A common refrain among some people when a fat person laments the lack of fashionable clothing in larger sizes is “sew your own!” Which I’m sure is meant in a constructive way, and it would be great if everyone could just sew their own clothes. But simply advising people to sew their own ignores the very real class issues involved with sewing and DIY in general.
Some seamstresses are lucky enough to either have items gifted to them, or find items cheap, like at a thrift store or yard sale. To sew effectively you need a machine, which is at least $100 retail, and the good ones cost more. Sure, you could attempt to sew a wardrobe by hand, but that’s seriously unrealistic. So you need a machine, which needs notions. I’ve found notions at yard sales and thrift stores, but with a lot of them I had to buy them retail unless I wanted to count the stars until I found that magic item at a yard sale. Then you need patterns — and here’s where being fat again comes into play, because patterns also come in sizes and plus size patterns are no more fashionable than plus size clothes. I know you can resize patterns, but that does require some skill and time which a lot of people don’t have. Learning to sew requires a significant time investment in the first place, not to mention the time it takes to make the clothes once you know how. Many people working two or more jobs, or even just working one job that has long hours, don’t have the luxury of that much free time. There’s also the cost of fabric, which can get pretty pricey depending on the type of fabric needed. Then you need access to a store that sells fabric and notions. Unfortunately, outside of the “indie” community, sewing your own clothes is somewhat of a dying art. So for those who live in small towns or towns outside the reach of a major metropolitan area, there’s not always access to those kinds of stores.
As revolutionary as it would be for every fat person to reject the discriminatory mainstream fashion industry, it’s simply unrealistic. It’s also unrealistic to expect that a regular person with little free time is going to be able to develop the skill to sew themselves say, a suit for job interviews. For many people it’s not just a matter of fashionable clothing in their size, but clothing, period in their size. I would say it’s more important for us as fat people to advocate for a larger range of sizes in retail stores than simply spend a lot of time trying to make our own clothes. While sewing the occasional skirt or dress may be within one’s reach, unfortunately for most people it’s just not a viable option to sew an entire wardrobe.
This is not to dismiss those who sew for pleasure, who do have the time and resources to sew, who manage to successfully repurpose other clothes or who are lucky enough to score sewing supplies on the cheap. I personally own a sewing machine and a serger I got off eBay that I never use, and I have a ton of sewing supplies and fabric piled up from yard sales and flea markets I’ve visited over the years. I like to sew. I’m not all that good at it, but it is a fun hobby and if I had more time I’d probably learn how to do it properly. So it’s not like I’m saying “don’t sew, it’s pointless”. I’m just pointing out that responding to fat women’s problems finding clothes that fit by telling them to sew their own clothes, when done by non-fat people, is extremely dismissive and insulting. When it’s done by other fat women, it’s misguided and possibly marginalizing because of the class issues involved.
And hey, some fat women just don’t feel like sewing their own clothes and they shouldn’t have to. The proper response to a discriminatory industry that we all depend on in some form or another (because buying patterns is still supporting the fashion industry) is not to let it be and go off and do your own thing. Do your own thing if you want to, AND work to end the exclusionary nature of the fashion industry. Support fat women having choices, whether they shop at Wal-Mart, Torrid, or Joann’s.