Saturday 3 April 2021

More garbage to take out

What I'm making. 

For my upcoming July exhibition - Garb/Age - along with dresses I'll be showing some lengths of embellished textile. This is one such piece I'm working on, measuring 112cm wide by 176cm long, but I'll most likely add to the length before its finished.

It is a combination of stenciling, hand painting, applique and patchwork on an upcycled cotton sheet.


 What I'm reading 

Alana Lentin - Why Race Still Matters

Koa Beck - White Feminism (audio book)

Iain McGilchrist - The Master and his Emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (audio book)

Plus these 2 books from Japan, the one on the left is a technical book for Sashiko stitch patterns and the one on the right a pattern book for womens clothes.


Continuing my critique of Degendering Fashion

The second part of Emilia Bergoglio’ article “Degendering Fashion” is published in Seamwork magazine #77.

Degendering Fashion

In this Emilia creates a history about seamstresses and tailors which is simply wrong. Few of the claims they make are based on historical facts and in many cases, such as the paragraph below, the assertions are so completely incorrect I'm at loss where the information came from.

In the West, until the 17th century, womenswear and menswear were fairly similar. They were both based around a tunic-style garment and made by the same professionals—the tailors. Generally speaking, the clothing divide was based on class and not gender. The great divide, which is the precedent of the gendering of clothing we see now in the West, started in France.

In fact prior to the 17thC men and women wore different clothes and clothing was not ungendered. There is no time in history that European people of any class wore gender neutral clothes. The statement that men and women wore a “fairly similar….tunic-style garment” is baffling. It is such a stretch of imagination I can’t conceive what that would refer to. As Emilia won’t communicate with me I can’t ask them directly what on earth that garment would be. If anyone knows the name of the garment, or has a picture of it please educate me.


Firstly, European women never wore trousers. Right up until the 1920s it was considered so radical and outrageous that women literally went to jail for doing so.

Since the 12thC women have always worn gender specific underclothes such as petticoats, chemises (also called smocks or shifts) and corsets.

Womens undergarments

Over the undergarments either a one piece dress or skirt and blouse was worn.

Men wore pantaloons, shirts, jackets and various types of waistcoats and jerkins. In Europe, apart from the Scots kilt, men never wore skirts.

This is the very famous Arnolfini portrait painted by van Eyck in 1434. Mr Arnolfini seems to be wearing something that could be described as a tunic, but the Mrs is definitely wearing dress. Perhaps if her dress was unbelted it may be more tunic like? However, if the garments were switched it would be dissonant because the clothing is still styled in ways that signify the gender of the wearers.


The second sentence from Emilias paragraph stating that the tunic-style garments were made by tailors is also errant nonsense. In truth, it is actually deeply insulting to the true history of how women have laboured throughout history to make clothing. Tailors were, and still are, a professional class of men devoted to making clothes mainly for men. There was not an equivalent class of women doing the same because women were not permitted to have careers, professions or occupations outside of the home until the 20thC. The garment making labour of women was a huge industry hidden behind the fa├žade of domesticity.

Tailors served the needs of the wealthy, privileged classes to have their clothes cut from expensive, luxury fabrics and fitted to the body and embellished with embroidery, laces and whatever the status signaling of the day required. Tailors had special training in how to measure the body and create a pattern for the item of clothing that would fit the specific proportions of the client. After measuring and cutting the cloth tailors had a workshop of people who would then sew and finish the garment. Such workshops typically comprised other tailors, one or more male apprentice tailors along with the tailors wife, daughters and possibly other female relatives. If there was a lot of work to be done the tailor would have a network of outworkers. Sewing work would have been sent out to skilled women workers who worked in their own homes doing “piece work”.

It is the labour of women who cut and sewed clothes for themselves, their children and male partners that has created almost all the clothes needed in society and over history. Tailors were a professional class of people in business for themselves to serve the needs of wealthy classes for high status garments. The description “tailor made” still has a ring of privilege and exclusivity about it, no one ever boasts “seamstress made”. And as it has ever been, the tailor who measured and created the pattern and cut the cloth most likely wasn’t the one who personally sewed the whole garment to completion. They did very little real stitching themselves, that work was turned over to skilled women who were low paid because of their sex.

More to come in a few more days.

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