I’ve been working on getting the workroom back in order and starting up Summer and Fall classes, but wanted to take some time to write to you all about something that is very important to me, this workroom, and the broader community based out of and around it. I’ve taken my time with this and held off because I don’t love performative social justice and you guys need to know where I am coming from in building this community.
Black Lives Matter. We all should be able to say this without any hesitation at all. They matter in the world generally, they matter in the context of American culture, and more specifically to this workroom they matter in terms of sewing classes in Chicago every day. For some people the idea that one would bring BLM into the realm of sewing classes and needle arts would seem unnecessary or just part of a broader American push to signal virtue at this moment in time. Well, I’ve been running these classes for almost 20 years, so my virtue (such as it is) has already been signaled in a thousand other ways and this needs to be fundamentally understood in this community.
Let’s talk a little bit about how BLM fits into this world that circles around the needle arts. It is so easy to throw out a hashtag, mention some on the endless list of victims of oppression, and call it a day. But what has gone on this Spring and Summer is bigger and more serious than only writing specific words as if they were a magic business spell and anyway I can do more good for those dead with my feet on the pavement and my fist in the air out of the workrooms.
How BLM is related to the creative community has real weight and deserves support from the needle arts community especially. Being able to say those words, feel them, and recognize what they mean as part of this world is a large part of the inclusion mentioned in this post from two years ago.
To expand it a little more, the idea of inclusion includes so much more than just „All Are Welcome“. It indicates something more along the lines of „There is a place for you here“. I don’t think those two phrases are entirely synonymous anymore if they ever have been.
This is all a part of a larger process of de-centering, rethinking, and representing within the creative world generally and BLM is a huge part of that process as it filters down through the culture.
AS I SEE THIS PROCESS
It is de-centering whiteness and cultural systems of white supremacy for the individual as they relate to fabric, shapes, lines, standards of beauty, fitting, attitudes toward POC and their participation in this world, and approaches to process and execution in both theory and praxis among many other things.
It is a willingness and ability to have conversations about the history of specific garments and textiles within the context of colonialism, appropriation, &c. To educate so that people can make their style and construction choices and begin to understand them outside of a specific fashion dictate.
It is centering issues as they come up when there isn’t a text or resources to help with it (eg fitting and shaping clothing in relationship to trans bodies or finding specific language texts and traditions to help a project along).
It is a willingness and ability to have conversations that shift the focus of the craft so that anyone can see themselves a part of it without feeling like they have to be less than their true selves or do a performative kabuki to participate.
It is a willingness and ability to be able to meet someone where they are and help them build themselves within the context of the craft from that point. In the context of these workrooms that means focusing on the techniques and ideas they need to know to get them where they need to be with their own self-image and sensibilities in mind.
It is the willingness and ability to have conversations about textile and garment supply chains, manufacture, and the labor, political, and economic issues involved.
It is the willingness and ability to meet POC in creative situations and allow them to just… be without challenging their place or demanding some kind of existential toll from them.
There is a problem in the sewing and needle arts community with regard to representation. It is getting so much better than it was 20-40 years ago, and it is different depending on where you are participating (eg Instagram is not Facebook or the fabric store), but it is still present.
If people are not represented in the broad creative world – if they aren’t seen to be involved and seen to be a necessary and valued part of it – that limits anyone outside that world from thinking they have a place as they look into it. Once they are in it and trying to navigate their way through process and projects they often have trouble accessing resources (eg: supplies like various skin tone linings or knits) or stumble onto icily polite gatekeepers who would never say “you don’t belong” in public or perhaps even out loud, „but…” to fully participate. These are just some of the problems with racism in our craft specifically; there are a number of others, they are not always overt, and a good deal of the time they rely on geography.
These are fixed by recognizing the flaws of the outer culture and helping to change them. They are fixed by addressing it when something ignorant is said or some assumption has been made. They are fixed by assuring people they have a place in this creative world at all levels. This is why recognizing that Black Lives Matter is crucial to the arts right now, in my opinion. This is not your bog-standard right-left politics at its core. There cannot be a fullness and recognition of what this craft is with exclusion. There can be no art (and make no mistake, this is art) that has any meaningful cultural value without inclusion.
You will notice that aside from this particular section of the blog I don’t focus on the „me“ of this whole setup very much. There are no „Look! I’m so fabulous!“ posts; there are no (or very few) selfies on the Instagram page. There is a reason for that. I’ve mentioned it before in other places here and there, but my focus on this blog and on the other website pages is what other people up here create. I try to de-center myself in how I present these classes to the world because at the end of the day it is about their work, not mine.