I think I’ve said it before, but brevity is not my bedfellow. I blame the days of my youth spent reading epic fantasy. When I originally set out to write this post, I just wanted to create a quick account of why I’m planning to pause my typical review posts on new pattern announcements. An account this is, but quick it is not. So, I’ve decided to write a brief introduction for those of you who don’t have the time to sit through this whole thing: I’m taking a break from posting new release reviews from the major pattern brands. I know that these posts are the reason that I have the majority of my audience so I did not want to simply stop with no explanation, and I will not be surprised if this announcement is disappointing to many of my followers. However, after the events of the past week I feel that I really need to put a pause on what I’ve typically been writing about and really need think about how I want to approach this blog’s content moving forward.
For those of you who are interested in a more in depth account of how I’ve viewed the events of the past week, the details are below. Take this with a grain of salt. It is coming from my perspective, and this is the perspective of someone who hasn’t been overly active on social media lately, and was watching events unfold throughout the days when I was also trying to work a full time job, recover from my bug bite issue with a bout of antibiotics, and listen and absorb as much as I could from the people who are doing the hard work of leading the movement for change. So if I’ve missed things, misunderstood things, or are unaware of certain things please feel free to correct me in the comments. This is also the perspective of a white person who has long followed and deeply respects many of the Black Makers in the sewing community. I feel that I have long been listening to what they have said but I never really understood much of it until now. Not that I think I will ever truly be able to understand, but there is a certain level of clarity and perspective that I’ve never had before, and that I feel I must find more appropriate ways to act. Obviously, making this small declaration on my blog does very little to actually create the sort of larger change we really need, but it’s a change that I can directly control and that I very much feel needs to be made at this time.
So if you would like to read the longer, original post read on, but if you are just here for the pretty pictures then you might have to wait a while.
In my most recent post I touched on a variety of things that have been going on, the most important of which is Black Lives Matter, the movement for social justice, and the need for reform in this country. At the time of writing that post it was clear that we all need to work to do better in this country and to really push for sweeping changes in so many aspects of our society. This sort of thing will require that we demand more not just from our political system, but also from ourselves. It will also require that we re-examination of how we conduct our daily lives, and how we make choices to support things that really do match up to our own values and promote the sort of world that we want to live in.
My post was written and published last Monday, partially as a personal check in, but mostly in response to the previous weekend’s events, the larger protests, and wider issues that we are facing as a country here in the US. However, for anyone following along on social media, it also became quite clear that the smaller world that is the sewing community was going to need to take a much closer look at itself and examine exactly who and what it is supporting. Carolyn from Diary of a Sewing Fanatic created a very informative Instagram post looking at how most of the major sewing brands were addressing the Black Lives Matter movement. Or, more accurately, not addressing it. The reality is that none of the major US crafting chains have (to my knowledge) made any sort of mention about what is going on or how they will work to support their customers moving forward. While I already wasn’t supporting Hobby Lobby for *ahem* other reasons… and while I was disappointed (but not really surprised) to see a lack of response from Jo-Ann or Michael’s, it was very disheartening to see the absolute bungled attempt at a response from the McCall’s pattern group, who have had partnerships and pattern lines with several of the more prominent Black Makers in the sewing community. When the utter silence was pointed out by several in the sewing community, it seemed to prompt McCall’s to produce the most lackluster statement of “support” that I think I’ve seen from any brand, in any industry, thus far.
Of course, then there was this:
Now I know Simplicity has been moving away from anything resembling fashion in the past few months, and, as has been noted by several other sewing bloggers, “we aren’t their target customer anymore,” but this goes waaaaaaaaaay beyond aesthetic or stylistic differences. Honestly, who in their right mind looked at the cover image of pattern number 9144 and thought not just “yeah, this is going to sell” but more importantly, “yeah, this is ok.” The politest term I’ve seen for this pattern is “modern-day slave cosplay.” Of course, after that conversation started making the social media rounds, Simplicity apparently pulled the pattern design from their website the following day:
I’ve been a bit dismayed at the direction of the Big 4 since the massive merger, but this really made certain priorities of this redirection of the brand very clear.
The removal of this pattern from the Simplicity website wasn’t the only response from the Big 4 this past week. McCall’s initial response received many comments calling them out for their lackluster efforts, and the company created a follow-up post acknowledging that the response of Mimi G. (who is still producing patterns with Simplicity, and even has 2 new patterns in the most recent release) was correct in calling them out on their bullshit. Of course, since then several things have happened, including a heartfelt InstaTV post by Mimi G (I couldn’t figure out how to find or link this), the formation of Black Makers Matter (I am so excited for this! I feel like it’s going to be like The Avengers of sewing groups – all of the superstars are going to be there!), and a spreadsheet of Black-owned or ally-owned sewing supplies, which was put out by pinkmimosabyjacinta. This is discussed in more detail on the Sewcialist Blog, so I highly recommend going there to check it out. I also think that Gillian’s post at Crafting a Rainbow is worth a read on this topic as well.
Anyway, through posts on Instagram stories and other social medial outlets, it has been revealed that Mimi G. and the Black Makers Matter group have been asked to a meeting to help the McCall’s pattern company understand exactly who their customers are (or at least who they used to be) and hopefully guide them in what they need to do to help the company stay relevant in a space that doesn’t have time for this “sympathy and solidarity” in “turbulent times” nonsense. While further statements and action plans from McCall’s appear to be “forthcoming” (see the comments on that post), the fact that they are at least willing to have the conversation opens some hope, possibly, for future redemption from all of this.
Of course, while the McCall’s response was a total shitshow, it’s hard to tell if scrambling to save face or total silence on the matter is the worse response. The major European pattern brands (including Burda) have largely been completely silent, as have many of the major sewing machine brands as well. While some of these brands appeared to have completely paused posting for a week, none of them have (at the time of this writing) addressed the Black Lives Matter movement directly. I’ve had conversations with friends who work in (non-sewing related) marketing, and tried to get a more complete picture of what’s it is really like behind the scenes at major international companies right now. It’s hard to know if international brands are silent because of a lack of a US media team (let’s be real – Burda’s US website still is touting it’s own newness, which doesn’t make me think that they have a really engaged marketing team focused on the US right now), a feeling that this is a “US issue” that doesn’t really impact them (or more specifically their bottom line, or, even more specifically, could impact their bottom line were they to upset a larger customer base in a different country…), or an actual disregard for Black Makers and other Makers of Color who use and promote their products. It’s also hard to know if it’s just something that has taken so long to get the supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor’s approval that by the time any statements come out it will feel irrelevant given the pace of social media, or that a statement is simply being made once it has been deemed “safe” to do so. I’m not trying to make excuses here, but I am trying to understand all of the things at play with how media and marketing are handled for these brands. Of course, if Starbuck’s about-face is any indication, then brands can move pretty quickly when they feel the tides turn against them. And if the point of marketing (and the way it has taken over so much space on social media) is that it really can control public perception of a brand, then, of course, this works both ways. If your marketing department can’t keep up with the needs of your consumer base (or you as a company don’t even understand who your consumer base really is) then we as consumers also have to be able to draw certain conclusions from what you’ve chosen to focus (or not focus) your marketing on. We don’t really have a lot of other ways to evaluate what your brand is or what it stands for. Of course, it has been great to see the support from the Indie Brands and Small Businesses this past week, but I would also venture to say that it’s a lot easier for smaller businesses to react quickly to social media events, in no small part because the chain of command from “post approved” to “posted” is so much shorter. So while I’m in no way trying to condone, justify, or ignore the silence of the larger international brands, I am trying to understand why certain statements have been so slow in coming, or, as increasingly seems more likely, may not be coming at all. And if these brands can’t address this issue, then we as the consumers must draw our own conclusions on this matter.
So… where does that leave us? Long time blog readers know that while my sewing output has waxed and waned in response to life events and energy levels, my attempt to keep up with reviews on recent pattern releases from the major brands has been very faithful and has largely made up the bulk of my blogging in recent years. If you’d asked me a few years ago how I would have felt about not blogging about new pattern releases it would have been a really hard ask to let it go, because I felt like it was a fun way for me to engage with the community even when my sewing time and output was extremely limited. Yet, after observing the events of this past week, I realized that I need to make a change, and that promoting the products of brands that don’t recognize or support some of the strongest and most important voices in their community is not something that I want to perpetuate going forward.
So I think it’s time to take a pause. I have received many (many) comments over the years about how I’ve pointed out patterns and designs that have inspired people to seek out and buy patterns that they otherwise would have ignored. So while I’m not so naive as to fancy myself an “influencer” (I make no money off of this blog, and have never had any sort of a sponsorship), I also know that I have a small but consistent audience who come here specifically for my posts about the new releases from Burda and the Big 4. But right now I really can’t find the motivation or justification to put forth the effort to promote these brands or have what feels like an ultimately frivolous discussion about the products of brands who have been so silent on an issue that is so important. This situation is weighing on everyone (as it should – it is important and deserves the time and energy that is being devoted to it), and I am not immune to bearing my fair share of that weight. So it’s definitely time to evaluate where my time an energy resources are going, and it’s definitely time to take a break from business as usual.
I can’t say if this change to my blog’s content is “forever.” With McCall’s preparing for discussions with the Black Makers Matter coalition, it’s possible that we may yet see positive changes that will, hopefully, make the brand seem like it’s heading in a direction I think we would all like it to go. We also may yet see how Burda and other international companies will react or change moving forward. I’m… not holding out a lot of hope on that front, but I’m also not a fan of the premise of cancel culture. I’d like to believe that we all have the capacity to do better, either as an individual or as a brand. So I’m not “canceling” these brands, but I am going to put a pause on how I have been promoting their products here on the blog and consuming their products in my personal life. It’s time to reflect, take stock, and observe how things move forward. Too long we’ve been a society that sweeps things off until later because of the desire for convenience, but we’ve long been heading to a place where we don’t have that luxury anymore.
Of course, I don’t think the sort of change we all want to see will be a quick or easy process. Yes, going through this sort of change means getting uncomfortable with the way things have been. It means that we have to mess up and get called out for it (and I’m just as guilty of messing up this past week as anyone else, between the timing of my Butterick post, my attempt at posting, re-posting, and ultimately deleting my black square, and unintentionally using loaded phrases that I’d not yet realized were antiquated and wrong). It means possibly losing the respect of some of our personal heroes or, worse, people that we had considered long-time friends. It means doing the work to learn how to do better. In the case of these brands it means watching and observing what they do, and thinking long and hard about where discretionary dollars are going, and what that is ultimately promoting in the world. Is this a really long-winded and overly dramatic way to look at how I’m spending $2 on paper patterns? Possibly, but sometimes it is the little things that become the big things that make the difference.
I’m… not really sure what this means about sewing content on this blog. Ultimately, I have an extensive pattern collection comprised mainly of patterns from the Big 4, Burda, Patrones, Knipmode, My Image, and the now-defunct Manequim. It would feel incredibly wasteful to get rid of it all and I can’t say that I’m realistically prepared to do that at this point. Many of my older patterns were bought second hand, and, honestly, any way I look at it, that money has already been spent. But I also know I won’t be spending more money on these brands (or in the big box crafting stores) anytime soon. The sewjo has taken a hit (even my quilting project, which features red, white, and blue feels tainted in a way), but I expect it will be back. I know the solace a sewing project can bring, and I expect I’ll want that soon. And while I’m not necessarily opposed to reviewing older (OOP) patterns, I’m also hesitant to be promoting new products until I’ve had further time to assess which brands and products more closely align with the values that I actually want to promote on my little corner of the internet space.
I expect that this will not be the my most popular post, as I am aware that the vast majority of my readers are here for the pattern release reviews and discussions over the latest new new things. But after the events of last week, I think it is pretty clear that it’s definitely time for me to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming and reconsider exactly what I want to be contributing to this conversation and how I want to be going about it moving forward.