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Sexism In Quilting – The Conversation Worth Having

24 May

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Today is a another special occasion. I have an interview with a blogger and quilter. I just met Stephanie in a Fiber Artist group online…. No, it was not secret. As we all know, I’m working on a set of 4 interviews with people who have been victims of Homophobia, Racism, Sexism, and Ignorance, as these are the themes for a quilt I’m working on for the Human Rights Campaign Dinner. This is our second interview. Her name is

Stephanie Forsyth, a quilter, and let’s get to know her…

ETQ: Today we have quilt-extraordinaire Stephanie Forsyth with us, here to talk about sexism in the textile industry… Stephanie, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

Stephanie: I’m a traditional quilter turned art quilter. I started quilting twenty one years ago when I was just turning nineteen years old. The last couple of years have been difficult health wise for myself (and my recently late mother.) My mom was a longarmer, and she taught me to piece and quilt. On top of the health/personal stuff, I’d decided I needed a break from the quilt world a bit because it is such a cutthroat universe. But I am getting back into the swing of things again (and finding maybe rather than changing, it’s gotten worse?). I found the longarm world particularly to not be for the weak hearted! I also run the blog IndieQuilter.com, and I should disclose my previous endeavor was The Fiber Nation.

ETQ: So, since you already had experience with a lot of these longarm Quilters, I take it you know what’s going on in the quilt community at the moment?

Stephanie: Oh yes. And it doesn’t really surprise me at all. At least one of the people that were in the secret group, I had once upon a time called a friend, but that had ended long before this current kerfuffle blew up. I’ve known Karen a long time, and can’t imagine anyone wanting to be mean to her like that either. Or Jamie for that matter. I can’t name names, because I have already been threatened with litigation over this:

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The name is greyed out because she’d sent that message to my business page, and then blocked me.

ETQ: Wow, so you know the drama, and you’re right, this is not new and this is not surprising. So, this article is titled sexism in quilting. Care to share your own experience?

Stephanie: I guess my first experience with it (as far as being able to directly attribute it to sexism) actually came from other female quilters. I would often go to quilt retreats. I would get questioned what I had prepared my husband for dinners while I was away. I was actually dumbfounded and baffled the first time a lady asked me that, and I actually responded, “Why would I do that. Have his limbs fallen off?” Then I listened to them, pretty much all of them left prepared foods at home with instructions for their husband. Now, for the most part this is likely a generational gap too, as most of the women were 30-40+ years old than me., but then I also started to put some things together. The art world works like this: the majority of students that enter design/art school are female, but the majority of designers and artists that are making a living off of their studied craft are men. And the women that are there, nearly always make way less than the men in their field do!

Quilting is a female dominated industry, as far as consumerism goes. But when you start looking at the true economics, the inherent sexism (that is everywhere) is pervasive in this industry. When someone asks for an estimate on a quilt, and you tell them, they generally balk at the cost of having a quilt made. “But it’s just a quilt.” THAT is sexism. Because it is society projecting the idea that women’s work is not as valuable as other types of work. I am NOT saying that it’s just men that are causing the experience of sexism. It’s a social issue that even women (maybe especially women?) project too.

Take fabric design. Abby Glassenburg did a piece a couple years ago about that part of the industry. Women were working and designing for fabric companies without contracts. Can you imagine?

ETQ: I actually have heard that Husband and Food argument many times. I, myself, used to work in a sewing machine shop, and once two customers got into it a heated verbal debate about feeding their husbands… One woman said she was doing something with quilting and the other woman asked “Is your husband okay with that? Who’s going to make him dinner?”. The woman responded with, “He knows how to cook, and if not, he knows how to order take out.” So I know exactly what you mean. I’ve also heard the “A Quilt Shouldn’t Cost That Much!!!” quite a bit in my line of work. I’ve done dozens of customs quilts, and it usually is women who take issue with the price. Earlier you mentioned the long arm community to not be for the weak hearted, care to elaborate?

Stephanie: The long arm community is a really great microcosm of the female culture. You’ve heard the saying that rich white men benefit from the poor fighting over the scraps??

ETQ: I have heard that before in many incarnations.

Stephanie: That presents itself in the longarm community because we are female dominated. Women are HIGHLY competitive with each other.

ETQ: Especially when there is this amount of money in the works. there is a lot of money in long arm quilting.

Stephanie: You have companies selling machines for $30k, but then you have women quilting on them that feel they have to charge as little as possible (which is 1. because they don’t value themselves enough and 2. They want to compete with other longarmers.) This comes in when we look at what just happened in the community. This wasn’t just about politics, or racism, or any ism. This was, at heart, about quilters competing with people they see as “famous” quilters and trying to “take them down a peg” if you will.

The trouble is, the vast majority of the money in our industry isn’t in the hands of women that are doing the day to day work of this industry.

It’s going to the male own businesses, and the money trickles up to the CEOs.

Want proof of that? Look up the “advice” that once came with Singer sewing machines, that told a woman how to keep her man happy – which meant staying pretty and doing housework and dinner before sewing.

ETQ: I know exactly the Singer manual you are talking about. I’ve seen so much animosity between different Quilters, who have different styles, perspectives, what have you, and they trash talk. They do exactly what you said. They try to take someone else down a peg.

Stephanie: Now – the ease that I feel men have in our industry that I wrote about – was actually sexism too. BECAUSE, it was women quilters who dote on men and flirt with them at shows to get close to “popular” and “famous” quilters like Jamie, and Ricky, etc.

It’s sexism that female quilters have towards men. The difference is, the men can benefit financially from that kind of sexism.

I am not BLAMING men, I want to state that. I am blaming the way our society is set up.

In full disclosure I did write a piece that spoke to my anger at the seeming ease men have compared to women in our quilt world – which I received hate male including threat and suggestions to kill myself for.

Unfortunately, I did not convey the fact that I was actually angry that it was just an extension of the systematic sexism in our culture. So it came off way too personal towards men.

ETQ: I can’t even say anything on that topic, because I’m a terrible flirt. I flirt constantly.

Stephanie: I don’t have an issue with flirting per say. But to do so in front of a male quilter’s partner (whether that partner be male or female) I find disrespectful. Especially so now, in light of hearing the conservative group say left leaning quilters can’t be good because we are sexually immoral (and make no mistake they were referring to homosexuality, because they used that word too like it was a four letter word.)

But again, we are dealing with BIG sociology ideas here. The women flirt with them, because we are taught by way of just exisiting in this society, that our most valuable asset is our body.

ETQ: We see the way these women act at shows, we see the was they act towards each other at these shows, and I’ve seen it in sewing classes. What can we do to address the problem?

Stephanie: Many of the women quilters will flirt with the male quilters, which is a two fold sexism right there, isn’t it? Against themselves, and also a sexist assumption that all the men want are to be flirted with. (Instead of I dunno, complementing them on their bad ass quilting?)

ETQ: Back to these sceenshots of these women in the group, we saw the sexism. One woman said her husband referred to everyone outing them as “sluts”. How did you respond to that?

Stephanie: The solution is the hardest part. But I always go back to education. Example: I grew up in a pretty racist area. There was racism in my home. BUT – I grew up in the 80’s when they started addressing the issue in schools. I was TAUGHT by my teachers that the things I was hearing in my community and sometimes at home was just wrong. So, I grew up with a completely different mindset.

I saw that on one of Frank’s posts I think. It’s slut shaming – and that’s not even about sex. It’s a way of dehumanizing or devaluing a woman based on the idea that she must be a whore if she disagrees with her husband.

Slut shaming isn’t about sex, and it isn’t void from this quilting culture. I have heard other longarmer’s being bashed based on who they are dating.

I have heard people say, ‘Oh, so and so quilter, she’s only getting ahead because you know she’s sleeping around with “X” male quilter.”

I kid you not. People say this shit.

ETQ: Slut shaming, in the quilting community!. I’m sure people are shocked to hear that. I’m not, but sure a lot are shocked to hear it. I’m not sure if you watched the video from Mark but he commented that not all quilters are nice. I know that to be true. Don’t get me wrong, when I started quilting I found support and love, but I also saw that I was stirring the dark underbelly. How do we have a dialogue about quilters being not nice, when so many quilters don’t even want to talk about it?

Stephanie: I think Gen Q is a good example. Especially since they are female owned! Their anti-bullying campaign is the sort of thing we need. And I’m sure many will disagree, but we need Frank’s approach too sometimes. Either way, it comes to public forums and figures exposing this behavior to the light.

ETQ: Recently, I published an article about how all these big names have fallen silent. I feel they really need to come forward and talk about it. Who is the one person, you want to see address this issue the most?

Stephanie: Alex Anderson.

ETQ: Why Alex?

Stephanie: Alex to me, is one of the “mothers” of this industry. I have no idea what her political leanings are, and I don’t care. But she’s a traditional quilter and has a wide reach of people who follow her. I know liberal and conservative quilters who like her. But it really comes down do the exposure, she’s a face in the industry that is recognizable and her speaking out against these behaviors would reach a lot of ears and eyes. I don’t know her personally at all but it seems to me she’d be a good spokesperson for anti-bullying.

ETQ: Seeing the bullying, seeing the sexism, being in this community, has it affected or influenced your art at all?

Stephanie: I’d have to say that it definitely has in ways, yes. It works it’s way in, and often times I have personal pieces that reflect the struggle, but they tend to never see the public – like this one…

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It’s a sketch for a future quilt.

ETQ: I love it! Love the feathers, but more importantly, I love the message! Well, I’m sure by now people are bored with us, so my last question, will be the same one I asked Frank… If you could ask the women from the group one thing, what would it be?

Stephanie: Would you have said any of those things to someone’s face, in person?

ETQ: Thank you so much for doing the interview and I really hope to have you back again soon! If you’ll come back that is…

Stephanie: I’d love to 🙂

Here are some lovely images of Stephanie’s Quilts! I love the Jon Snow one! Less than 2 months to GoT!!! You can find Stephanie and her work over at Indie Quilter.

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2 Responses to “Sexism In Quilting – The Conversation Worth Having”

  1. Andrea Rennick May 25, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    Love the feminist quilt!

    And yes! I think a lot of people like to push ti away not just because it’s uncomfortable and not polite but also because they truly believe it’s “just a few bad apples”. Well I’m sure you know the rest of the saying….

    I’m making a transition from the tech world to the longarm quilting world, and the attitudes like sexism and the competitiveness compared to tech – mostly it leaves me amused. I’ve also been doing tech support so Ive personally had worse thrown at me (because I’m just text on a screen somewhere not a person with feelings).

    Doesn’t excuse it but it sure does make it easy to call others out on the milder stuff. 😀

  2. fauxhoux June 12, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    I say it in their face and mow it in the lawn. I think all of you, young, old, inbetween are immature nobody really cares. The only factor that drives this Social PC CRAP is $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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