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Readers, as a very visible man who sews, I am often asked the question, Why don’t more guys sew? We know a lot of fashion designers and nearly all tailors are male, so why aren’t there more male home sewists?

My answer is always, well, some men do sew. But even I know that the number is very small compared to the number of women who sew.

Having grown up male in the United States, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most men don’t sew and probably would never consider it. Here are some of the reasons (in no particular order) and maybe you’ll have some of your own to add.

First, let’s define terms. I’m talking about home sewing. If you follow fashion you know that the majority of the best-known designers are men. This has been true for a long time and probably comes out of the men’s tailoring tradition. There are more and more exceptions with every passing generation, but currently, at least, women’s (and men’s) fashion is still dominated by men.

So with regard to home sewing, why are there so few men who do it (or are public about doing it)?

1. Throughout most of the last century, sewing was taught in high school home economics classes. It was part of a standardized curriculum for girls. Boys took shop. Simply put, sewing was not considered masculine.

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 written exclusively for men who sew (perhaps this could be an untapped niche!). 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 has exclusively targeted women. This includes everything from sewing machines ads, pattern ads, promotional ads for new fabrics, etc.

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Sewing machine companies understood who their market was. They didn’t advertise in Field & Stream, Sports Illustrated, or — Heaven 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. 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. They aren’t garments (most) 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, the same stigma that exists for any activity generally considered feminine. These include ballet, figure skating, playing with dolls…you get the idea. We still live in a society where gender roles are narrowly defined and the person who tries to experiment with them becomes an easy target of others’ ridicule. Simply put, men don’t have role models for sewing — if they did, things might be different. 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, though perhaps it’s less overt.

Inevitably we have to consider homophobia, since many highly visible men in fashion are gay. Fear of being labeled gay in our culture makes it even less likely that a man who isn’t gay (or even one who might be) is going to venture into the fabric store and rifle through the cotton shirting.

6. The sad truth is that, relative to the population, few people sew for themselves anymore, period. The home sewing machine industry has contracted dramatically and no longer advertises in mainstream publications. Clothing has become relatively cheap and home sewing has become a niche hobby, arguably growing more popular among young women (and some men), but much smaller than it was only a generation ago. Remember too: most women now work out of the home and men always have (we’re talking the last hundred years); free time for leisure activities like sewing is limited.

I attended the American Sewing Expo in Novi, Michigan in 2009. My friend Brian and I were two of only a handful of men in attendance. There was nothing offered at the Expo in the way of workshops or booths catering to the male sewer.

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On BurdaStyle there are just a handful of men who are active; same goes for sites like Pattern Review, or readers of my blog, Male Pattern Boldness. (The mechanics of sewing does seem to interest a fair number of men and so much of sewing is about measuring, cutting, and construction. It’s not all that different to carpentry!)

7. Finally, we all know that sewing takes time: time to learn and time to put into practice. How many men are willing to commit the time it takes to learn to sew when the payoff is a pair of pajamas? Let’s face it: it will always be easier, if not cheaper, to get your wardrobe needs met at the Gap than by your own hand — man or woman. Sewing is a labor of love and not many men are feeling it. That said, I’ll be teaching men’s clothing construction starting in May at Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn and while the classes I offer won’t be exclusively for men, I’m hoping to attract some men to the class. We’re starting with boxers, but we’re working our way up to jeans and shirts. Classes meet one evening per week and run for four weeks.

Readers, have I left anything out? Why do you think more men don’t sew?

What would have to happen to change things?

Jump in!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

169 Comments

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    Feb 9, 2014, 05.37 PMby thezebcokid

    My wife bought me a sewing machine for my 40th birthday. She doesn’t sew, but knew I had an interest. I am now 50.

    Over the years, I have sewn lined vests (beautiful, but not too practical), pheasant hunting vest (pretty cool), pajamas for my wife and I (me?….eek grammar challenge!), a decoy bag for duck hunting decoys (the synthetic material really put my non-industrial machine to the test), coveralls, and various repairs/alterations.

    I must say, what slows me down in terms of projects is finding patterns that don’t look foolish. The industry is ripe for an update.

    Also, the instructions could be vastly improved. I’ve spent a week on a three sentence paragraph trying to understand what they want, and correlate it to the illustration. There is so much technology out there nw, that there is no excuse for not having instructions totally clear and easy to follow. Heck, how about the invention of the camera! We could actually use photographs instead of rough illustrations.

    Anyway, I stumbled into this very blog this morning while sitting in a cafe, doing a Google search for “Male Sewing Patterns”. I found “malepatternboldness”, which is great, but the quest will continue.

    Cheers!

    DG

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    Oct 14, 2013, 10.49 PMby Nigel Syin

    Well haven’t done too much pure sewing yet, but If a bit of cross stitch counts, I’m in. Any suggestions on a good way to start?

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    Nov 2, 2011, 10.05 PMby Marieke Hensel

    Thanks for sharing! My 9yo son recently started to develop an interest in sewing, and as I am still a beginner myself, I was looking into sewing classes but I don’t want him to be scared away by an all female audience. I don’t want him to grow up thinking its for girls only, and I want to make sure he has some projects under his belt and found out if he enjoys doing it or not before he gets influenced by any social stigma that there is. At 9yo he is very much a boys boy and inspired by Project Runway, I want him to make decisions based on what he loves doing not if his friends are accepting or if its a girl/boy thing to do.

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    Apr 19, 2011, 04.48 PMby minimontse

    Peter, as always, a great post on a great subject. I think most of the women who sew do it because we started making garnments for our dolls, near to a sewing mom or grandma. And boys don’t play with dolls, oh, no, no….One of my childhood frustrations is wanting a car for Christmas, wich I never got…Gender prejudices seem to stick to one another, unfortunately. But if I ever have a son, I will be sad because boys garnments are not so pretty as girls’, but I will definitely teach him to sew, to cook, to love nature and respect every living creature…and lots of stuff to make of him an independent and grown up adult, such as I would do with a girl. And by the way, in many fabric shops, at least here in Barcelona, the shop attendants are male…another curious subject. Finally, about feminine hobbies: I met a guy who loved to make traditional lace, the one that’s made with a cushion and a lot of pins. He even went to meetings of “puntaires” (lace makers) which are a very active community and meet almost every week in some town of Catalonia. He was exposed to the “hehehehee” looks of the lace makers’ husbands, but he went there with his sons (boy and girl) and taught them to overcome those prejudices. That’s something, and you can always sing “I am what I am” while you sing, crochet or make lace!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 21, 2011, 06.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great story, Minimontse!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 04.57 PMby tacomapat

    My 88 year old dad taught my mother to sew when they were first married, 67 years ago. He uses the serger to make his own red fleece stockings. He actually makes them for other folks who admire them – waitresses in their favorite restaurant, etc. He designed some very cool windsocks in the 1970’s and 80’s. He’s a retired fine New England craftsman – woodworking. I don’t know that any of his 5 brothers ever used a sewing machine, but some of them were great cooks and bakers.

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    Apr 7, 2011, 10.08 AMby Susan Combrinck

    My Husband sew some of his jackets – all I needed to do was to sew the pockets with lining and turn it inside out. He did the rest and also put in the zip. He also made a bag to put his books and pencils in and also some drawstring bags for his pastels. A few years ago we sold kites and he also sew a few himself. If I am busy with something else, he can sit down and sew when he wants something,

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 7, 2011, 11.09 AMby Peter Lappin

      That’s great, Susan!

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    Apr 7, 2011, 03.55 AMby notdeadredhead

    My fiance asked me to teach him how to sew one time, because I keep repairing his clothes and threatening to repair others. (It would just look so much better with a little TLC!) I’m hoping he actually takes me up on the offer someday! I showed him a little bit of hand-sewing, and he actually kind of seemed to enjoy it, with the exception of pricking his finger… I promised him that he wouldn’t do that every time, and that it’s MUCH easier to avoid that with a machine.

    2 Replies
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      Apr 7, 2011, 11.08 AMby Peter Lappin

      Hilarious — and true! Good luck with him.

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      Apr 7, 2011, 09.41 PMby katielikestodraw

      LOL @ threatening to repair his clothes!!
      I can totally identify with giving TLC to my boyfriend’s clothes though, haha.

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    Apr 6, 2011, 05.07 PMby gedwoods

    Great post and great discussion, Peter! I agree, it is clearly a matter of “gender culture” that is still very much awry. We’ve made great steps moving women out of the “pink ghetto”, even though there is still a lot of injustice there, but the “remancipation” of men still has to occur. I think the reasons for this, however, are deeper than “just” a question of gender roles. Men are still largely viewed as the “monsters” of our world – if anything, the feminist movement has deepened the malaise between men and women over the relationships between men, anger and violence, while de-emphasizing the darker side of femininity and motherhood. This is endemic in the west, although I don’t know how it plays out in other cultures. Until this changes, men feel, I believe, “on the defensive” and are less inclined to experiment with alternatives. I think that’s also why men’s fashion choices are more conservative than are women’s, as a group. The lack of men among domestic sewers is just one among the many consequences of these very deep psycho-cultural phenomena.

    And this, despite long-standing traditions to the contrary. You mention tailors and fashion designers, but I often think of men in the armed forces, especially the navy, who have a tradition of making and repairing their own clothes that goes back hundreds of years, to the time of the tall ships (along with sailmaking, another fabric trade!). It is hard to find a group of men who are viewed as being more “masculine” than these, and yet sewing is part of their traditions. So there are microcultures, even in the west, where the popular truth that men “do with wood and metal, where women do with fabric” are not valid.

    Although men are conservative in their garment and fashion choices, perhaps they compensate by being demanding regarding the quality of the clothes they buy. It is widely know that men’s garments are systematically of better quality than are many women’s garments, the whole industry taken together. Men generally have more means to buy higher quality clothes, one of the consequences of the inequities that still exist between men and women in our western societies. However, from the point of view of sewing one’s clothes, the gap is larger to cross for apprentice men sewers than for women – not just in terms of availability of patterns and so forth, but also to meet these higher standards. It may also be one of the reasons men are still drawn to the profession of tailoring, an attraction to meeting the levels of discipline required of the proffesion.

    Although I don’t think the general culture is going to change anytime soon, I think the internet and the possibilities it offers for consolidation and solidarity among the like-minded offers a powerful means to encouraging and nourishing the presence of communities of men who like sewing and who practice it systematically. Your blog offers one such place, as do our various postings here on BurdaStyle, but perhaps we could do more as well. The possibility of sharing stories across cultures also favors this.

    Regarding your comment about the lack of books that speak to men. I must say that I find one exception to this. I don’t know if David Page Coffin writes his books with men or women in mind, but I know that when I was reading them, I felt a direct part of his audience, unlike many of the other books about sewing. Perhaps the exception proves the rule, though!

    So, a few thoughts in response to a great posting and a great discussion!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 6, 2011, 09.28 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great comment, Gedwoods! I’m not sure I agree with your argument about psycho-cultural phenomena with regard to men taking on something like sewing, but I do think that as a rule “masculinity” is a construct and thus highly vulnerable, which is why so often men who feel that their masculinity is threatened will resort to violence. (If men are strong, why are they so easily set off?)

      In my experience this is simply not the case for women; they don’t have to “prove” their femininity.

      Great points about sailors — I never thought of that!

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    Apr 6, 2011, 05.09 AMby charith

    I think it extends beyond sewing. I don’t know many men who sew, bake regularly, conduct music, create artwork or do many other “artistic” things. But when I think of the top professionals in all of these areas, men come to mind. I have often wondered why it seems (to me) that women generally create on a domestic level while men create on a professional level. Except for maybe carpentry. That’s done domestically primarily by men. So maybe if a sewing machine was designed with a drill bit attached to it…

    1 Reply
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      Apr 6, 2011, 11.35 AMby Peter Lappin

      Ha! You make a great point — the domestic sphere seems to be dominated by women, the professional sphere by men (although certainly this has changed in the last few generations and continues to change). I think this reflects the division of labor over the last century or two, where men were the primary earners outside the home. I think before that most people supported themselves by living off the land and EVERYBODY did a lot of physical labor.

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    Apr 6, 2011, 01.20 AMby coffeepezaddict

    I think you hit it on the head with the “NOTHING ABOUT SEWING IS CATERED TO MEN!” Looking at patterns at the fabric store is like trying to find manly stationary at Hallmark. In fact, it’s even hard to find good standard fabrics where I live. Everything is covered in licensed characters or batiked. Where are all the good tweeds, corduroy, denim, etc? Like a needle in a haystack as they say. Keep fighting the good fight.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 6, 2011, 11.29 AMby Peter Lappin

      I think these days you have to buy it online. These fabrics CAN be purchased but rarely locally, sadly.

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    Apr 5, 2011, 11.00 PMby taranach

    I’m a man who has been “sewing” and creating for over 20 years now… it started at home helping my Mom put together specific outfits that I wanted which were not available elsewhere. Then I actually did a bit of a lucrative sideline in the military by sewing on tags and patches for others. Later on I joined the SCA which is a medieval reenactment group and there is virtually nothing available there unless you make it. I started with simple pass down patterns in SCA book, then started modifying existing Halloween costumes, and more recently I have delved into completely designing on my own. I now have several patterns for both men and women that are not available anywhere else. One of these days I will try to get one or more of those patterns transcribed into the computer and post them… if there is enough interest.

    1 Reply
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      Apr 6, 2011, 01.01 AMby Peter Lappin

      I think Renaissance Fairs and groups like SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) have inspired a lot of men to sew. Glad to hear you’re doing it!

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    Apr 5, 2011, 10.58 PMby dmathias

    My 10 year old son loves to sew. It started with a family tree project in 2nd grade. I had him sitting on my lap to help him and he asked me to leave so he could do it himself. He has made some cool shoulder bags for friends and for himself because he likes to do a lot of outdoor adventuring!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 6, 2011, 01.01 AMby Peter Lappin

      That’s great to hear — I hope he keeps it up!

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    Apr 5, 2011, 09.46 PMby hanna56

    I’m going to sound like the worst mother in the world but I was really disappointed when I found out I was having a son, for two reasons. 1. Sewing for boys is much more limited, even when they are little, patterns are hard to find and don’t include fun embellishments like bows and frills 2. That I would not be able to teach him to sew and have the great connection over fabric that myself and my mother have shared.

    But thanks Peter! Now I have renewed hope that maybe if I teach him anyway when he is young, he may enjoy the reward of a finished product he can wear and even though it may not be socially acceptable to shout it from the roof tops, I can pass to him the same skill and craft my mother did for me and we will have our secret bonding passion <3

    1 Reply
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      Apr 5, 2011, 10.36 PMby Peter Lappin

      Exactly! Great comment, Hanna.

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    Apr 5, 2011, 09.40 PMby lauraj-1

    My husband has discovered he has a talent for hand embroidery. With carpal tunnel, I can no longer do much embroidery by hand. I’m finding the more he works at it, the better his stitching is getting, so I handed a project I started (to fix a pair of jeans torn by a wheelchair) off to him. I’ve got to get him some of those easy to use smaller hoops and some more needles. He’s also teaching himself to darn socks! Some of our favorite wool socks are expensive to replace, but cheaper to repair. He tried sewing, but he and the machines don’t get along. But he can replace a button or a snap in half the time I can. So we end up a sewing team. As soon as my embroidery machine is back together, I’m going to teach him how to line-up the embroidery and load the card. Since he’s disabled, he has more time at home than I do. We make a good team. I’ll have to be sure to get a picture of the recently embroidered replacement pocket he just finished for his jeans. A little harder next project, replacement of both inside pockets on a pair of GI issue cargo pants. I think at some point, the male/female issue will become something long forgotten. I know at my house, the boy’s learning to clean, cook, wash dishes and mend; the girls are learning to change oil, tires, fix windows and repair the lawn mower.

    1 Reply
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      Apr 5, 2011, 10.36 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s great, Laura. Very inspiring!

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    Apr 5, 2011, 08.44 PMby Susan Norgren

    My husband and I do machine embroidery. His computer tech ability is what drew him in, because of the digitizing software my embroidery machine came with . When I have a problem figuring out a pattern or construction issue, Rob always finds a solution. Like the coffin purse I made and figuring how the best way to square up a wall hanging. Also when my machine is acting funky, it is Rob who can figure it out and get it stitching again.

    Sure wish I could post some photos of his embroidery and and of my 12 and 13 year old grandsons embroidering on grandma’s sewing machine!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 5, 2011, 10.35 PMby Peter Lappin

      I’d love to see that, Susan!

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