Category Archives: Art

Textile Fabrication Primer – graduated projects blokes will want to sew for themselves

Learn-To-Sew Books Don’t Appeal To Blokes

They don’t even pretend to be aimed at blokes. There are all sorts of theories and practical reasons for why that is so, but there is no doubt that it is true.

I’m a bloke. I like making stuff. I like tools. Sewing machines are the textile equivalent of a laser cutter or a 3D printer. They can make almost anything.

I’m on my second sewing machine. The first machine was 40 years old when it was given to me. It died when rats nested in it while it was stored in the garage.  I bought the second machine intending to make strange and fantastic hand puppets with it. I have a shelf full of books on puppetry, most of which I have read several times. I have a shelf full of books on sewing, mostly picked up second hand, and I haven’t finished reading even one of them.

l think I’ve sewn a total of five things. In fifteen years. Why am I still so hopeless at sewing?

When I wanted to learn electronics back in the seventies, the books and kit-sellers had lots of small projects to choose from. I could pick the ones that appealed most, did something useful, or taught me a skill I was excited about. Or that I could afford on the day. When I wanted to learn programming, the books had projects that were fun, and relevant to my long-term goals – as a teenager, that meant fantasy games and science fiction simulations.

Reasons Blokes Don’t Sew

Blokes don’t have the same reasons for wanting to sew that the books and magazines assume.

  • We can buy our clothes ready-to-wear off the rack.
  • We don’t wear skirts, or blouses, or want to sew flowers onto our jeans.
  • We don’t score brag points with our friends for ‘creativity’ by wearing casual clothes we made ourselves. We risk ridicule by standing out like that.
  • Formal and business clothes  for men are tailored, which no beginner can aspire to create.
  • We are not beholden to fashion trends. When we like our clothes we wear them til they wear out. We aren’t going to obsess over what width and shape of lapel is ‘in’ this season. We don’t care about this season’s ‘colours’. We don’t throw away our clothes every year.
  • We’re not going to risk female ridicule by making clothes for our kids.
  • Our culture doesn’t make men feel proud to be carrying on a tradition of masculinity by sewing. Even though tailoring is a traditionally masculine activity.
  • We can’t save money by sewing, certainly not if we take the value of our leisure time into account. Honestly, women can’t save money by sewing either – mass produced clothing is cheap.

Reasons Blokes Will Sew

Sewing, and the process of learning to sew, must make us feel good or at least feel good about ourselves, or we will do something else that does. Making tablecloths or ‘cute’ skirts is not going to do that for most blokes. Hitting stuff with a hammer does, for some doubtlessly profound evolutionary reason. Here are some reasons that seem valid to me:-

  • We can make useful stuff using fabrics that aren’t girly.
  • We can proudly proclaim our allegiance to our various tribes.
  • We can make wearable platforms for the cool stuff we make with our other hobbies.
  • We can do stuff other blokes can’t do, using dangerous ex-industrial heavy machinery if you need the extra cred.
  • We can indulge our childish/childhood dreams.
  • We can impress those hot, smart, creative women who wear fantastic costumes to geeky sci-fi and pop-culture conventions, steampunk gatherings, Rennaissance Fairs and historical re-enaction events.  Maybe not to the V8 Touring Car races or the footy. Maybe I’m not really that blokey after all.

Self-Directed Learning Projects

Here is my first draft list of vaguely graduated projects that might keep blokes motivated long enough to learn to sew.

  • Pressing Cloth – Every textile fabricator needs one.
    • It’s a rectangle of cotton hemmed on all 4 sides.
    • Who cares what it looks like – it is just a simple tool like a carpentry jig.
    • Learn to set up the sewing machine and sew a straightish line.
  • Bloke’s handkerchief – Just like a pressing cloth only it might be seen in public.
    • Use a permanent fabric marker to draw an accurate ruler and a protractor on the cloth, thus turning it into a multi-tool of sorts.
    • Maybe include formulae useful to your other hobbies – Newton’s laws of motion,  Asimov’s laws of robotics, or the rules of Fight Club.
    • Crazy extra credit points for machine embroidering over the text and diagrams, making it look mad-science- or serial killer-ish.
  • Banzai Headband – A strip of fabric with the long edges sewn together.
    • Ritually tie it Ninja-like around your forehead before a crucial game of counterstrike.
    • Or cutting firewood with a giant chainsaw.
    • Or Mowing the lawn in summer. [My ‘lawn’ is several acres with dangerous slopes prone to rolling my Ride-On Mower. A bit of Ninja agility would come in handy.]
  • Psycho Message Necktie – Silk-screen or hand-paint the fabric.
    • Make a statement at your office party, political rally or fundraiser without standing out at a distance.
    • Support your team.
    • Add colour to your boring work-mandated suit.
  • Pressing Ham – A tool to help you press seams in hard-to-get-at places.
    • Basically a sort of distorted elongated cube stuffed with something heat resistant. [I read about this in a sewing book.]
  • Workshop Apron – Protect your comfortable man-clothes.
    • Deflect hot-glue, paint, sparks and sprays of molten metal in the secret supervillain machine shop. [I seem to have made two of these in High School home-economics class. No, the classes were not optional. Boys and girls all did six months each of woodwork, metalwork, sewing and cooking, in co-educational classes. At least we all left knowing what the tools looked like, and which ones were likely to impale or cut off our fingers.]
  • Workboot Gaiters – Tubes of fabric, with elastic at the tops.
    • They fit over your socks and the tops of your boots. They keep dirt, grass, insects and other rubbish out of the boots while bushwalking,  brushcutting lantana, using a lawnmower.
  • Tool Roll – For your pushbike, motorcycle, four-wheel drive.
    • Customise it for the exact tools you need, and the space you have to store them in.
    • If you are an artist, make one to carry your brushes while protecting the bristles.
  • Remote Control Caddy – Hangs off the arm of your favourite chair.
    • Stores all your remote controls in one spot where you can find them without standing up. [Maybe you don’t need this if you have a fancy universal remote control. We have three remotes just to watch TV.]
  • Wallet – make your own customised hard-currency moneyholder.
    • Instead of making one out of Duct tape,  find (or screen-print or hand paint) some cool fabric.
    • Put metal mesh in as faraday shielding to stop toll companies, hackers or the government – depending on your particular paranoia – reading your RFID tags remotely.
  • Passport Holder – A simpler version of the wallet, but flatter, and with more and better Faraday shielding.
    • [I remember when the US government mandated RF-readable passports as a ‘security measure’ for American citizens. Would you want a passport broadcasting your American-ness to the inhabitants of some backwater disputed area where the local specialty was Improvised Electronic Devices? I’m not convinced they thought that one through.]
  • Utility Belt – Wear it when you’re up on the roof, pruning a tree, slaloming downhill on a skateboard.
    • Hanging space for your tools or waterbottle
    • Pockets for nails, screws, snacks, SD Cards, USB sticks.
    • Add padding and metal studs for protection or street-cred, if that matters.
    • Different belts for different activities.
  • Pit-crew balaclava – protect your shoulders, neck and ears.
    • Deflect flying sparks when using giant angle-grinders on your SXSW or Burning Man dune-buggy dinosaur thing.
    • Stay fire-proof while using the ‘flame wrench’ to unstick the drum brakes on your split-screen kombi.
    • It doesn’t need to look good – it’s a tool –  and it’s going to need patching now and then.
    • You’ll need to find fireproof fabric or heavy canvas. And a macho ‘friend’ to test it for you? And of course, you use good-quality safety goggles to protect your eyes, right?
  • Protective Cases – padded, zippered cases.
    • Protect your essential tablets, smart-phones, digital cameras from dust, impact, moisture, covetous glances.
    • Customise the amount of padding to suit the level of extreme activity you prefer.
    • Might involve simple sheet-metal work or heat-bending plastic for stiffeners.
  • Carry Bags – We all need to carry our stuff
    • Pencil cases, backpacks, sports bags, courier bags, saddle bags, urban salvage toolbags, laundry sacks, beach bags, boating dry bags, tow rope bags, hunting bags, fishing bags.
    • Books have been written on making bags, but blokes would need one that didn’t use the words adorable, purse, clutch, vintage, handbag, or stylish.
    • These vary from the dead simple to the extremely technical and demanding. You get to use all sorts of buckles, fasteners, rivets, grommets, reinforcing frames and padding.
  • Cargo Pants – Hard-wearing multi-pocket trousers.
    • These seem to have replaced jeans as the most practical clothing for low attention span blokes like me. I can carry my multi-tool, camera, altoids-tin first aid kit, sketchbook, Copic markers, wallet, loose change pouch, cable-ties… My everyday carry stuff. So the task specific stuff goes in a carry bag.
    • This is an ‘aspirational’ project, because it needs a lot of skill.
    • [When I can carry this off reliably, I’ll feel I have learnt how to sew.]
  • Multi-pocket Vest – The vest equivalent of cargo pants.
    • [I don’t wear these because my back doesn’t like carrying all the weight of my gadgetry on my shoulders. Other folks are more fit and blokey than me, or they don’t overload their pockets with heavy stuff.]
  • Hats and Masks – You can sew your own hats. Would you want to?
    • I have a couple of books on hat making – I refuse to call it millinery. Mostly the patterns are either too girly or too difficult at my limited skill level. It’s hard to compete with ready-to-wear hats unless you are doing costuming-level stuff, where there is no RTW and custom stuff is very expensive or not very robust.
  • Sleeping Swag – The instant tent for the rugged or the homeless.
    • Popular with some bikers, because you can get to your rally destination and just unroll the thing and crawl in. No ropes, guy poles or tent pegs, which is good when your fingers are so frozen you can’t feel anything.
    • You can pitch it under a hedge and be invisible if the social environment is hostile.
    • Bugging out takes only minutes.
    • Leave one permanently in the back of your car with your bug-out bag if you are afraid of natural disasters or TEOCAWKI.
  • Complex Costume Items and Accessories – This is the place that you can save money by sewing your own clothes. Eventually.
    • If you buy a cheap off-the-rack pirate outfit, you’ll look rubbish, you’ll  be uncomfortable, and it will wear out really fast. So you’ve wasted your money.
    • If you buy a horrendously expensive bespoke pirate costume, it will look fantastic, it may fit you (if you went to fittings), it may be comfortable, and it may be practical.
    • If you develop the skills to build it yourself, you can guarantee all of the above. As I said, eventually.
      • Stereotypical Dark Ages clothing is relatively simple to construct but hard to research.
      • The modern anime/computer game idea of fantasy clothing is exotic and difficult, even if you can find the fabrics to suit.
      • If you want to look like a steampunk gentleman, you’ll need hard-core tailoring skills, because Victorian gentlemen were into tailored clothes. Even the poor wore suits, vests, tie, hat and long sleeves.
      • If you want to be a space marine, learn to work with fibreglass, or get good at painting cardboard to look like metal. You will probably still need a fabric structure to support the armour plates.

So Where’s My How-To-Sew Book?

I can’t find a book that covers the sort of things I want to learn to sew, with pictures that match what I want them to look like. I know it is possible.

In amongst all the books on journalling and mixed-media art that I’ve collected over the years, I have one written by and for blokes. It’s called The Journal Junkies Workshop by Eric Scott and David Modler. The gender difference is obvious in both the art and the writing styles. The subtitle is visual ammunition for the art addict. It is less cutesy, and more dramatic. More scratchy than soft. I don’t know how well it sold. I don’t know how many blokes even look in that section of the bookshops.

There is at least one book – Switch Craft by Alison Lewis – on building electronics into clothing and other textiles. There’s an obvious potential overlap between the blokey interest in building stuff and the use of sewing machines. Yet even Lewis’ book is intentionally, obviously cutesy and girly. It’s not blokey enough for me, and I’m not the most beer-swilling of blokes.  I bought it anyway, but it sits on the shelf unread (the electronics shelf this time, not the sewing shelf which is far away in a different room). It clearly is designed to introduce women to electronics, not to introduce sewing to engineers.

Publishers struggle with crossing genre boundaries. Authors are encouraged to write what their market is looking for, rather than risking the attempt to open new markets, even though opening new markets is the only place where real fortunes are made.

Maybe there will never be a book for blokey men to learn blokey sewing. We are an under-represented minority. Maybe we all have to get together and write it on-line. Maybe we need a website that collects links to cool male-friendly designs, with rating systems so blokes can see what other blokes thought of them, and what problems they found. Like PatternReview, but blokey. Maybe it already exists and I just haven’t found it.

Perhaps this ‘opting out’ of the general sewing enthusiast community sounds sexist, so I’ll give an anecdote that may put this in some sort of perspective.

Years ago, my wife took a class called ‘Woodworking for Women’. Taught by a woman, exclusively to women. They felt supported and understood. They felt ok about freaking out when the big bench saw fired up in noise and clouds of sawdust. They didn’t feel judged for not knowing how things worked – like what a file was for, or how to set a plane. They felt ok asking for help. They came away with an elegant piece of furniture that they had made with power tools and their own hands, which made them feel proud each time they looked at it. And there were no insecure men there to say that women were no good at woodwork.

I’d go to a ‘Sewing for Blokes’ class in a heartbeat, if it was taught by a bloke.

Mysterious Treasure Map Found In Old Diary

Joy was vandalising some of her old diaries (I may have misunderstood her explanation…) when this map fell out. The handwriting looks like mine. She has no memory of the map at all.

Treasure map drawn in felt-tipped pen and flouro highlighters
Mysterious hand-drawn treasure map

Continue reading Mysterious Treasure Map Found In Old Diary

Photo of the cover of the book 'Personal Geographies'

Maps to the Treasure

Last night something reminded me of hand-drawn treasure maps. X marks the spot. And Here be Dragons. I used to see them a lot in the sort of books I read as a kid in the sixties and seventies. Pirate maps, fantasy maps (Hyboria, Lemuria, Middle Earth…), science fiction maps (Barsoom and others), tropical archipelagos with seaplanes flying the mail routes between them. And especially the maps in Arthur Ransome’s wonderful Swallows and Amazons stories.

Continue reading Maps to the Treasure