eden is exile

Ed Note: Why the long pause, Seam Ripped?  It is job-hunting season here on my happy old Hilltop.  The fact that I have yet to sob, “I don’t want my cats to be orphaannnneeeeeddd” is apparently a good sign.  If any of you have ever had a job, ever looked for a job, perhaps have never had a job but feel super confident in your advice-giving skills, and would care to say things about that in the comments section, I’d be very much obliged.  Also!  If you’ve written a comment that has languished without response, please do look back for one.  (That is, if you’d like.  Free country, and so on.)

I’m a big believer in going to bed angry. Huge, actually. Well, let’s back up for a second. I’m a huge believer in being angry. I come from long lines of Punjabs and Puritans, warrior goddesses and buttoned-up New England schoolmarms. After years of competing stories about walloping off the enemies’ heads and burning their blood, and the triumph of staid reserve over emotional excess, I’ve emerged with a solid belief in feeling the fury and then. . .nothing. Well, it used to be nothing, but I eventually realized that everything seems a lot less important after a long, hot shower and a good night of sleep. That’s something, isn’t it?

As I was reading Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound, my jaw was in a perma-clench. Confusion, rage, reluctant understanding, grief: lather, rinse, repeat. I write this from vacation, and at breakfast with Mummy Seam Ripped I struggled between tossing the book into the hearth or into the lake. (Librarians of Lau: It’ll be returned on time, if a little scuffed up. You all know how to get rid of tire tracks, yes?) I had to step away. A lot. Take breaks. Walk around. Read other things. Now? Now it makes more sense.

Why was I getting so hot under the collar? Well—and I think this might be true for a large portion of the sewing blog-reading population—I recognize enough of myself in the movement Matchar is identifying to make the text seem personal, but am different enough from her sample set to cringe (cringe) when reading a lot of her examples. Big quote time:

 “It would be laughably retro to explicitly say that a woman’s [roper place is in the kitchen, yet women like JJ and Robin and Addie feel keenly the sense that a “good woman” focuses her energies on feeding her family on the very best, purest food. If food is so important, why wouldn’t she? But in this brave new world of backyard chicken raising and homemade bone broth and hand-mashed baby food, the “best, purest food” is an ever-rising target.” (Matchar 119)

Hasn’t food always been about status, exclusivity, and, to a certain degree, about exoticism? Ditto clothing. I’d wager that the keepers of kitchen have always fretted about the best, though not necessarily the purest. From what I understand, pre-packaged foods were status items, as were the tools of liberation (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers). Now, ladies, you have leisure time. Leisure time that you can use for personal maintenance. I don’t think people stopped keeping gardens or line-drying their clothes because store-bought tinned tomatoes tasted better, or even because all of the adults in the family unit got jobs (which would happen later). I think people stopped doing those things because they didn’t want their neighbors to think that they were poor. Not even because those items cost less than a homegrown tomato, but because of the leisure that’s associated with it. In that sense, you were feeding your family the best. Were there very many women who said, “You know what? I’m doing a B+ job of this homemaking thing, and that’s all right”? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s my 21st-century perfectionism wrestling its way to the fore, but I don’t know very many people who’d be content with doing a B+ job at anything.

A shadowy photo of the book that I took at Kramerbooks.  God, that title was only good when Simon and Garfunkel used it.
A shadowy photo of the book that I took at Kramerbooks. God, that title was only good when Simon and Garfunkel used it.

You know, I wrote the above few paragraphs in early August, and I mean all of it, but I’ve since walked away, returned the book to the library and bought and annotated my own copy.  (See why my blog posts take so damn long?)  Anyway, I couldn’t shake why I was so unsettled by this book.  There are core arguments with which I agree.  The economic downturn has likely contributed to the influx of artisanal this and homegrown that; young people out in the field are finding work unfulfilling; the US doesn’t yet have the social structures necessary to support upward female mobility.  The issue for me is that the very premise of the book requires an embrace of the false dichotomy that led Michael Pollan to make his (outright wrong-headed) comment, “[The appreciation of cooking was] a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.”  It’s not an either-or proposition.  By setting the artisanal movement at odds with contemporary mainstream working culture you’re forcing a choice that needn’t be made.  Why is it surprising that people with “good” jobs who went to “good” schools are opening up ice cream stores and Etsy shops?  Doesn’t that inherently demean their careers of choice?  There isn’t really an ice-cream-store-opening school, is there?  (I suppose an MBA and culinary school.  Maybe some finance experience to pay for said MBA?)

For me, the simplest answer is the right one.  Pink tomatoes don’t taste good.  A fresh heirloom tomato sliced on some garlic-rubbed toasted bread tastes better than some cheese grated over a Trader Joe’s tortilla.  The problem?  That shit’s expensive.  I could buy a black-market kidney for the price of an organic, heirloom tomato and a good, good loaf of bread costs almost ten bucks.  Ten bones, y’all.  These sorts of businesses don’t have the economy of scale that, say, Kraft mac and cheese does.  So, yes, instead of blowing off steam at a bar after work, some people go home and bake bread.  For other people, the opportunity cost baking a loaf of bread is higher than $10, so they buy the bloody loaf.  Say it with me, y’all: And that’s okkkaaayyy.

There’s a part of me that thinks—fears, really—that I’ve missed the point of Matchar’s argument.  Yes, there are people who have made a forceful exodus out of i-banking and into full-time crafting, but aren’t they the minority?  What’s behind Matchar’s seeming discomfort with the casual crafters?  She knits, too; why is this shocking?  (I’m at school and don’t have the book, but there is one line that basically says, “In the 90s, you’d go out dancing with your friends; in the aughts, you stay in and make preserves.”  And in both cases the next day you go to your job—you know that, right?)  This brings us to the title of this post.  (1000 words in, a record.)  When I was on vacation, I read a book of James Wood’s essays, one of which is called “The Homecoming.”  In it, Wood reviews a Marilynne Robinson book called Home, where the characters go back home and find it lacking.  For them, Wood says, “Eden is exile, not heaven.”  What if Matchar is right and we are having a homecoming of sorts?  Only, the source of our anxiety is not the fact that home isn’t the same anymore since we’ve experienced liberation, but that we’ve narrowly defined progress in the creative destruction sort of way (nutshell: we’ve moved forward, created new opportunities, and necessarily have to destroy what was).  Am I reaching, here?  The problem isn’t that we got to Oz and realized it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, but that the very existence of the idea of an Oz makes difficult a life in Kansas.  And now even I’m lost.

Time for a turn-on-a-dime segue: This is evidenced by the sewing community’s really awkward relationship with the idea of home.  Hear me out.  Every time I see someone hashtag an Instagram post of a garment with #handmade, I have to take a walk around the block.  Now, what makes your self-made garments handmade?  You used a sewing machine, a serger, maybe a coverstitch, maybe a blind-hemmer.   Factories use all of those things, with loads of people.  Why is your stuff handmade?  If bought an industrial Juki would your garments no longer be handmade?  What if you made a lot of things assembly-line style?  Got your friends to help?  Sold said items?  When does it stop being handmade and start bearing the implied sterility and hollowness of the “other” garment?  Never?  By this logic, I have a closet filled with handmade clothes.

via Huffington Post
via Huffington Post

Look how many hands there are in this photo!  Okay, off the soapbox and onto the point: I don’t think we use the term handmade as a rejection of the people (mostly women; mostly poor women) who make mass-manufactured garments, or an intentional dehumanization of developing-world labor, but rather the fact that homemade, in the sewing community, tends to mean shoddy, Becky Home-Ecky, happy-hands-at-home.  Much as just about everyone seems to crow about the quality of contemporary ready-to-wear, it is considered complimentary to use ready-to-wear finishing techniques, or to make a garment that looks like it could have been RTW.  (I have a forthcoming post about the alleged decline in RTW quality coming down the pipeline.  I even have visual aids.  Mark your calendars, friends.)  That, and having a homemade dress might harken back to the dark days of oppression (oh, the 1950s); whereas handmade summons visions of happy hobbyists and artisans, working to bring our creativity back, well, home.

Thoughts and feelings, gang?

30 thoughts on “eden is exile”

  1. Hmmmm….good point about the handmade hashtag (I’m totally guilty of using it). Maybe we should use #selfmade instead. In fact, I’m definitely using it next time I instagram something 🙂

    Did you see/read Thomas Knauer’s argument/rant about the Martha Stewart handmade quilt? His argument was pretty much a 180 of your #handmade point. I see how the “handmade” thing can be argued both ways; definitely depends on how one defines ‘handmade’.

    Onto your first discussion point, I went to college and grad school and have worked in the STEM field for 9 years. I’ve worked at a company with lots of female managers (most of whom actually only worked part-time, which I’ve since learned is a rarity in my field) and at a company with no female managers and very few female coworkers at all in my office. I’m not a feminist at all and I don’t mind working with mainly men, but I do have a problem with the all male upper management not seeing that having a diverse office might be a good thing.

    After all of these years I’ve come to the conclusion that while my industry does serve the community and provides a service to the greater good, I still feel unfulfilled because I think my job is utterly boring on most days. Sure some days aren’t boring at all because I’m working my tail off trying to finish something. And overall I see so much waste of tax-payer money it begins to piss me off. So I totally understand why well-educated women who have or had good paying jobs want to just open an etsy shop and sell self-made/artisanal stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up in that position in a couple years. I better stop writing before my comment ends up being as long as your post! #SorryNotSorry

    1. Long comments are my favorite! I looked up the Thomas Knauer argument/rant straight after you posted this. It’s so strange, to me. We all use machines! Bee-eff-dee. There is a real disconnect between makers and finished objects in retail, I concede, but that is reinforced by Knauer and his wife’s definition of handmade. The hands exist, even if you can’t see ’em. Gaaahhhhh. (I spend a lot of time thinking about labor, if you can’t tell.)

      Oh, male management. Diversity is good, people. Let us embrace and encourage it. I was reading a piece on Jules Kroll for class, and he said something that kind of pissed me off. Paraphrasing here, “Every team ought to have a woman; they usually have something to say.” There’s a part of me that thinks, “Well, duh, Jules. Way to state the obvious,” then I realized that we still live in a time when someone like Kroll needs to make clear that women have different, valuable opinions that contribute to the work, rather than detract from it.

      Re: Etsy. I worry about that, actually. I’ll preface this by saying that you should totally do what fulfills you, and makes you happy. I support your choices, Internet friend. But! When I think about the Etsy debate in abstract, I wonder if we aren’t throwing away the baby with the bathwater, to a certain extent? It is exhausting being a representative for the young, female, multiracial, crafty-but-good-at-math-too contingent, but somebody has to do it. I’m sure you’ve heard/heard of Mindy Kaling saying things like, “Dude. I’m not the representative for all women, or all women of color; it’s just me.” Which is great. But, I worry that if everyone else who looks and acts like I do steps off the corporate carousel, how the working world is fated to look. Will we regress into a looser, consensual version of the 1950s, where women force themselves out of the “legitimate” workforce (ick ick ick at my use of “legitimate”) and into what have been considered traditional women’s work? Would we be reclaiming the homestead or relinquishing hard-won rights? Both/neither/”it’s not a binary so shut up, Charlotte”?

  2. I’ve never understood why homemade is OK for cooking, and bad for sewing. I’m not going to say that this pie was handmade, I’m going to say it was homemade–as in, by *me*. Not some random hands that happened to be around that day.

    IMHO people tend to overthink this stuff. Instead of embracing the diversity, people get their panties in a wad that everyone doesn’t like the same things as them. And in their rush to crow about how great their likes/lifestyle/whatever is, they forget that not everyone is the same. And quite often they will blast a certain lifestyle with negativity, all while not having experienced it for themselves. And with all this negativity and surrounding yourself with people who feel similarly, it’s very hard to break away when you realize that what you really want *is* what’s on the other side. And that’s what I gathered the books to be about based on your review. Jealousy that someone had the balls to break free of the life they were in to do what they want and then have the absolute gall to be happy (and possibly successful) whilst doing it.

    1. I like homemade! I have homemade clothes and homemade food and refuse to hashtag it. The and end. The visual of random hands is my favorite, though.

      What I got from the book was that it wasn’t just Matchar et al getting pissed off about other people breaking free from the corporate merry-go-round, but the increasing pressure to conform to a lifestyle that you wouldn’t have time to cultivate were you working a 70-hour week. Do you get home from your nursing or ditch-digging or investment banking job and really feel like making your own laundry detergent, or is there a pressure there because everyone on Pinterest is doing it? I suppose I see both sides of it, and am with you: embrace the diversity. Everyone does different stuff. Everyone likes different stuff. Let’s just be happy that we live in a time and place where we have choices and thus have more opportunities to be happy.

  3. On the subject of Handmade: unless it’s printed by a 3D-printer, I feel like things made in a factory are handmade too. So, as Kaoru says, selfmade (or homemade) is probably a good way to describe said items. It’s like homemade cookies, they can be the best, but sometimes, the one you buy in the store are better. Same things goes for sewing in my opinion. The first 100 garments I’ve made weren’t that good (looking back now…) so I really admire people who can make good clothing and do that fast.

    I really loved reading this article and the nuances you’ve put into it. I can’t wait to see the visuals on the next one 🙂

    1. Oh, factory workers and fast home sewers can sew me under the table, with precision I’ll probably never approach. For my first garment, I didn’t take a 5/8″ seam allowance, and just lined up the fabric with the edge of the presser foot. Instead of finishing my seams, I just let ’em hang out. The hem is turned under once. It was and is an absolute nightmare. I feel myself getting better with each garment, but imagine that if I just topstitched all day, my topstitching would be fabulous.

      I wonder if a 3D printer could make clothes. Ponder. . . .

      Thanks, Hanne! Lovely seeing you around these parts.

  4. My grandma loves to tell the story about how how shocked she was when my mom brought me, her first grandchild home for a visit and began breastfeeding. My grandma has five kids, and it never occurred to her that she would breastfeed any of them. She also didn’t know anyone who had done so. It didn’t have a thing to do with nutrition. My grandma was raised in a poor family, and when she married, her social status changed. At that time, only people who couldn’t afford to formula feed breastfed.

    I’ve also heard similar versions of the rise in canned vs. garden grown produce from older family members who site economic status as one of the main reasons a person would keep a garden.

    How times have changed. Certainly education and information play a role in some of the ways persons in modern society view the world and make decisions. I think in this way, progress is sometimes regressive. We can’t know better until we know worse.

    From a personal standpoint, as a working person, I find myself very drawn to ‘domestic’ endeavors. It’s my creative outlet and meditative means. I work in a very rigid environment, and I need a way to experience release creatively and otherwise. Having ‘hobbies’ (for lack of better term) gives me balance. And, while I’m drawn to vintage, I don’t feel I turn to gardening, sewing, knitting, cooking, etc.. as an act of nostalgia. I grew -up with a lot of comforts of convenience, in a household with a working mom. And, I’m not knitting my own sweaters as an act of rebellion against ‘The Machine’.

    Another fantastic and thought provoking post! Best of luck with your job search!

    1. Thanks, Michelle!

      Your grandma’s experiences seem to align perfectly with what I’ve heard from other people, re: the midcentury. Why on earth would you do these labor-intensive things when we have formula and Lipton soup and dryers?! My main conclusion is that it all seems to come down to leisure, and what is considered to be indicative of a life of leisure given the options made available to people (women and the less fortunate, mostly). Now, if you’re less fortunate, or a less fortunate woman, you probably have a job outside the home, and are likely obliged to make use of the things that were indicators of leisure for women who couldn’t or didn’t work. It’s so funny, if you ask the average student at my college how s/he is doing, and s/he’ll answer about how stressed s/he is, or how little sleep s/he’s running on, but said person is probably wearing a barn jacket or yoga clothes or (back in the day, before magnetic cards) lift tickets on his/her zipper. I suppose part of it is status signaling, but some of it might be the resistance to being confined to one definition. Maybe that’s part of what happened with the tools of liberation? Formula and such acted as an avenue through which you could find an identity outside of the home; you’d have the time to be the excellent bridge player with Grace Kelly looks without having to have dirt under your fingernails and a baby on your hip. Now, we need alternate forms of stimulation as creative outlets, but also as a creative facet to our otherwise narrowly defined identities. I might be overreaching here.

      I totally agree with you, about us knowing better, or thinking we know better. (I’m really curious to see how perceptions of the Paleo diet change over time, for instance.)

      Perhaps the fact that I am currently making major! life! choices!, and am coming to the realization that my opportunity cost for doing things that I’d love to do (canning my homegrown vegetables and making quilts for everyone I know) is super, duper high. I love the machine, though!

  5. Ooooh AAAAaaah, you’re back! With a post! A long one! I have so many things to say! Should I write several comments? Should I email? I’m so confused… (a little like my dog with the horse situation)

    Ok, will try to take in order.

    On going to bed angry: yes you can! The happiness project (I know… I always have the smartest references…) does show that if you keep your anger in, most of the times it will go away by itself.

    Food is in a great part about status! I lived 3 years in NYC and committed to eating 0 junk food. 1/ It is SO expensive 2/ It is SO SO expensive 3/ you end up in social circles where you CANNOT be seen eating any junk food. In my case it’s ok I don’t like it but years ago I went to get a burger from a chain that starts with M in the middle of Paris and brought it to my workplace kitchen. Why? I was broke and hungry, I could not do one more 8 euros mini salad… It got me a lot of dirty looks and even comments. Oh, forgot to mention that the said workplace was Christian Dior….

    On doing a B+ job, very funny because I think it’s actually really hard to do a B+ job all the time! I read Huxley’s “A brave new world” a bit (too?) young and then declared proudly to my parents that I’d rather be a Beta than an Alpha, as being an alpha looked like too much work. They did point out that I may have taken the sleep conditioning speech of Lenina a bit to literally…

    I’m so cliché because I have an MBA and took evening classes at FIT. Should I open an Etsy store right away and call it a day?

    The handmade thing is SO interesting (to me), I could go on for hours. You probably know that even Etsy struggles with the definition (http://www.wired.com/2014/04/why-etsys-future-depends-on-leaving-behind-the-simply-handmade/). But anyway, I have an industrial juki, so I should probably call myself a factory!
    And now my favorite topic, RTW bashing! I don’t understand how home-seamstresses who’ve ever been to a Zara can criticize RTW quality. Have you seen the finishing of that lined jacket? Does is it looks like the one you just posted on your blog using a crappy indie pattern? No! It’s better, way better. Most of us cannot insert a clean invisible zipper and yet we feel entitled the trash people’s (real) work. On fabric I would agree that there is room for discussion, because finding natural fibers is very difficult, and this is something you can do when you sew. But on the decreasing “quality” of RTW, NOPE cheap(ish because it was not really cheap back then) ready to wear of the 60’s is made of horrible horrible stuff. Go the thrift store!

    When people post pictures of fancy pictures of vintage garments guts it’s usually one or the other : 1/it’s handmade (and just proves that people used to sew better than we do now despite all our beginner tutorials) 2/it’s from an EXPENSIVE line of RTW. I think one day I’ll go to Saks, take pictures of inside Alaïa garments (I actually really do that) and wow my twitter feed with how much RTW is superior to home-sewing…

    Ok I’ll stop here (for now…) !

    1. Ha, Good point. I actually consulted my H&M unlined blazer to determine how I should finish a blazer I was making from an indie pattern! Also, I’ve been making my husband a vest and was so disgusted with the ‘simplicity’ of the Simplicity pattern I used that I ended up consulting one of his RTW vests. I have plans to look at high-end mens fashion stores to see how those brands make their vests.

    2. Ahhhhhh! Hiii! I was just reading about Haiti and Jules Kroll (of all things), and totally thought of you.

      – Anger subsides. All. the. time. I don’t get this contemporary compulsion to emote. Be a man; keep it on the inside. Oh, wait.
      – I never want to see another $13 salad ever again. That is, until I have lunch from Sweetgreen tomorrow. Yeah. When did “Wanna grab a salad?” become an actual invitation? When I first moved to Washington, I was awed by everyone’s attitude towards food. At least in New York, part of the status was getting a seat at a restaurant new enough or out-of-the-way enough to be considered cool. Here, I’m not even sure how to navigate the waters. I haven’t seen a Chez McDo in forever. Actually, that’s not true, there is one right beneath our local sewing studio in a trendy-but-not-totally-gentrified neighborhood. Big difference between the people inside the McDonald’s and the people bypassing it on the way to the hipster falafel place down the block.
      – I would expect nothing less at Dior. That you brought your (vile, absolutely vile! The horror!) cheeseburger to Dior is absolutely badass, though. +1000
      – Yes, you were far too young when you read Brave New World. If my kid told me she wanted to be a B+, I would go into full-on mourning. Black veil, covered mirrors, the whole nine yards. Your parents were/are very understanding. The thing about that hierarchy, and I suppose the myth of metals in The Republic, and really every other hierarchy where people more or less aren’t supposed to/allowed to completely resent their lives, is that we’re supposed to pretend it doesn’t exist outside of the confines of fiction? When I think of Made in America or Made in France movements, I always wonder how many people would be happy if their kids grew up wanting to work on an assembly line.
      – I’m thoroughly surprised that you don’t have an Etsy store right now. Is it because you’d have to sew in a “Made in Haiti” label, and people would therefore assume that you didn’t make your objects, but instead were taking advantage of underprivileged labor, because conceptions of labor conditions are tied inextricably to geography? (I’m really prickly tonight, and high off of French trade protectionism articles. Apologies.) Lately, I’ve been having information interviews with alum from my school (all men, incidentally, because lady economists are unicorns) and a lot of them have jokingly mentioned my opening up an ice cream shop, because such is the state of the world. You work in finance or econ for two or three years, and then move to Brooklyn and learn a trade. Sigh.
      – You are a factory. I hate to be the one to break it to you. I assume you have your puppy dog and gentleman friend in the basement, whipping up garments for your blog. Shame on you, Tidbits.
      – I didn’t start sewing for H&M or Anthropologie, I started sewing because of Oscar de la Renta. Then, I came to the harsh realization that there is a reason why OdlR dresses cost upwards of $3000. Generally, in life, I try to resist the urge to lecture people (all evidence to the contrary), but I want to screech “SAMPLE BIIIAAASSS!” every time somebody says, “Look how well my forty-year-old dress has held up.” Yes, your well-preserved old dress is well-preserved. Correlation, causation, oh who cares anymore? I’m with you on fiber being the one edge we have over RTW (and, to a lesser extent, fit). Also, in fashion there seem to exist subsectors that under-pace inflation and have enormously beneficial economies of scale, and other sectors whose prices outpace inflation by a mile and who quite simply cannot achieve economies of scale necessary to be competitive on the broad market. The problem isn’t solved by sewing more or buying things made exclusively in the US/Japan/Western Europe. Off of my soapbox. You apparently caught me on a hot-tempered evening. Actually, I waited until a hot-tempered evening to answer. Bad blogger.
      – Yes on both counts. People were better at sewing back then, mostly because they had proper instruction and instructors willing to tell them to rip things out and start over again. That, and because there were fewer clothing manufacturers, there was more room for quality variation within a company. So, Sears could make crappy dresses and exquisite dresses; Claire McCardell could license midrange ready-to-wear and runway orders.

  6. So much here to think about. I have to say I agree with a lot of your comments. And I have to admit I fall into the category of an educated woman who has somehow ended up sewing/crafting as a source of income. Oh, and I’m a bone broth junkie too.

    Am I doing it so the neighbors don’t think I’m poor? Well, no, not really. Actually, I’m pretty sure the neighbors know I’m poor, or I’d be living somewhere else. And my friends all think my diet is a huge P.I.T.A. because whenever we go out I watch them eat food, rather than participating, because I have developed some bad food intolerance issues. Do I feel “above” them because I eat the way I do? No, not really. I actually feel sort of like an outsider, and I’m often ostracized. It takes a lot of effort and sometimes it just isn’t fun. But does it help all of my health issues? Way more than I ever expected it would, so I deal with it.

    As far as the whole sewing/clothing/construction issue goes, I don’t know if I’ve ever used the term “handmade.” I mean, isn’t all clothing handmade? And, yeah, RTW finishes are WAY better than what I’m producing right now. But I’ve got a funky body shape, so I can usually get a better fit, even if the construction isn’t quite as good. Since I do all custom costuming work I can make the sorts of garments people can’t find in RTW, and I think my prices are quite fair even considering mild imperfections. Am I happy with where I’m at (doing a B+ job)? No, but I’m working to improve.

    As to the larger point – I don’t know… does the idea of Oz existing make me dissatisfied with Kansas? No, not really. Actually, it’s more like I can’t believe I wasted so many years there. It feels more like believing in the magic of Oz ruined my health, stunted my growth as a person, and grew a self-loathing so intense I don’t think it will ever go away. Am I dissatisfied with where I am now? Sure, but it isn’t because I wish I were in Oz. I’ve been there, and I know better.

    1. I am really full of myself (as you well know), so I will now proceed to use myself as an example. You’re welcome. My exercise studio is across the street from a CVS, yet I always walk the five blocks to Whole Foods to get the cracked-in-house coconut water. I don’t do it so that my fellow cyclers don’t think I’m poor, I do it because I’ve been socialized to think that the $5, 12oz bottle of coconut water is vastly superior to the $1 bottle of sugar-free Gatorade. Maybe it’s just that we’ve emphasized the socio half of socio-economic in recent years, especially because of the Internet, and the transmission of knowledge is faster, and we’re on aggregate far more educated than we were in the post-war period. So, perhaps it’s less about feeling above someone, but rather exercising choices clearly framed within, well, us? And having those choices approved of by our society’s dominant voices, who are themselves reflective of and implicit in our cultural educations. I totally don’t know your life, but for me the logic pans out.

      Oh, amen on the term handmade. RTW is so much better than what I make. Sometimes I wonder (actually my next post is about this) if we’ve started conflating difficult and good. I’m fairly certain your prices are fair, but there’s such removal from the relationship between labor, productivity, and scale. My fit is really hit or miss. J. Crew has automatic swayback adjustments and C/D-cups, do I can get off-the-rack things that fit better than my meticulously fitted me-mades.

      I do love your Oz explanation. Oz ruins, doesn’t it? I’m making major! life! decisions! right now, and I don’t know the difference between Oz and Kansas anymore, and, to mix movies, I’m not sure which pill to take.

  7. Always fun to read your posts, Charlotte. Do some editing and you could be Maureen Dowd.
    As a boomer, I’ve seen every side “gal-bashing” from the 60s on. My gag-worthy reading in college was Marabelle Morgan’s late 70s anti-feminist “The Total Woman” which instructed women to get back in the kitchen, let the man dominate, and then answer the door to him at night wrapped in Saran. Google it, it’s a hoot.
    As for Michael Pollan’s trampling “feminists,” they were people like my mom, who was trying to get dinner over so she could go grade papers and work on her Masters. She and her friend Lois (a kindergarten teacher) used to guffaw over Peg Bracken’s “I Hate To Cook Book,” a mid-60s subversive humor tome masquerading as a book of recipes that encouraged women to “add the cooking sherry and then take a swig yourself…” Those early women humorists are my blog’s inspiration.
    I can only speak for Boomer-age garment sewers, who are not calling their things “handmade.” Many of us grew up sewing, and have taken it up again because shopping’s depressing and we want some nice clothes. Also we want a challenging hobby because we’re winding up our careers and family life and we have time. We’re into the “quality fashion” aspect of it, and will spend money and time on haute couture classes and expensive fabrics. (We think the whole twee #handmade thing’s a little precious, too.)
    As for job hunting, here’s what worked for me: call two people in anything close to your field, chat them up and ask them if you can meet them to find out more about careers in the field. Go in and be smart, fun, confident and stylish (because they don’t want to work with someone crabby, dumb or boring). Don’t ask about jobs at their work; if they like you, they’ll tell you. Come out of the meeting with two other names of people in that field. Call those people and say “so-and-so suggested I meet with you…” (because then they feel like they need to meet with you as a favor to so-and-so). Repeat until you’re far enough down the pyramid to get a job. Be willing to take a crappy job in a good place, because if they like you, they’ll move you up. Also, I believe that all bloggers seeking jobs should edit out references to health.
    Good luck!

    1. I’ve already mentioned it on Instagram, but have to thank you again. Took your advice, and though I was recruited into a position, I got to meet some great alum along the way. I also finally created a LinkedIn profile, which wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be.

      There’s such a big difference between the Boomer approach to sewing—rather, the difference between sewers who have some formal level of training, and years of practice, and sewers who were community taught. The question for me is, when is it okay to graduate to haute couture classes and expensive fabrics? Is it sort of hubristic to faff about with quilting cotton for a year, then jump into the deep end of the pool? When did you know, or was it a touch more accidental?

      1. Glad I could be of some help, Charlotte! As for couture, geez, just go for it! I took the Susan Khalje Couture Dress course on Craftsy when I started sewing again and it really upgraded my skills. When I sewed in my teens and 20s, it was at the school of “Sewing in the basement with mom, following Big 4 pattern instructions.” I’d just cut the stuff out and go for it. I really think Susan’s online classes are the way to go. She has a new one on her website as well.

  8. Having not read that book, I can’t really comment about much of the first part of your post. I do, however, have a crockpot full of bone broth brewing at the moment- with some expensive pastured chicken carcasses. I do this for health reasons, I don’t care if people think I’m poor. In fact, I prefer them to think we don’t have as much money as we actually do.
    I don’t think I’ve ever used the term handmade for my sewing. I think handmade means made by hand, without assistance of machines. I have been baffled by the use of this term for years. My sister once told me that homemade clothes look subpar. I never considered homemade to be a negative word until that day. I still don’t. I may have spent a few years struggling to overcome her negative mindset, but I won’t let her bring me down. I wear, eat, and gift homemade things proudly. I won’t succumb to society’s views on this. I am who I am and I won’t apologize for or hide it.
    Regarding RTW, I love the precision I see in a lot of it. When it comes to matching stripes, there can be some issues. I tend to see this more commonly in trendy items that are of a cheaper quality (striped knit maxi skirts that seem to have replaced yoga pants *gag*), but there are some brands that do manage to get it right. I haven’t bought things that fall apart. I do find that many knit items pill very quickly, but this can happen with more expensive knits, too.

    1. Still baffled by handmade, personally. Homemade is awesome! One of my professors lived in the Russia during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and she told stories about how excited everyone would get when a friend got back from visiting his/her grandma in the country, because that meant you’d get to eat fresh-grown vegetables.

      I love RTW, but agree about stripe matching. Actually, I spend a lot of time wondering about why we pattern match in the first place. I mean, do we want secret pockets? Does it genuinely look better most of the time? With stripes or checks, I suppose it’s disorienting, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it to spend hours and hours matching a floral, for instance. Then again, I totally do that.

      1. I don’t match florals unless they are arranged in lines. Then it is more the lines that I would match. Matching floral patterns should be reserved for upholstery! Bahaha. I should add that there are obvious exceptions to this. If I were sewing a couture dress, I would most likely be matching everything.

  9. Excellent to see you back, oh snappy one!

    I remember hurling that book several times, returning it to the library and checking it out a few months later to finish it. I felt like I was supposed to read it and have an opinion.

    She does talk to a wide swath of folks (Brooklyn hipsters, Mormon mothers on Etsy, and survivalists). Reshaping roles of women? Didn’t talk to them in that sort of detail. It’s a pretty broad and shallow survey

    Kinda hard to cover this ground without talking Martha Stewart, who is barely mentioned. Does explain those knitted potscrubbers on Etsy.

    As for RTW, I marvel at my underwear. Someone makes these cheap cotton underpants with a degree of skill I could NEVER master. I am in awe, Bangladeshi child, of your mastery!

    1. Thank you (two months late, I know).

      That book was the worst. She just talks to women, sure, geographically spread apart (thank you, publisher’s advance), but they seem to have such superficial conversations. Totally agree.

      I think about Martha Stewart v. Sue Ann Nivens v. P.S. I Made This far too frequently.

      The thing is, and I tend to forget it too, is that the best way to get good at something is to do it ten thousand times. Thanks, factories! It is rather jarring to hear about why women and young people get hired most for clothing work: Small hands. I don’t know why it never occurred me.

  10. You’re back! And I’ve been looking forward to this post! I suppose one of my first beefs with Homeward Bound is its subtitle: “Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.” In my experience – again, I’m in Seattle – interest in home-making activities is by no means restricted to women. Women and men alike are pickling, baking bread and brewing kombucha. My anecdotal evidence may not compare to the (hopefully) rigorous research of Matchar, but I’m not sure this movement she’s attempting to describe is quite as gendered as she thinks. Strong opinions from someone who hasn’t and probably won’t read her book!

    As far as Kansas and Oz, I do think we’d reached a point where many people in Western countries can buy some semblance of everything they need or want – food, transportation, gadgets, clothing, entertainment, healthcare – and many of us were still not fulfilled or even healthy. While there are many laughable as well as objectionable DIY/artisanal/back-to-the-earth trends, I see much to be gained in a culture of people with a rising interest in life- and health-sustaining activities. Maybe our collective insecurity at our new/old interests like home sewing is what makes us so quick to rag on store-bought clothing while still referencing RTW’s efficient techniques and finishes.

    1. Morgan, your anecdotal evidence totally does compare with Matchar’s research, as least the preliminary phase. At the beginning of the book, she said something alone the lines of, “There are men in the movement, but it’s driven by women,” or it’s more damning for women, or something along those lines. Well, shucks, thanks, that’s not a continuation of the odd internal policing and judging that happens between women, but doesn’t extend to men. The behavior does have problematic implications for everyone. Sigh.

      Agreed on there being something more to the weird relationship with RTW other than fickleness. I like to pretend that I’m of the “Let’s just like stuff, guys!” bent, but I wonder if I’d have all of these questions if that were really the case.

  11. Interesting post! I always get excited to see you in my blogroll. I’m going to try to keep this concise, but you raise so many great points that I’m finding it hard to focus!

    I agree with you that homemakers and family heads have always been trying to do the best for their families, but that what’s best/good/healthy/acceptable has changed so much that it’s hard to see that. My guess is that processed foods felt very clean and scientific, which was really valued a few decades ago. Now we’re in an age where corporations feel sinister and everyone is convinced that Monsanto wants to kill their children, so home cooking has become a way to “protect” your children (but that’s a big discussion in and of itself). People are willing to give up convenience and cheap eating to rage against the machine. And then there’s also the whole “food as fetish” thing that it seems to be as much about process as result. While I love eating, I don’t get a deep sense of fulfillment from finding ramps at the farmer’s market, and I just don’t have the time (or care to prioritize) home pickling/brewing/baking!

    But I would argue that there IS an element of nostalgia in this movement. Just anecdotally, I hear lots of people who sew mentioning grandmothers who sewed or great-uncles who were tailors, and the craft often seems to function as a connection to the past. And it’s hard not to view this movement as a backlash to the overwhelming rise of technology and the way it’s changed employment. I know I’m not the only one who’s had jobs where all you do is send emails and talk on the phone- it’s easy to understand the urge to do tangible, physical work when there’s nothing visibly accomplished at the end of your work day.

    But. There’s always so much privilege and power at play in these discussions. It takes money and time to do these things yourself, and those things simply aren’t available for many families. It is really interesting that home cooking and handcrafting have become status markers, in a way.

    Your point about disparaging RTW sewing is interesting. Personally, I don’t doubt the skill of the factory workers in the least… I know they’re much more skilled than I am! What I object to is the disposable nature of the clothing. And my avoidance of RTW is because of the terrible treatment of garment workers- I don’t want my clothing made by teenagers working 20 hours a day in a poorly-ventilated basement. My fabric may still be made that way, but hopefully we’ll have better options for sustainable fabric soon.

    1. Aw, shucks, thanks (nearly two months later).

      I wonder about the function of nostalgia in everyone’s sewing practice. (Yes, I just used a yoga term.) My grandma sews (well, sewed, she’s 94 and ill, ill, ill now), but she was horrible at it. Ditto my mother. But, they have this weird “the right way is the way that I do it” attitude, that I sort of actively try to rebel against, which is sort of why I sew. That, and naked embrace of technology. (Give me all of the digital sewing things. ALL OF THEM.)

      I’ve got mixed feelings about the garment workers situation, because I am an awful person. Long hours, poor safety conditions, lack of benefits are all problems in and of themselves. They don’t become problematic when they happen in a garment manufacturing setting. (Not that you said that, but I have a lot of pent up feelings about this.) My concern is that we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater in claiming that these things are endemic in garment manufacturing. I have a professor who teaches business ethics, and does loads of work with the workers at the Altagracia Factory in the Dominican Republic where, for instance, workers make 3x the average garment worker wage, and are treated extraordinarily well. However, if we don’t have companies like Everlane that make “radical transparency” part of their branding, then by not buying RTW, we’re disadvantaging the good guys, too. I love Everlane, but the factories that they use a) service other companies and b) existed before Everlane started using them, and I full-on need to know who those companies are. Like, it’s killing me.

      Oh, and I totally forgot to wish you a happy birthday. I was on the Metro when I noticed it on Instagram, and I couldn’t patch through best wishes quickly enough. Boo. Many returns of the day, Sonja!

  12. How did I miss this post? I check my reader every day!

    Job hunting advice. I’ve got none. Good luck to you. Looking for a job is the devil, but I have faith in you.

    I’ve had Homeward Bound on my to-read list for a while. It’s stayed there so far b/c a few feminist friends have read it and trashed it. I think it has been pretty consistently rage inspiring among the people whose opinions I care about.

    As always, you make a lot of excellent points and write them well. Your analysis of handmade vs. homemade is spot on, and I’m guilty of calling my makes handmade for the very reasons you point out–plus the fact that, you know, no one searches for homemade. So tagging a photo w/ homemade on IG is basically relegating it to invisibility. You may as well not tag it. And I’ve often wondered why it is that “it looks store-bought/RTW!” is the ultimate sewing compliment when we’re all sewing b/c we don’t want to wear RTW.

    So, some questions I have:

    What about the guys leaving regular careers to do something artisinal? The ones starting up a farm, or making cheese, or opening bike repair shops, or cafes? Why is it only women who are considered to be regressing or anti-feminist when they do this? Is a man who leaves banking to start making furniture from reclaimed wood really all that different from a woman who leaves law to start selling knitting patterns? Surely this trend is larger than women and feminism, this time.

    I think we are, as a society, very conflicted about which world it is we think of as Oz, and which we think of as Kansas. Both home and career can be idealized to a rosy glow when you’re not in the muck of it every day.

    1. I still have Homeward Bound, and am thinking about ritually burning it. That’s apparently not a “stable person” thing to do. Whatever, people.

      Confession time? I hate hashtags. Hate them. Probably because I check Instagram on my proper computer most of the time, so they’re just decorative for me. #handmade away, though. With your beading, you’re basically a step ahead of the game.

      Men don’t count, silly, because they don’t make poor decisions driven by their emotions and wombs. Duh, Andrea.

      I have a professor who likes to jokingly tell me that my skill set is best suited for being a cruise director or being a secretary. (He’s a super feminist, who is totally joking, but still.) Oz is always the thing we don’t have the time/energy/money/skill to do

  13. SO many interesting ideas here and fantastic comments. I don’t want to repeat what has been said, so I’ll keep this brief. The “handmade” point is a good one, although I don’t agree that no one wants their kids to grow up working on an assembly line. Some people are happy having a secure job with a decent wage (as in the past with well-paid, unionized factory work) and nice people to work with, and lack the desire to do something more intellectually-focused. I have worked on an assembly line myself, many moons ago, and encountered many such people.

    Speaking only for myself, I grew up in a household in which we grew and made things, partly because of economic need when my father fell seriously ill, but mostly because that was how my mom was raised and how she entertains herself. I make things not only because I like to know where the things I have came from and who suffered in the making of them, but because such self-induced suffering is a kind of pleasure for me. Actually, speaking as someone who doesn’t even have a smart phone for personal use, I like things to be slow. Making is slow. Most people at some point recognize that slow is good for health..That said, I enjoy the flip side of my life, as a badass lady economist, thinking in hundreds of millions and billions on a daily basis…I know you can have and be both.

    PS There is a gelato university in Bologna I believe. 🙂

    1. You worked on an assembly line? Do tell me more!

      Well, I dunno, I think that we’ve gotten an increasingly “every little girl and boy can/should grow up to be president!” attitude, that is. . .something else.

      Oh self-induced suffering is the story of my life. There are apparently straightforward ways of doing things—have you ever heard this, Stephanie, because I refuse to believe it. I hope I can have both, as a badass lady economist and everything.

      A couple of friends are headed off/have headed off to Johns Hopkins SAIS in Bologna, and they have obviously made terrible life decisions. MBAs in Gelato for everyone!

  14. You make me laugh. I agree – MBAs in gelato!

    I do know what you mean about finding the most difficult way to do absolutely everything. I am the poster child for this. I even have a philosophy that I like to see if I can recreate things rather than save them. It’s a kind of mental test….of stupidity…although I suppose you never know: It may prove more beneficial than Sudoku for warding off early memory decline.

    When I was a young traveller…I worked in an abalone canning factory with a variety of people, including Chechnyan refugees. It was eye opening. I also knew many people who worked in the auto sector in southern Ontario growing up. My way of thinking of life (apart from the self-induced suffering part) is pretty much summed up in the Desiderata, which means that I like to mix with and talk to a lot of different people. As an introvert, this is something I have to force, but I discovered that once I talk to people I tend to learn much more than if I were only listening to the perpetual rambling in my own head. 🙂

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