feel like a two-headed chicken in formaldehyde amongst all the advice on how to hint to your ‘clueless hubby’ what fabric to buy for you or what to sew for the ‘man in your life’, as well as the constant expectation that we all have or want ‘little ones’ in our lives. This was a wonderful article that made me very emotional and – thank you again, for speaking for all of us queer kids not fitting into normative boxes.

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    1. Aw, I’m so glad this spoke to you! I SO feel you on the overwhelming heteronormativity in the sewing world — I could happily live my life never seeing another meme about hiding your fabric stash from your husband, god. Anyway thank you ❤

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