Sew what: An ethnographic exploration of contemporary garment sewing practices in Kingston Ontario

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Thompson, Emma
Sewing , Clothes , Garment sewing , Hobby , Craft , Gender , Domesticity , Consumption , Sustainability
Recent research suggests there is a resurgence in the practice of sewing clothes at home. These studies typically focus on women who sew ready-to-wear clothing for themselves and draw their conclusions from niche groups of sewers. To better understand the landscape of garment sewing, I used ethnographic methods to explore why people sew, how they experience sewing as gendered, their process of sewing, and what social factors inform their sewing practice. Thirty-one women participated in interviews and/or focus groups describing their sewing practices and their views of sewing in Kingston, Ontario. I took a constructivist approach, in recognition of how my own practice of sewing informed the study. Participants’ motivations for sewing, albeit variable, generally fell under two main themes, enjoying the process of sewing and sewing for the final outcome, but also included sewing for the symbolic value of the garment and as alternative ways of consuming clothes. This research also identified why some women do not sew. While sewing is not considered part of contemporary domesticity, many women communicate love and care for family and friends through gifts they sew. Despite some women sewing as a labour of love, others choose to keep their hobby for themselves. While not explicitly feminist, I interpreted this choice as a form of resistance to gendered expectations of care. Finally, this research opens a conversation about what sewing is and how it relates to popular culture. Garment sewing is a skilled practice, where acumen is developed through experience. Garment sewing is a craft and like other crafts, sewing exists in tension with mass manufactured objects. As a result, sewing is positioned as more “authentic” than mass manufactured clothing, despite the fact that sewing relies on and is made possible by systems of capitalism.
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