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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

  • Dsc02701_large

    Apr 5, 2011, 07.22 PMby dragonlord

    I am a man of a certain age (50). I have been sewing since 1991. I started because I could not find what I wanted in the stores. I sew a lot of guy stuff (man-bags, suits, outdoor gear, recreation uniforms for the re-enactors, and costumery for the LARP folks) and quite a bit of clothing for the ladies (wedding/prom dresses, lingerie, swimwear). My wife has been the major benefactor of my sewing skills. I have amassed quite a number of patterns and developed patterns for guy stuff that can’t be found. I would be happy to share any info I have with any up and coming guy sewers (or ladies) out there. I am always on the lookout for guy stuff patterns. Feel free to give me a shout.

    1 Reply
  • The_dark_lord_90x90px_large

    Apr 4, 2011, 08.54 PMby stephenalimonti

    I’m new to sewing but live in Barcelona where there was always a thriving textile industry. I have lots of friends whose mothers taught their daughters but none of them do their own home sewing anymore. Their mothers are very encouraging for my attempt. I’ve got one male friend who sews but only because his wife’s family makes handmade sports shoes, ice skates and rollerskates. I have managed to finds lots of books on sewing (a five-volume Vogue sewing course, a design university course, etc.) but nothing with anything more than a few pages dedicated to men’s tailoring or patterns. I ran into the same problem with knitting and crochet patterns— Tacky and ugly waste of time and material that seem more like a practical joke gift. I find very little in the way of mens’ patterns so I am trying to draft my own from clothes that fit me or with the pattern designing explainations in the books I bought. I find it relaxing and challenging so far. I agree that sewing is not considered a male activity in the States, but here there are no men at the fabric stores (and Barcelona has some great ones)—I did get some rather strange looks when I asked for a tailors’ thimble in my size. I don’t care really because I can always whip up one of those granny-square monstrosity from the crochet magazines they sell and give it to them as a gift. I found some old issues of a Spanish publication called ‘Patrones’ that published a annual men’s issue but they are out of style and need tons of restructuring to avoid looking like the wardrobe from the ‘Brady Bunch’. Hopefully Burda will start paying more attention to menswear.

    1 Reply
  • Mmbio_450_450_large

    Apr 4, 2011, 10.23 AMby mattmoodie

    I have been sewing for a couple of years now and agree about the lack of men’s patterns. The only contemporary pattern I have bought was a Young Burda trouser pattern. It’s pretty good and I was even asked where I bought the trousers by a perfect stranger. Luckily this was in a sewing shop, so I told him which pattern to get, but it had been discontinued! So the nicest contemporary pattern I’ve ever seen had been cancelled…

    Anyway, I usually go vintage now, Folkwear if I can get my hands on them. The old-school simplicity is quite modern really and the build-quality of the patterns is staggering. You can riff on the theme of most of them to make some great stuff.

    I also draft my own patterns using Winifred Aldrich’s “Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear.” This is the carpentry/woodwork analogue; the rulers and set-squares come out to make something that fits properly. Once I got used to this, it meant I was much better at altering other patterns as well.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 4, 2011, 01.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Matt — that’s great to know!

  • Missing

    Apr 3, 2011, 09.02 PMby luthersymons

    love your post, love your blog – as a gay man living in Palm Springs (possibly the gayest place on earth), you’d be surprised at how often I get surprised looks from friends when they find out I sew most of my clothes (and a good amount of my husband’s, also) – I just shrug it off – it helps that I’m 6-4 and 235 lbs and look kinda mean (picture Jesse Ventura with an apron. . . . ) – all I can say is, few things satisfy me more than completing a sewing project, or finishing upholstering a sofa, or baking a loaf of bread or pursuing any of my other passions that might be viewed as typically feminine – if that makes me a sissy, so be it – a big, mean hairy one LOL – btw, I’ll be watching the kindle store intently for new sewing titles from a certain new New York-based author

    3 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 09.18 PMby Peter Lappin

      Ha ha! Thanks for your confidence, Luther! ;)

    • 4b0baf013b18d4c34c8f097033869a5329edfb8b_large

      Apr 4, 2011, 07.23 AMby corinneski

      You haven’t visited Sydney, Australia. Lots of men sew here even if it is only to run up a little outfit for the Gay Mardi Gras – very stylish too!

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      Apr 4, 2011, 12.26 PMby pambox

      you took the words out of my mouth, corinneski! while sewing is still very much a predominantly female thing, seeing men in sewing shops in sydney is very normal.

  • Missing

    Apr 3, 2011, 03.52 PMby nikmartin

    I started sewing as a way to channel my desire to diy. I like to woodwork, garden, anything that lets me learn a technical skill and hobby. Woodworking is very expensive, and I don’t have the space for a workshop, but the janome hd3000 I bought sits unobtrusively in a spare bedroom. My wife does embroidery for money and for our 5 year old daughter, and I picked up sewing when my wife said she’d like to have some simple dresses for our daughter, but didn’t have the skill. I also sew camping gear, like lightweight tarps, hammocks, etc. To me, I’ve never considered sewing a woman’s skill, although I knew more women than men do it. It’s a very technical skill, which excites me.

  • Missing

    Apr 3, 2011, 03.52 PMby nikmartin

    I started sewing as a way to channel my desire to diy. I like to woodwork, garden, anything that lets me learn a technical skill and hobby. Woodworking is very expensive, and I don’t have the space for a workshop, but the janome hd3000 I bought sits unobtrusively in a spare bedroom. My wife does embroidery for money and for our 5 year old daughter, and I picked up sewing when my wife said she’d like to have some simple dresses for our daughter, but didn’t have the skill. I also sew camping gear, like lightweight tarps, hammocks, etc. To me, I’ve never considered sewing a woman’s skill, although I knew more women than men do it. It’s a very technical skill, which excites me.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 09.17 PMby Peter Lappin

      Excellent — glad to hear you’re sewing, Nik.

  • 71f81a7e5da94ff8950c3b39488895d308910e85_large

    Apr 3, 2011, 09.33 AMby sewhipmomma

    im female :) but im happy to say that the person that got me into being more creative and sewing clothing for myself is a man :) we have worked on many projects together and i couldnt ask for a better teacher because he is always so easygoing …my ex also loved to do cross stitch…not really sewing ..but he sure had way more talent and patience at it than i do ;) ..and yes he kept it secret for fear of being teased by his brothers he said he enjoys it because he finds it relaxing …so i think maybe more men are interested in sewing but dont really make it known ..because of reasons such as for fear of judgement…getting teased etc… like the artcle says.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 12.21 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think you’re right.

  • Missing

    Apr 3, 2011, 06.17 AMby cghipp

    Excellent post – I always love your writing. But I have to admit to being a little disappointed that the machine for one woman in ten was apparently NOT referring to us left-handed gals. You know, they say we’re one in ten, but I suspect there are a lot more of us out there than that!

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Apr 3, 2011, 12.08 AMby xylina

    There are alot men that sew then you know about. I attend medieval/renaissance fairs and conventions as well as cosplay, and there are ALOT of guys who have to learn to sew for they’re outfits. You can’t buy Victorian, Edwardian, baroque etc clothing at ANY off the rack shops.

    Its more about what the guy’s extracurricular activities are. Ive already taught my boyfriend to layout, cut and pin together basic items (and he’s thrilled with the bragging rights that he helped make his costumes) And I hope to soon get him using my machine and serger. So I guess more guys that are taking up sewing do so for costumes then regular clothing. I personally don’t make much clothing for myself when I can buy my dress shirts for $5. But I do make TONS of costumes for myself and many other friends. I guess its really about supply and demand, there is alot of demand for cosplay outfits but little to no supply of them
    3 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 01.49 AMby Peter Lappin

      Excellent point — and in fact there are a lot of in-print men’s costume patterns: everything from Biblical figures to Sherlock Holmes! And the Renaissance fair thing is very popular.

    • 970316_10201865009255816_2084508514_n_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 09.44 AMby lclausewitz

      Quite true. I got into sewing through the living history/reenactment route, and a lot of the self-made contents of my wardrobe are historical or historically-inspired stuff.

    • _mg_3848_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 09.14 PMby villeford

      That’s the exact example I had thought of. The guys I know who sew are all larpers. And it’s probably just the circle I run in, but that’s quite a few men. The majority of them do not also do “regular” clothing, but a few of them do.

  • Skull_20and_20crossbones_20blk_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 11.25 PMby aurorapoison

    I wish I lived close so I can attend your class :(. I always wanted to learn more about menswear

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 01.47 AMby Peter Lappin

      I’m also leading a jeans sew-along on my blog in May, so there’s always that…

  • Sewgirl_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 10.42 PMby empressg

    I’m a loyal fan of your blog and had a blast on the men’s shirt sewalong.

    One Christmas, I gave my husband a beginning sewing class at the local Fabric Mega Mart as his big gift. I let him borrow my tools and raid my stash and sent him off for a few hours of sewing instruction. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and frequently asks if there’s anything I need him to help with on my projects.

    He has taught himself how to digitize graphics into embroidery files for my embroidery machine, even. When I get my sewing business up and running {fingers crossed}, he’s offered to be my cutting minion and “hopefully when I have enough practice I can help you sew”. If that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

    He would never have worked up the courage to try, though, if I hadn’t got him started with an easy project – a basic beginner’s class. We’ve got a friend who’s a lindy hopper who makes his own pants and has for well over a decade. I think that this friend also served as a bit of inspiration.

    Sew on my brutha, sew on!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 01.46 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks Empress. Congratulations on your success with your husband!

  • 4694225849_ec4622fedc_b_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 08.52 PMby A. Nguyen

    The dearth of interesting menswear patterns no doubt contributes to the small number of men who sew. (At a local meetup.com group that I am a part of, I am, so far, the only man!) Not only the variety of patterns is lacking, whatever available tends to be more of a “timeless” silhouette (that is, a little duddy-fuddy! :) ) than an up-to-date silhouette.

    For instance, the current menswear jacket patterns available need fair amounts of adjustment before they’d resemble the current trend of shorter/tighter/slimmer fitting jackets.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 3, 2011, 01.46 AMby Peter Lappin

      This is so true. Styles are often out of date.

  • 4694225849_ec4622fedc_b_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 08.46 PMby A. Nguyen

    I don’t know if I buy the premise that maybe men don’t sew as much because we don’t have the patience.

    A ton of other “manly” pursuits such as woodworking, working on cars, etc. requires just as much patience and dedication and practice as sewing, yet many men have no issue with sticking with, and enjoying, those pursuits.

    1 Reply
  • 970316_10201865009255816_2084508514_n_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 06.51 PMby lclausewitz

    Personally, I’d be more tempted to compare drafting, cutting, and construction to laying out a defensive position. Especially when you realise that placing seams and buttons isn’t all that different from positioning trenches and foxholes—you want just the right amount of exposure, no more, no less….

    (Oh, and if you ever end up writing a sewing book for men, don’t forget to say that a needle, a razor blade (or a very sharp utility knife), and a small spool of thread do make much more durable repairs than duct tape, especially when you’re stuck on a mountainside in the middle of nowhere with no less than two days’ journey to the nearest outpost of civilisation. Never mind that the exact same tools could also make handy sutures when you have disinfectants and are really, really desperate. So ask them once again if they still want to be unable to sew when the zombie apocalypse comes.)

    1 Reply
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