ahunter3 (ahunter3) wrote,

Kitten Robe II

Sewing is a good "exhibit a" sort of example of gender in the classic feminist sense. Gender, as distinguished from sex, in this formulation is something that is culturally associated with one of the sexes, but arbitrarily so, artificially so -- there's no built-in biological reason for it to be so, and it could be otherwise.

The distinction is a good and useful one, even if you happen to believe that some (or all) of gender actually is built in somehow. Perhaps (for instance), you believe that there is some type of hard-wiring in the brain that predisposes a person to be femme or masc, man or woman, regardless of whether their body developes with male (penis) or female (vagina) sexual morphology (or, for that matter, a configuration that doesn't map to either of those). The reason it's a good distinction is that it enables us to have a conversation about what is biological and what is cultural. And a conversation about people who believe it is all biological or about people who believe it is all cultural. Or people who believe Characteristic Five is mostly cultural but think that Characteristic Seventeen is a built-in biological difference between the sexes.

It's even a good distinction if you don't think it's an either/or proposition. I, in fact, don't, when you get right down to it. I think there are some traits that most people of the female sex in general tend to exhibit more strongly than most people of the male sex do, which tends to support the notion of a real built-in difference, but I think for those exact same traits we see some people of the male sex exhibiting them more strongly than most other male people and more strongly than all but a few female people as well. That is what happens when you have a lot of variation among males and a lot of variation among females and only a mild average variation between the sexes, and I think a lot of the differences that get incorporated into our cultural notion of gender folllow that pattern -- that there's probably a built-in tendency based on sex but since there's a wider range of differences among different male people and among different female people than there is between the sexes as a whole, you get a sizable minority of exceptions within each sex.

What makes sewing a particularly good example for such discussions is that in the modern era nearly everyone will agree that it is cultural, in part because it is mostly past-tense cultural. In the era when I attended junior high and high school, home economics was still required for the girls but not for the boys, and sewing was a part of the curriculum, but even by my generation only a handful of them took it up seriously and made an appreciable percent of their wardrobe on their own sewing machine. One hundred years ago, sure, women were expected to do so, and did, and hence most of the women you would have met were people who sewed. But in today's world, it's sort of a "lapsed gender trait" and if we know that someone is skilled with a needle and thread we don't automatically assume that person is a girl or woman. For many modern people, the last time they saw someone at a sewing machine was in a revival of The Fiddler on the Roof, and that someone was a male.

Last summer, I blogged about making a summer bathrobe, my first serious sewing project in eons. (I mostly just make patches for my blue jeans and sew on buttons and replace zippers). My partner anais_pf was my mentor and supervisor for the project. Well, the choice of kitten fabric for that robe was partly inspired by my existing winter bathrobe, a flannel bathrobe handmade by my mother, in a print with serious purposeful kittens in blue peering out from an off-white background.

Well, I've had that robe now for nearly 20 years and I've mostly worn it out. I've patched several holes in the neckline (the part where you hang it on a hook) and across the back and shoulders, but last winter it had reached the point of being ripped and tattered. Problem is, my mom died in 2018, so I have no source of mom-made bathrobes, so I'm emotionally attached to it and don't want to throw it out, you know? So the current bathrobe project was an intensive repair -- to trace the shape of the panel from the collar / neckband across the shoulders and back, the part where all the wear and tear occurs, and then cut out new flannel and sew it in from the inside.

Tracing the shape of a stretched and worn-out panel was a bit of an exercise in frustration! I finally managed, by pinning the old bathrobe down to a quilt, first, so that it would stay put. Then I traced along the neckline down the side and around the sleeve openings and cut out the resulting shape to get this shape in paper:


Folded the white flannel material in half and cut out that shape, resulting in a
bilaterally symmetrical insert.

Pinned it to the inside of the robe:


Began sewing the insert. Here you see where I'm matching it to the sleeve opening:


As much as possible, I'm attaching to existing seams:


Mostly done except for the bottom...


When I got to the bottom, I folded the edge under so that that surface would be protected from unravelling. But that wasn't an option for the other edges, since they had been cut to exactly match to the existing contours.

That meant that I was at risk of having all this work undo itself -- that the flannel would unravel out from under my stitches and make a mess. I had the notion of making a piping to lay over my stitches and sew it down, which would protect those raw edges from unravelling:


My partner anais_pf asked what I was up to and when I explained, said "Well, what you're doing is fine but it's a lot of work and you don't have to -- I have some seam binding you can use which will save you a lot of trouble".

So I began covering my stitches with seam binding:


Closeup of seam binding showing one edge being attached. Later I made a second pass attaching the other side:


Yay, it's complete!


Winter and summer kitten robes side by side:



My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.

My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in early 2022. Stay tuned for further details.

Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page


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Tags: backstory, exhibit a, feminist theory, sewing, sex v gender, sissyhood

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