Menmain_large

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!”

171 Comments

  • 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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    Apr 2, 2011, 04.07 PMby Underpaidprophet

    Great article!

    I think that most of the best known designers are men is because when men do something (whatever it is) it becomes Serious Business and it becomes competitive, especially at the top end (consider chefs – most of the top restaurants are owned by men but cooking is also considered a feminine activity) and what Sunnilj9 said about flute players, for just 2 examples.

    Also, I think it is a question of attitude. I think you would get more men sewing if it was sold differently. It is still considered ‘sewing’ (the process) rather than making things (the result). Men are (in general – a lot of this is generalising) impressed if you made the shirt you are wearing (for example) but less so if you say ’i’m sewing a shirt’.

    I think this is why, traditionally, men are tailors (who make shirts) and women are seamstresses (who sew).

    All your points are also very true. As a man relatively new to sewing, there are very few patterns for men (searching for them was how i found your blog, and from that this article!), which will have to change to get more men sewing .

    Again, great article with good points.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 05.12 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great points, Prophet. Maybe we need get sewing machines into Home Depot! ;)

    • 4694225849_ec4622fedc_b_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 08.43 PMby A. Nguyen

      “Men are (in general – a lot of this is generalising) impressed if you made the shirt you are wearing (for example) but less so if you say ’i’m sewing a shirt’.”

      You’re probably right about that, because I have never received weird looks when telling people that I made whatever it was that I was wearing. I don’t think I have EVER said “I sewed this shirt” or “I sewed these pants”, but rather it’s always “I made this shirt” or “I made these pants”.

  • Missing

    Apr 2, 2011, 03.08 PMby rharperny

    Peter, another wonderful article — I’m a fan follower of your blog.

    I was lucky enough to grow up (in a small town in Iowa, no less…) with a supportive mother who believed that my siblings and I should follow whatever pursuits we wished — even those with distinctive gender roles attached.

    I began sewing at age 11 — my grandmother lived next door and although never school-trained in sewing, she had learned excellent techniques from her mother and grandmother and was a brilliant seamstress. She was my first teacher and from her I really learned a lot about fabric manipulation and ‘old school’ techniques (none of that new-fangled fusible stuff, and everything was hand-basted…).

    I did take sewing classes in high school and that was plenty of fuel for the bullies. My family and the teacher were supportive, so what did I care? I have loved sewing ever since. I went to fashion school as an adult (a certificate program in Haute Couture) — not because I considered it as a career, but just because it was a hobby I was passionate about and wanted to do very well.

    It’s still a passion of mine and I sew nearly every day. I feel sorry for people who don’t do what they love; there is no harm in trying, and perhaps if they try then all the other difficulties in pursuing their passion (e,g,, what would the neighbors think??) will be worth it. This proved to be true of all my siblings as well — all my brothers know their way around a house (cooking, cleaning, sewing…) and my sister is one of the smartest shade-tree mechanics that I know.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 05.13 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great comment. You’re very fortunate to have had that experience!

  • Missing

    Apr 2, 2011, 03.08 PMby rharperny

    Peter, another wonderful article — I’m a fan follower of your blog.

    I was lucky enough to grow up (in a small town in Iowa, no less…) with a supportive mother who believed that my siblings and I should follow whatever pursuits we wished — even those with distinctive gender roles attached.

    I began sewing at age 11 — my grandmother lived next door and although never school-trained in sewing, she had learned excellent techniques from her mother and grandmother and was a brilliant seamstress. She was my first teacher and from her I really learned a lot about fabric manipulation and ‘old school’ techniques (none of that new-fangled fusible stuff, and everything was hand-basted…).

    I did take sewing classes in high school and that was plenty of fuel for the bullies. My family and the teacher were supportive, so what did I care? I have loved sewing ever since. I went to fashion school as an adult (a certificate program in Haute Couture) — not because I considered it as a career, but just because it was a hobby I was passionate about and wanted to do very well.

    It’s still a passion of mine and I sew nearly every day. I feel sorry for people who don’t do what they love; there is no harm in trying, and perhaps if they try then all the other difficulties in pursuing their passion (e,g,, what would the neighbors think??) will be worth it. This proved to be true of all my siblings as well — all my brothers know their way around a house (cooking, cleaning, sewing…) and my sister is one of the smartest shade-tree mechanics that I know.

  • Missing

    Apr 2, 2011, 03.07 PMby rharperny

    Peter, another wonderful article — I’m a fan follower of your blog.

    I was lucky enough to grow up (in a small town in Iowa, no less…) with a supportive mother who believed that my siblings and I should follow whatever pursuits we wished — even those with distinctive gender roles attached.

    I began sewing at age 11 — my grandmother lived next door and although never school-trained in sewing, she had learned excellent techniques from her mother and grandmother and was a brilliant seamstress. She was my first teacher and from her I really learned a lot about fabric manipulation and ‘old school’ techniques (none of that new-fangled fusible stuff, and everything was hand-basted…).

    I did take sewing classes in high school and that was plenty of fuel for the bullies. My family and the teacher were supportive, so what did I care? I have loved sewing ever since. I went to fashion school as an adult (a certificate program in Haute Couture) — not because I considered it as a career, but just because it was a hobby I was passionate about and wanted to do very well.

    It’s still a passion of mine and I sew nearly every day. I feel sorry for people who don’t do what they love; there is no harm in trying, and perhaps if they try then all the other difficulties in pursuing their passion (e,g,, what would the neighbors think??) will be worth it. This proved to be true of all my siblings as well — all my brothers know their way around a house (cooking, cleaning, sewing…) and my sister is one of the smartest shade-tree mechanics that I know.

  • Missing

    Apr 2, 2011, 03.06 PMby rharperny

    Peter, another wonderful article — I’m a fan follower of your blog.

    I was lucky enough to grow up (in a small town in Iowa, no less…) with a supportive mother who believed that my siblings and I should follow whatever pursuits we wished — even those with distinctive gender roles attached.

    I began sewing at age 11 — my grandmother lived next door and although never school-trained in sewing, she had learned excellent techniques from her mother and grandmother and was a brilliant seamstress. She was my first teacher and from her I really learned a lot about fabric manipulation and ‘old school’ techniques (none of that new-fangled fusible stuff, and everything was hand-basted…).

    I did take sewing classes in high school and that was plenty of fuel for the bullies. My family and the teacher were supportive, so what did I care? I have loved sewing ever since. I went to fashion school as an adult (a certificate program in Haute Couture) — not because I considered it as a career, but just because it was a hobby I was passionate about and wanted to do very well.

    It’s still a passion of mine and I sew nearly every day. I feel sorry for people who don’t do what they love; there is no harm in trying, and perhaps if they try then all the other difficulties in pursuing their passion (e,g,, what would the neighbors think??) will be worth it. This proved to be true of all my siblings as well — all my brothers know their way around a house (cooking, cleaning, sewing…) and my sister is one of the smartest shade-tree mechanics that I know.

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    Apr 2, 2011, 02.56 PMby sadalmelik

    I think that a guy who can’t hit on little nice details (or can’t realize when his own clothes fit well on himself), will hardly have fine-enough motricity to sew! It doesn’t mean that the guy can’t sew, but there will be a huge “fight” between his frustration and his patience.

    1 Reply
  • Capture_d_cran_2011-01-08_11_00_29_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 02.25 PMby carlotta-stermaria

    Excellent post, Peter, and I especially love what everybody added in the comments.

    In my country I don’t know any guy who sews, but I don’t know that many girls who do either ; I guess it’s because in France home sewing is far from being as developped as it is in northern America : most of my sewing books and patterns instructions are written in English, as an example (no problem to find somptuous YSL suiting wool and Hermès shirting, though).

    But I think anoher reason why men don’t sew is because from a wider perspective, they’re not expected to care about clothes and what they look like in general. Not ‘manly’ enough, it seems. Even those who would like to look good are often not properly educated on that matter : most of my male friends don’t know wether their jeans fit or not!

    PS : For those looking for male beginner projects, I love the boxers project, but shopper bags, wallets, messenger bags and laptop cases could be OK, couldn’t they?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 03.01 PMby Peter Lappin

      Absolutely, yes! Whatever is fun for YOU.

  • Heart_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 12.34 PMby knighttemplar

    To get my guy friends to sew you would have to integrate an iPhone or droid into the sewing machine. :D But my 14 year old brother sews and cross stitches. and all my other brothers sew. I love them! <3

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 02.23 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s inspiring to hear!

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    Apr 2, 2011, 07.31 AMby flowergirl22

    hi,

    I am 43 this year,, I love sewing,, but I was taught by men,, my father, uncle, cousin,, all are trained in tailoring, dressmaking they knit, cook and mend all sorts still to this day. We grew up in a German weaving town,, my grandfather was a weaver,, that the company provided fantastic education for their workers and family,, schools training and healthcare. Later in the century Oetker was brought in,,

    some went into upholstery like my dad,, some went to do other things,, but they can all sew,, its rare,, but to be honest,, a man is a better teacher,, I went when I was 18 to dressmaking school for 3 years,, I learned less from her,, then my dad or any other female part of my family,, my mother does sew,, quiet well,, but my father has the better knack about it,, if you know what I mean.. I was very lucky I grew up with all the best sewing machines and fabrics money could buy,, we had an interior design business, I think there should be more men sewing.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 10.55 AMby Peter Lappin

      Fascinating story, Flowergirl. It’s great to hear so many different perspectives on the topic.

  • Missing

    Apr 2, 2011, 02.23 AMby dvanv2

    My father had a saddlery shop where used industrial sewing machines to make horse rugs and leather accessories for horses. He also hand sewed leather bridles etc for horses and never felt it was embarrassing.

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    Apr 2, 2011, 01.37 AMby urbandon

    Great article Peter. All so true- from the way school and society gears boys towards ‘tough-get-your-hands-dirty-bloke-stuff’ to the limit of good patterns from ALL the pattern houses has narrowed the amount of men home sewers. (cough, cough-Burda)

    I guess I was lucky- at school I was tough/outsider so I didn’t care what people thought and enjoyed sewing class. My mother gave me her old machine when I moved out of home too.

    I think you are in a perfect position to inspire more men to sew. Good luck with the sewing classes.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 2, 2011, 01.57 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Don. You inspire too!

  • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

    Apr 2, 2011, 12.26 AMby katexxxxxx

    For the blokes that sew:

    The GMNT a few years back, making jeans: http://www.diceyhome.free-online.co.uk/KatePages/Sewing_Projects/Boy%20stuuf/Jeans/jeans_for_james.htm

    He sews all his own badges on for cadets.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 1, 2011, 08.18 PMby lila-1

    Hmm, just reading through these comments and seeing how many people are saying that a lack of good suitings etc for menswear is a problem, so… All you male Kiwi sewers!!! For any of you near Auckland, you can find a lot of good suitings and shirtings (is that how you say it?) at Nick’s Fabrics on Dominion Rd at $4pm (they seem to be a clearance store for some of the designers etc), and somewhat more expensive at Centerpoint in Newmarket. If you want the silk and cashmere suitings you can find them at The Fabric Warehouse in Mt Eden. DIVINE suitings, tho out of my pricerange. There are a few other great suiting stores so if you have the time to rifle through all their stuff and want to know where they are, just message me.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 1, 2011, 07.03 PMby mamadden

    I think the learning curve is steeper for men’s clothing. Women start with skirts – two seams and some elastic or a zipper – and if you pick the right fabric and finish it nicely it can look like store-bought. Men’s clothing, while seemingly simpler, is usually far more finished and more attention is paid to the small details. I’d be hard pressed to recreate any of my husband’s clothes – t-shirts (I have a serger now, but getting the nice banding matched is hard), button downs (argh, I’m getting better at my own), jeans, and khakis. David Coffin’s book is great though and I’ve learn a lot.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 08.32 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s a great point. Men’s clothing is often very detailed and most men don’t wear skirts. ;)

  • Missing

    Apr 1, 2011, 06.38 PMby grifalyssa

    Where I am from, it is not uncommon for men to know how to sew, but it is limited to just mending. Because it is practical no matter the gender. But working with projects…not so much. I agree with you and truly believe that it is because there are not many patterns that cater to men.

    I think guys can create a whole new identity for the male sewist and reconstruct the ideals towards sewing. Guys I hang around are pretty practical, but enjoy being creative.

    What about that favorite “TapOut” shirt that was ripped/stained/ruined in some way? REUSE it! Take that cool “TapOut” design and sew it on a plain laptop case or make one from scratch! Now, you didn’t loose your favorite Tee and you got a badass laptop case! Double Win! I am just a girl, but I do help guys with crafts such as sewing and would LOVE to see more “guy projects”

    1 Reply
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