Sewing, maths & feminism

For many years, I thought I would return to playing the violin.  As a teen learning the violin, several adults revealed that they had also played when my age, but had never gone back to it.  I was not going to be like them.  I would serenely fit violin playing into my successful adult life.  I would not spend my thirties wishing I could go to the toilet by myself.

I did not anticipate returning to maths.

The maths I liked when I was at school had satisfying procedures.  I liked long division and I liked all those layers of multiplying long numbers with each other.  I liked algebra.  Geometry was not so exciting.  The later stages are a bit blurry and then I quit.  I was going to be a journalist and maths had gotten a bit hard and I fobbed my parents off with geography and accounting.  I also dropped chemistry, because even though I liked it, it was quite difficult and my arrogance knew few bounds.  If I couldn't get good grades easily, why bother.  Why anyone believed that I would be engaged with geography and accounting, I'm not sure.  It occurs to me 30 years later that perhaps no one did believe me, but they either thought I needed to learn the hard way or they just hoped I would shut up for a while if I got my own way.

I did a little bit of sewing as a teenager, assisted by my very talented mum.

As an obsessed feminist historian in the 1990s, I thought a lot about the ways that women had left a record of their love for others and their values through their craft work.  I still wasn't thinking about maths, but I was very interested in the research a historian friend was working on to do with women and technology. She taught me that when technology is related to women's work, it is not seen as clever, difficult or 'technical.'  Cue cooking and crafting.  Try making a sponge cake if you would like to test the assumption that there is little technology (or science) involved in winning baking prizes at the A & P Show.

About seven years ago, I started sewing again.  I'd done tiny bits in the middle, but this time the hobby stuck.  I was back at work in increasing portions, and the clothes I could find that fitted me in the shops were variations of tents.  It occurred to me, buoyed up by a growing fat activism scene on the internet and by some fabulous sewing blogs, that this wasn't a compulsory state of affairs if I sewed for myself.

If I wanted to sew clothes that fitted me, the standard patterns weren't going to be any more help than the ready made shop clothes unless I learned to make adjustments.  Serious adjustments which were never mentioned in the 'Big Four' patterns (Simplicity, Vogue, McCalls, Butterick).  According to them, bodies were only short or tall.  You could grade between sizes, but always, your boob sizes related to your shoulders.  Ask yourself (if relevant): as my breasts have grown larger, have my shoulders also increased with them?  Probably, when you were 14, but not so much at 35 & 45.

This is where I rediscover maths.  Not just calculating budgets and mortgage repayment scenarios, but geometry and turning two dimensional paper into three dimensional clothes.

I'm blessed with a lot of mathematicians in my life.  They are all generous with their knowledge (and patience).  It's no accident that I've gotten more interested in maths as I've been sewing - I'm sure that one has prompted the other.  I'm going to have a go at using sewing as a focus for putting words and maths together, seeing if I can chart the thinking and practical process of making adjustments.  I've done a bit of this before, but I can't find much evidence in old blog posts.  Maybe it went on Facebook instead, that very useful short term communicator which has no useful archiving functions.  The historian in me wants archiving function.


jacksmith said…
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