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.

Photobucket
Photobucket

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.

Photobucket
Photobucket

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

  • Green_eyes_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 03.15 PMby frankiesoup

    I think that sewing was traditionally women’s work because women were at home to do it. All domestic chores which could save a household money fell into female hands and sewing was a great way to economise when clothing a family. Mothers would have passed the knowledge to their daughters who were expected to remain at home, whilst sons would be sent out to learn a trade. Over the years, sewing became something exclusively femenine. Now that women are working too though, it seems that people sew as a form of relaxation, rather than out of necessity.In recent years, I think an increasing number of men have discovered that not only is it incredibly useful to be able to alter their own clothes, but die-hard engineers and mechanics (like my Dad) are starting to discover that sewing machines are pretty interesting too. For people like that, as soon as you introduce an electronical gadget, anything becomes cool :D

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 04.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      I totally agree. And one of the great things about mechanical machines in particular is that you can fix them yourself with the aid of a manual and a few tools.

  • Dscn0826_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 02.41 PMby ruthw

    The repeated theme here is that there are no patterns for men, but this is Burda Style, guys! Burda magazine puts out more patterns for men than the big four combined (though that’s not very many, it must be said). And they are modern and stylish and varied.

    So maybe, just maybe, if we shout loud enough, as well as the Burda Plus magazine that comes out (I think) once a year and collects all the plus size patterns from the year together, as does (I believe) Burda kids (or whatever it’s called), maybe Burda mag could be persuaded to put out the MEN’s patterns in a mag once a year. Why not “BURDA MEN”? Sounds good to me. Why don’t all those interested start an email campaign to persuade them?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 04.09 PMby Peter Lappin

      Ruth, I think that’s a great idea.

  • Missing

    Apr 1, 2011, 02.21 PMby Jll58

    I guess I come an odd family, as my father was taught how to tat, my brother can use the sewing machine but his wife never gives him a chance lol. As for me, I am teaching my son how to use the sewing machine, knit and a bit of hand sewing. I think its great when any man can do any type of sewing. I have vowed that my son will be very well rounded in all skills so that when he is off to college or maybe takes a job abroad, so that he will survive without the help of anyone.

    Times have changed and do wish that we would stop having male or female dominated jobs. My father was always making sure that each of my siblings and myself knew how to do just abt everything that he knew abt livestock, grains, and anything mechanical, and my mother also made sure we all knew how to survive in her world of cooking/cleaning/sewing. And it has been a godsend for me that I was well prepared for the world.

    I think its great when any man can take care of himself without having to ask others to do it for him. I aplaud any man or women who can fend for themselves in this world. Keep up the great work, and I bet there is a sewing book out there somewhere for men.

    So maybe we should as mothers teach our sons how to do even simple sewing such as putting button on. It may lead to great things.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 04.08 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great comment: I couldn’t agree with you more. Any well-honed skill is an additional asset we have, both to share with others and to take care of ourselves (not to mention the sheer pleasure of it).

  • 555601_501658813193233_862358384_n_1__large

    Apr 1, 2011, 11.52 AMby joost52

    Thanks for the article Peter.

    I am myself a 34-year old heterosexual man and I absolutely love to sew. Having said that, I must admit that I feel some restraint to talk about it in public. It’s not that I am embarrassed about it, if anything I am proud, but because I care about it it hurts my feelings when others ridicule it. So often I just shut my mouth and talk about cars ;-)

    The points you raise are spot-on. From the fabric store to the book store, all things sewing are geared towards women and it can get a little frustrating to try and find your way as a man. And for us much positive energy I get from people who share the passion, I get a lot of negative vibes from people who just can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that you are passionate about a thing like that. For example, until recently I paid regular visits to the Burdastyle website. I looked at what other people were doing and expressed my appreciation for them in the comments section. I got nice feedback too on the things I was doing, and it was wonderfully motivating. One day, somebody I considered a friend stumbled upon my Burdastyle profile. Since all information on the website is public and I used my real name and picture she went through the comments and apparently found it rather hilarious that I was commenting on other people. She started making fun of it, forwarding it to other friends and so on. It was quiet a setback for my openness on sewing. I haven’t commented much on Burdastyle since, and I have posted no projects. I have a blog where I used to post things, now I have split up my sewing stuff into a separate blog that doesn’t carry my real name.

    Long story short: I went into hiding after I got bitten by the narrow mindedness of my own friends. I still talk about it with people who I know care, and I do pay more attention to who I call a friend ;) But the stigmatizing attitude of the outsiders on male sewing enthusiasts shouldn’t be underestimated.

    So, let’s join forces and lower the bar for men to get into sewing and connect with their peers. I’m reading your blog from now on, and I’d love to work together with other men to setup some sort of online starting point for men who are into sewing. Not so much for us who are already doing it, but for those who’ll want to start tomorrow. Learning it is hard as it is, one shouldn’t have to cope with all the frowns on top of that.

    Thanks for doing what you do, and please keep it up.

    Kind regards, Joost

    http://joost.decock.org/ http://sartorialdiy.com/

    4 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.45 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great to read our comment, Joost, and I’m sorry to hear about your experience with your “friend.” Good grief!

      I haven’t had the experience you describe, fortunately. As with all things in life, we need to follow our passions and not allow others’ opinions of us to hold us back. It’s a process, as they say.

      The beauty of being completely public and open about something like sewing is that it defangs our potential adversaries — we can’t be shamed.

    • Img_7296_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 01.22 PMby tonierenee

      Your post to this article hit home with me. I am sorry you had to deal with such treatment especially from someone you called a friend. I have 4 kids (three boys and one girl) and I require each of them to learn to sew as well as cook anything they like to eat. I want them to be self sufficient and creative. They started when they were around 3 and for the most part they hear positive feed back from people. I do worry about what they may hear from those who don’t know them well. Even when my oldest left for college, I was aware of the fact that I was sending him with a “Sewing Kit” so I painted a small wooden box black inside and out and put a white skull and cross bones on the front with painted white stitches lines for trim. Then I had my daughter make a voodoo-doll pin cushion. I still haven’t seen one like it. He loved it.
      Perhaps a couple of you guys should get together and make a book for guys to learn to sew. I know there never seems to be any good patterns either. You can put your book up on Lulu.com- they print it as it’s ordered and there is no overhead or need for storage.
      If I saw a book for boys on sewing I’d buy it for my sons!

    • 555601_501658813193233_862358384_n_1__large

      Apr 1, 2011, 01.33 PMby joost52

      Thanks tonierenee,

      As Peter said, there is nothing to be ashamed of, and being comfortable about one’s passions makes you pretty much immune to the lambasting few. I’ve learned from it, and moved on.

      It is awesome that you are stimulating the creativity in your children. If my mum hadn’t allowed me to get curious about her sewing machine, I wouldn’t be able to sew to safe my life. So I’m sure that like me they will look back on that with much gratitude.

      A man-sewing book would be rather cool :)

    • Dscn0826_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 02.32 PMby ruthw

      Gosh, what a horrible woman! But if it’s any consolation, I bet 99%, if not all of the people she sent it to just thought, “Oh Joost sews, but what a horrible woman! What’s biting her?”

  • Sitting_down_-_gloomy_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 11.40 AMby sarsaparilla

    Wonderful post, Peter!

    For me, Home Ec and Manual Arts were compulsory for boys and girls in the first year of high school. I can only think of one guy who continued studying Home Ec, but I believe he was placed there by the principal as a punishment for bad behaviour at a football match! Everyone teased him for being in a ‘girly’ class – I always thought it was a strange punishment. It certainly made sure no other boy would choose the subject!

    My guy friends have little interest in the clothes they wear, so I can’t imagine any of them would even consider sewing. I’ve seen them sew buttons back on, but that’s about it. Like others have said, it all comes down to the way our society deals with gender roles.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.40 PMby Peter Lappin

      I agree. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people have never even sewn on a button!

  • 026_125_eves_a_singer_varrogep_preview_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 08.46 AMby hdk100

    What a great subject! As I was trying to come up with reasons why more men don’t sew, I thought of my husband too. I agree with runningwithscissors, most of them are not pateint enough. Ok, not all of hungarian men watch football all the time, but sitting down at a sewing machine after work is not considered relaxing for them. I don’t mind that my husband doesn’t sew, but I’m not letting him get away with total ignorance: I tell him about my projects, I show the phases and thank him for his comments. This resulted in him buying my serger. He learned the imoportant features in a machine and got it. That’s a start!

    Also I need to comment about the poor selection a fabric for men’s clothing. For me it’s even hard to find a good fabric for a tee (even for my son!).

    Thank you for your article, I wish I could drop in for a class in Brooklyn!! :)

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.39 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks! Great to hear you got a serger out of your husband — excellent.

  • P9290060_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 06.06 AMby jimsalmon

    Peter, great job on this article, thank you.

    I started sewing in grade school by assisting my mom in making dance costumes for my sisters. Lots of tulle to gather. I picked it back up about 7 years ago, when the youngest daughter needed a costume for a school play. She picked a 1940s vintage dress pattern and off I went.

    Once the women in my life saw the results of the first dress, the requests started rolling in. I noticed the dearth of male patterns and the very large and ever changing patterns for women and just started sewing for the women. I also found an added benefit, as I sew for each person, my thoughts are on them and I feel closer to them as a result.

    To me sewing is just like woodworking, same thought processes and physical actions. I even sew standing up; sewing machine is on top of a dresser to get the height that I prefer. I really enjoy being able to shrink or stretch as needed with fabric instead of re-cutting the piece with wood.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.39 PMby Peter Lappin

      Yes, Jim! I don’t sew standing up, but I do serge standing up — I find I have better control that way and can see exactly what’s being chomped off. Great story!

  • Missing

    Apr 1, 2011, 04.59 AMby elanorh

    I worked at fabric stores through college and graduate school. My first day at work, at a House of Fabrics, a man came in during the lunch hour and asked for interfacing. I asked him whether his wife used sew-in or fusible. He told me, “I use sew-in interfacing.” My co-workers later told me that he was a frequent customer, and sewed all his own suits (I think he even made his own ties). This was long enough ago that one could still find nice silks and wools in most fabric stores. I do agree that a lack of suitable fabrics for menswear certainly contributes, as much as a lack of interesting patterns.

    I am a 4-H sewist, and still remember that one of the top ten in the Fashion Review when I went to National Congress was a boy – he’d sewn his own tuxedo (probably drafted the pattern as well, with the paucity of patterns available). I judge 4-H sewing construction now, and there are boys who sew in 4-H; typically, outdoor gear (vests, duffel bags, design their own gear for woodworking or etc.), or casual wear (shorts, camp shirts). There are far fewer who are still sewing by their teen years, unfortunately. There is a lot of social pressure and you’ve described the largest barriers I think.

    My husband bought me my Bernina several years ago, and sometimes jokes that I need to teach him how to sew, since he bought it. I think he is genuinely interested, but with his photography and workload, I’m not sure when he would have time. I think we’d need two machines if he were to learn, because I am not sharing! ;)

    I think more men have become present in quilting than in sewing, as you describe the construction details involved in sewing, they’re more pronounced with quilting – the precision, the patterns, the logistics. That might be the “back door in” for men to enter sewing more.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.38 PMby Peter Lappin

      Definitely. I’ve read quite a lot of men’s quilting blogs and link to some over at my blog.

  • Missing

    Apr 1, 2011, 03.19 AMby Gus Harper

    My partner & I are lucky in the sense that when we took our first sewing class – just a few months ago, no one batted an eye. In fact, everyone we’ve encountered has been EXTREMELY receptive & supportive – which, living in a rural southern setting, surprised even me…especially when we go shopping together for fabric at our local “box store”. We realize the reactions are atypical and certainly not the norm. We were embraced a applauded by our local sewing community, but alas, we realize these reactions are atypical and certainly not the “norm”. At any rate, terrific article you make some very valid points across the board. I hope we continue to move in a direction that blurs the stereotypical gender roles. Lastly, wonderful news about the class you’re going to be teaching. Best of luck!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.37 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s great to hear, Gus. You’re lucky! Thanks for the encouragement, too.

  • 5196510037_0646d0f80e_o_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 02.45 AMby kelepso

    Peter, I think all of your points are relative. I deal with these frustrations daily. The pattens and information regarding men garments are limited, boring and not interesting. This is one of the main reasons I am bias when it comes to designing for men and not women (although I’ve been concentrating a lot on women’s wear to audition for Project Runway). Although I’ve found joy and more comfort in designing and sewing women’s wear, I think the design and sewing industry (as it pertains to men) needs to be revolutionize. Better patterns, less sterotypes and more visible role models (gay or straight) are needed. Sewing is a lot of fun and I think it’s a great hobby for men and women. Great article! Keep up the good work!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.36 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Kelepso. I agree!

  • Cara_kiss_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 02.18 AMby caramia-made

    Great article Peter. I think you’ve certainly hit the nail on the head – many times over! I hope that any gender-specific stigmas in our society start to diminish and the sooner the better! Why can’t a man sew or knit and why can’t a woman be a mechanic – without someone questioning their sexuality? (Interestingly enough, my male high school physics teacher coached football, wrestling, played guitar and also did all the cooking for his family AND sewed his daughters’ prom dresses!) :D

    I also think it’s very true that sewing is considered a hobby and a rare skill these days… It seems nowadays that everyone thinks “Oh I could just go pick up a shirt from the mall, it’s easier and cheaper”. That’s soooo not the point. Also, when you see a shirt on clearance at Old Navy for $1.50 you really need to wonder how much the person who MADE the shirt is getting paid!

    Best of luck to you in your new sewing class – how exciting! I wish we lived closer to Brooklyn so I could encourage my husband to sign up! And I agree with some of the other members posts, perhaps YOU should design some proper menswear patterns, I know we’d definitely buy them!

    - Caramia xx

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.36 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks for the encouragement, Caramia. Who knows?

  • Burda_023_large

    Apr 1, 2011, 02.14 AMby runningwithscissors1

    I think you about covered it. I just turned to my husband and asked why he doesn’t sew. He said “I don’t have the patience”. That would be #7.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.35 PMby Peter Lappin

      It really is a steep learning curve at the beginning, let’s face it…

  • Missing

    Apr 1, 2011, 01.23 AMby Sandiremedios

    I have been sewing since I was nine because we could’t afford store bought clothes. Tells a little too much about my age I’m afraid. My friends father is a rabbi, and he used to sew all his wifes dresses and the boys clothes before they got old enough to know they were different from the other kids. His wifes friends were jealous, the kids, not so much. I have never even attempted men’s clothing except when my son was under four, even then just sleeper and robes. I am inspired by your blog and am planning on making a pair of jeans in May. I am new to the “male pattern boldness” bog and just LOVING it.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 1, 2011, 12.35 PMby Peter Lappin

      Glad to hear it, Sandi — welcome!

    • This is a question
  1. Sign in to add a post

Departments

  • Editors' Pick
  • Fashion & Trends
  • Backstage Report
  • Web Seminars
  • DIY to Try
  • Mandie's Picks
  • Denise's Desk
  • Meg's Magazine Mash Up!
  • Featured Member
  • Competitions
  • Guest Columns
  • Comment to Win
  • Monthly Memo
  • BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern
  • ARCHIVE
  • Sewing & Techniques
  • Courses
  • Videos
  • BurdaStyle Magazine US
Burdastyle

http://burdastyle.com//blog/why-more-men-dont-sew-and-does-it-matter?page=4