Monday 22 March 2021

The political dressmaker


Firstly I am apologising for my blog of 2 days ago when I referred to Emilia Bergoglio as “her” and “she”. Emilia states she is non-binary, therefore does not identify as either male or female and asks to be addressed as they and them. My use of wrong pronouns was unintentional. It’s extremely difficult for me as woman of 63 years to change a lifetime of programmed thought processing to get it right consistently. It has only been a year since I first encountered people who state they want to be referred to by unconventional pronouns. I uphold their desire and will personally endeavour to respect it.

However, its not a switch that is instant or simple for me, I have to work at it. When I make mistakes and people sneer or make weaponized accusations that I’ve done it to purposely offend, they are wrong. Some graciousness in allowing older people to adapt would be an act of human kindness.




In the studio

In July I’ll be having a second exhibition at Newcastle Art Space, 8th – 18th. The show will be called Garb/Age and the same as last year I’ll be showing textiles and garments made entirely from used fabrics sourced from thrift shops and garage sales.

My book illustrating the garments made for last years show “Thirty Coats” is available in my Etsy shop

Boho Banjo Etsy shop

I was in Newcastle last week visiting Newcastle Art Space Gallery to sign the contract and saw that the exhibition space had been hugely expanded from my last show. Immediately I saw the possibility to show not only made up garments but to display lengths of embellished textile hanging down the walls. Buying a length of art textile has many options; it can be hung on a wall as it is like an artwork, or the buyer could make it into a garment, or even commission me to make something wearable!

I have a number of dresses finished ready for the show. Initially I’d planned to have at least 30, like last year. Now I’m thinking it will be 16 dresses and 12-15 lengths of textile.

This is the first length of textile I’ve started working on. This is a strip of off white 100% cotton sheet that I first printed with black. Yesterday I started adding sewing on appliques.



Did anyone go to that link I gave to the BBC Arts Hour in my previous blog?

This is the exquisite Wendell Berry poem that was referred to

The peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry



In my blog of 2 days ago I said I would be critiquing Emilia Bergoglio’ article in issue #76 of Seamwork magazine, called “Degendering Fashion”. It is the first of 3 parts and is titled “What is Gender”. Initially I thought it could only be accessed by subscribers but a kindly person sent me this link so everybody can read it.

 Degendering Fashion in Seamwork magazine

I read it when it first came out a few weeks ago. I knew why it made me feel uncomfortable and have been ruminating the issues since then. Emilias Instagram was given at the end of the article so I started following. A few days ago posts from @Seamwork were coming up in my Instagram and I could see the comments and feedback readers were giving in regard to Degendering Fashion. 

I would like to quote directly the response I made but I’ve been blocked from following Instagram accounts of both Emilia and Seamwork so cannot recover the exact comments made. If anyone goes searching and they are still there, please let me know, but I would be pretty certain they have been deleted.

My comment was something along the lines of “I think a problem is being made where there is none. I don’t understand why the specialist language women dressmakers created over a long period of time is a problem that needs changing. Women have different body shapes from men and we created a commonly understood technical language for being able to sculpt fabric around our particular body shapes”.

That comment got quite a lot of response and I had made a number of replies to several people when I got a direct private message on my phone from the editor of Seamwork magazine asking me to stop commenting. I must have misunderstood her becos I got the impression she was willing to consider I could make a published response to Emilia in Seamwork magazine, outlining a different view, if I would stop commenting, which I did. A day later she wrote to me saying she did not intend to give me a forum.

This blog is becoming way too long long and I have to do some artwork today. In finishing up by publishing the letter I wrote to Meg, editor of Seamwork.

In another day or two I’ll be back to continue my critique of Degendering Fashion.

Dear Meg

I’m writing today to request the right to respond to Emilias articles published in Seamwork. 

They made a really thought provoking argument for examining why we have specialist nomenclature for garment making. I have some ideas about that, many of which are in agreement with Emilias opinion, and some that aren’t. I hope that holding in mind the journalistic principles of fairness and balance I’ll be allowed similar access to discuss my different view.

In regard to Emilias contention that there is a problem with nomenclature in the world of dressmakers and seamstresses I react as a woman who is strongly defensive of female culture and the safe places we constructed for ourselves over millennia. Until recently patriarchy defined all the places women were allowed to occupy and there were very few outside the domestic sphere. Huge changes happened since the first wave of feminism, such as women being allowed to own property, get access to tertiary education, birth control and have the right not be raped by their husbands. Women wearing trousers in the 1920s were often arrested and fined, even imprisoned.

I completely endorse and agree with Emilia stating everybody should be free to dress in whatever way they please. Absolutely. In my persona as radical feminist and subverter of fashion I have frequently worn completely outrageous outfits to thumb my nose at those mores. I support all humans to have the right to choose gender and how to perform it. Those who are outside the gender conforming mainstream have every right not to be discriminated against in society or law. They should be supported and given access to platforms where they can advocate to dismantle prejudice.

The only part of Emilias premise about nomenclature I disagree with is that the words that were created by dressmakers and seamstresses are a problem and should be changed. Having the power to be the one who “names” things is highly political. Essentially, whomever names it pretty much owns it. Just like people who discover stars, new insects and plants, they get to name them and are forever recognized in that way. As a feminist and a proud female identifying sewist I instinctively want to resist what I interpret as a political act of appropriation in a culture that was created by, for and owned by women. It increases my anxiety and fear greatly that it is being done by a person who does not identify as a woman, in fact they are a person who declares being called a woman is offensive and disrespectful to them.

I might be an annoying shouty woman who wants to take up a lot of space but above all I love women – our resilience to systematic oppression, our creativity, our boundless ability to give of ourselves in love and healing – I hope you can empathise with me when I say it is hard not to react with fears and anxiety at such an approach. It feels analogous to a home invasion, with people busting in the door and demanding that the furniture be re-arranged for their comfort as the present furniture is not fit for their purpose and offends them. The people who built the house and who have lived there forever are left speechless as it is deemed “centering yourself” to ask why.

It is difficult to negotiate dissent and diversity of opinions with respect and delicacy. If I put my questions directly to Emilia on their insta they will ignore me and refuse to engage. Their friends have explained to me that putting my questions directly is regarded as disrespectful and offensive, and remind me I have no entitlement to ask them anything. I cannot resile from believing this – If you identify as an activist/advocate and publish political views, ideologies or premises in widely circulated media then I believe you have a commitment to be open to receiving the full gamut of reactions and feedback (except outright denigration and threats of violence). 

As a person who has made a living as a sewist for 44 years and has been active for decades in sewist communities I find it deeply disturbing that their view is I have no place in the community, deserving only to be cancelled, silenced and discarded.

I’m impressed at your courage in publishing Emilias articles. Gender identity issues have been bubbling away in many online sewist communities for some time. Many mainstream people, who probably have never questioned the orthodoxy of heterosexuality for themselves or the wider community, are deeply curious to find out more of what it all means and how this might affect them interacting respectfully in online communities.

For myself, I have several intersecting identities that are relevant to how I present in the online world. Like the onion skins I’ll start at the outer – woman, radical feminist, artist, sewist, person advocating for sustainability and ethics in the clothing manufacturing industry, person advocating for justice and the end of genocide to the Uyghur people of China – a large number of them being in forced slavery picking cotton and in sewing factories, I am a member of the Greens political party and activist movement Extinction Rebellion, I am large bodied, bi-queer and a person with a cognitive disability, Aspergers.

The opportunity to talk with people through Seamwork how these multiple identities are the foundation of how I construct a worldview would be a privilege for me. Ultimately I hope to foster more understanding for mainstream people how people with alienated identities negotiate their existence and politics.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to put this case to you. Even if you decide not to give me a forum I would appreciate it if you would acknowledge this correspondence as it has taken a great deal of my time to compose it. As an extremely low waged person - I made $15 yesterday - time is precious to me and I beg your respect for that. 


huzzah and adieu

Pearl Red Moon


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