How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101

So I generally don’t re-blog a lof stuff (I think this is the second time I’ve done it), it just isn’t a habit I’m in. I do it now because this is just so important, and this blog post is so well-written, and it isn’t something that I can easily summarize in my own words in any way that’s nearly as effective as you just reading this. Please, please read it.

Believe me, I know, it can feel hard sometimes to be white and read things about racism. I’m a fat woman, and now I’m disabled. Feminism has always made a lot of sense to me. Being an ally to non-straight has also always felt natural, and wasn’t challenging.

Race was harder. In college, when I was first introduced to different ways of looking at racism – hey let me just rephrase that – when I was first introduced to LOOKING AT RACISM, I mean, really looking: it was hard. I had a lot of feelings at first. Defensive, mostly. “But I’m not like THAT!” I was very invested in seeing myself in a certain light, and any challenge to that just felt insulting rather than educational.

I kept with it, though, and the reward was learning to see through others’ eyes, and realizing that the more I learned, and the more I spoke about it, the better off I was making the lives of people of color – the very people I always said I cared about but to whose experience I was essentially blind. Conversely, the more we don’t look at the things that make us squirm or feel touchy, the more we can trust that their experience is going to be lost and invalidated.

Decide that today you’ll spend five minutes reading something that might make you feel a little touchy. Try to open your heart and your mind, try to make it not about you. Read this.

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I wrote this for a specific group, but I’ve been asked to share it. A lot of folks are just waking up to activism and are heading into intersectional feminist spaces with some trepidation. Hopefully this can help keep you on track. I’ve already been reminded that I missed code-switching, appropriation (which is a whole post, frankly, but TL;dr if a living group exists that can be mocked for the thing you think is cool and that you want to do, don’t), and a few other things. I’ll try to pick those up at a later date, but in the meantime this primer will help you get your feet wet without making a damn fool of yourself. Much. It’s all lessons I learned the hard way, so do better than me and remember we’re all works in progress.)

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We will grasp our desires soon by the nape

That photo above is of my husband and daughter at the Seattle women’s march. The one below is me with both my kids. I was grateful to greet the marchers at Seattle Center, though I wasn’t able to walk the 3+ miles due to pain. The plodding, mechanical unfolding of Trump’s agenda is now seeping through my pores, a stench I can’t escape. Here on the blog, I’m due to write a Week 3 progress report, but this morning finds me working to get yoga homework done after three nights of terrible sleep and very bad dreams. I can’t seem to close my eyes anymore without getting hit by nightmares, full of stress, dystopian elements, and anxiety.

I’ve started reading poetry in the morning, as an antidote. I have several books of poetry that I’ve read only once, a few I barely skimmed. I couldn’t believe the medicine inside these books, when I began reading them every morning. Everyone, get our your forgotten books of poetry. Read a poem a day for good mental health. It helps. I promise.

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Style Arc’s Ethel pants are my new favorite pants

Pants should be artsy and huge. I’ve been looking for the right pant pattern for awhile, and here it is: the Ethel Designer Pant. It comes in a gazillion sizes, just go to the main Style Arc shop page and type in “Ethel” in the search, and you’ll see them all.

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I made a muslin first, a pair in quilting cotton with a house print all over it. They came out baggy and wonderful, probably too baggy for 79% of anyone who bothers to concern themselves with whether their sewing pattern is “on trend” or not, but I don’t know if I’d use quilting cotton again. It’s a little stiff. That’s okay, because they were just practice, a proof of concept. I didn’t get a photo of those pants, because that would require me to go change out of the pants I’m wearing now, and hello, all those of you with chronic illness know how much pain it can literally take to get in and out of your clothes. So instead I insert a swatch:

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I call them my “house pants”. HAHAHA. I’ll be here all week.

I used my stash of red linen to make my “real” pair. I’m not going to say that the night was without drama. I opted for patch pockets instead of side pockets, and used this gorgeous Guatemalan stuff. I sewed them on, and then realized that I’d sewn them to the rear instead of the front. Cursing my brain fog, I went downstairs and chatted with Greg while I laboriously seam-rippered them off. Then I went back upstairs and realized that I had just ripped off pockets that had, in fact, been sewn on the correct side of the pants all along. More cursing. I am a sailor, after all.

Sewing with fibromyalgia can be interesting. Let’s use that word. INTERESTING.

At any rate, they finally got done, and I love them.

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This is me standing in our kitchen. You have to pardon my hair because I was, five minutes before this, rolling on the floor with the dogs.

Those socks? I knit those! I’m so proud of those socks. They’re Personal Footprint socks from Cat Bordhi, and they’re the only socks I’ve ever knitted that I actually wear on a regular basis. Mostly because they’re the only socks I’ve ever knitted that are actually shaped like a human foot.

The pants aren’t cuffed at the moment, but they look very cute when cuffed. The pattern is pretty easy, although I didn’t fully understand how to do the pleats. I just did what looked right, and I like how it came out. Eventually, I’d like to watch a more experienced sewist make a nice pair of pants and learn some of these little tricks. Or just watch one of the many Craftsy videos I bought during their big Thanksgiving sale. I must have a dozen.

This pair is perhaps one size too big for me. In a plus-sized person especially, a whole size off can often look a bit dramatic. I don’t care too much at this point, because I figure the more I wash them the smaller they’ll get. Not by inches, but I bet a little bit of shrinkage will just happen over time.

All that bagginess is useful for a yoga teacher. Want to see? WANT TO SEE ME DO YOGA?

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This is not yoga.

Finnegan’s like, “She’s doing Karate Kid again, isn’t she?”

The point is, were I able to do all the asanas there are, I could probably do them all in these pants. I like living with the knowledge that if – without warning – I had to scale a wall or take a gymnastics class or stuff an entire watermelon in my pants to prove some kind of critical point, these pants would be up to the challenge.

Sewing panels into a favorite old shirt, and the virtues of keeping your “skinny clothes”

Not until I became obsessed with sewing back in August did I realize how much clothes mean to me. How a single piece can be full of meaning and memory, how just seeing something in my dresser can make me smile or feel more secure in the world. I knew I felt this way about bags and backpacks, but that’s another post entirely. But clothes? How did I not see this before? Instead, for years I’ve told myself to just get over it and let things go when they didn’t fit or when they got stained up. I’d do almost anything to go back in time and collect up a big basket of all those clothes I let go of, and bring them back to my present-day sewing workshop, and modify the heck out of them.

Here we have what I call, “One of my favorite Betsy shirts.”

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For the life of me I cannot figure out how it shows up GREY in the photo, when it’s actually a lovely dark navy blue. Oh well! Anyway, waaaaay back in, what, the early 2000’s or so, I fell in deep be-smitten love with these hemp clothes I found at a festival here in Seattle. They were utterly fantastic, made from renewable resources (back then hemp was a big deal, people constantly joked, “Can you smoke your clothes?” [rolls eyes]), and the look was linen-like (I love linen more than anything) but it was a little thicker and very durable. It was the just the loveliest fabric.

So of course, being me, I walk right up to the woman running the booth, called Intertwined Designs, and begin telling her how much I loved her clothes. That woman was Betsy! This little booth was her operation, and she sewed all the clothes herself. We talked forever, and I was so happy to find clothes that fit me that I bought 4 or 5 things. At the time I was about a size 18, which was just outside of everyone’s range (unless you went to the MALL, ugh, barf, roll on the floor twisting in agony), but Betsy had a ton of stuff that fit me, and all of it was artsy and colorful and fit like loose linen. I was in heaven.

Over the next few years I would show up at her booth with a few hundred bucks, buy a bunch of stuff, have a nice chat, and go home very happy! Somtimes I made a big pre-order and would pick it up from her. Once, she sent me a special present for being her best customer that year. I beamed with joy.

These clothes represented so much to me, they were a scrapbook. They represented adventure and going to these festivals I loved. They reminded me of meeting and connecting with a great human. Betsy and I aren’t close friends or anything, but we had a great rapport and I loved checking in with her about her life and how she was doing. Our birthdays are one day apart! Last summer, at the Oregon Country Fair, I ran into her again. We hadn’t seen each other in over five years, but she knew me, and it was so fun to reconnect. These clothes also represent my values, being able to wear something sourced sustainably, and made by hand without exploitation from someone I respected. And on top of all that, they FIT, and they were SO CUTE. It was the style I wished I could have, but could never find in my size. Betsy, a person I’d met and connceted with, made me things that I wore every day that made me feel great about myself and my body. I feel the same way about Cada!

Yeah, all that from some t-shirts and pants and a few pullovers and dresses. I know, right? But there it is. Clothes really mean a lot to me. Which is why, when I got bigger (I’m now about a 22 or 24, depending on the brand), I kept nearly everything she’d made. Of course I did. It wasn’t about making myself feel bad for having grown in size. I repeatedly read books and articles about fat acceptance, and over and over they encourage you to get rid of you “skinny clothes”, the clothes that are too small that are just taking up space, because apparently having these around are bad for your psyche.

Well, I got rid of bags and bags, all in the name of being “healthy”, and all I wish now is that I’d held on to them. I could cry for all those great memories I gave up. They never made me feel bad about myself. They just took up space. Big deal, lots of things we love take up space. Photos take up space, and all we do is pick them up, look at them, and feel good. These clothes were that, to me. I should have listened to myself more, but that’s been hard for me for a long time. I have a great therapist who I started seeing to help with my anxiety disorder. He planted a seed, “It’s okay to trust yourself,” and that has become a tree that I lean against on a regular basis.

I won’t give up clothes I love again. Because if I love them, then that’s all I need to know. AND, because I can modify many of them, now!

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First I dug into my giant tub-o-knit-scraps (I have another full tub of woven scraps) and I dug out two beautiful strips of paisley that I bought from Wonderground. Wonderground Fabrics is a great online retailer, I love their stuff, and Gabbi, who runs that store, is friendly, funny, and just gives the best customer service. Join the Facebook group and get in on the pre-orders! Score.

Then I took the navy shirt, and used fabric scissors to cut off the seam on both sides, from the bottom all the way through to the underside of the sleeve. I eyeballed how long the strips ought to be to fit into the shirt as panels. I left about an inch on both ends to fold under and coverstitch, at the end. And then I just serged them in. Voila!

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It isn’t perfect, but it looks and fits great, and I love it! I haven’t worn this shirt in years! It’s like bringing an old friend back. When I was done, I did something I’ve never done before. I took it downstairs, and while watching a show, I sat there and used a needle and lovingly threaded and wove back in all the end threads from the serging. Then I dabbed them all with no-fray liquid. This shirt is practically a pet.

And now everything else I loved about this shirt is combined with: I recycled it. I didn’t throw it out, or give it up. I made it mine again. I might even love it more than I did before.