When you are superfat your sewing pattern options are limited, just like in RTW clothing. It’s frustrating trying to find cute patterns but even more annoying when people tell me to just sew clothes myself because RTW clothes aren’t readily available in my size. Sewing people just tell me to “grade it up” if I ask about a pattern size being unavailable to me, but that takes ages and I get angry that I have to do it.
I made the Cashmerette Upton dress with some beautiful pink and purple floral fabric that has a chocolate background. I moved the gathers to the hip, and sewed in my own tag that says “Made By Natalie”.
Things I do when I sew my own clothes
More often than not I am grading up at least two sizes from the largest size (indie designer size 26 and big 4 size 32w). The pictured Upton dress has been graded up two sizes.
Forward and sloping shoulder alteration.
Full bust alteration.
Bust dart lowering.
Make the front hem longer to allow for my big belly.
Raise the waist line to allow for my high waist and belly comfort.
Large belly alteration.
Retrace the altered pattern for continued use.
A muslin always for each new pattern.
Enough ease to pull dresses over my head rather than use a zip I can’t reach.
Cotton lining to add comfort and fanciness.
For Nick I enlarge the collar, narrow the shoulders, shorten the sleeves and do a large belly alteration.
Add my own sewing label that makes me feel like I am wearing a beautiful garment I could have bought off the rack if such magical racks existed.
Sewing is a skill, fitting is a skill, pattern grading is a skill. I have taught myself these skills because I need to do it, but I also have the aptitude for sewing and the fairly dire need for clothing. Lots of superfat people do not have sewing skills or the time/ resources to acquire these skills. It’s unfair to tell them that their only option is sew their own clothes if RTW sizes are unavailable, and even if they do sew, the pattern sizing is similarly non-inclusive.
Here is Nick wearing a Simplicity 4975 shirt with short sleeves, made out of a gorgeous pink hibiscus on black background print. Miffy is an unwilling participant in this photo.
It’s not enough for me to just sew my own clothes. I need to do a number of pattern alterations to get a comfortable fit, because sewing my own clothes is not an alternative option if I’m just going to end up with too-small, ill-fitting clothes I can buy off the one or two racks available to me. The same fat-stigmatising nonsense goes on in sewing patterns that does in RTW fashion.
A few years ago I wanted to create a club for fat activists called Girth Guides. I love coming up with cute names for things and after I stopped patting myself on the back I registered the domain and swore I’d do something with it. My vision was an online gathering place for activists to seek community and a bit of support, a place where they could take a break from the public and private activism work that all too often leads to burn out.
Shortly afterwards I experienced a mental breakdown and burnt out myself. Life became mostly about protecting myself and I ceased doing interviews and public writing and even meeting up with people and going to events. I never stopped my personal activism, and I never stopped experiencing fat stigma. It is a perpetual work, and it IS work. Many people don’t think they are doing labour when they are resisting and questioning systemic abuse and neglect. It takes a toll.
Girth Guides: Patches for Fat Activists
Last year I saw how many artists were producing their work in patches and I remembered Girth Guides. I remembered the reason why I wanted to belong, and why I wanted a recognition of my work; so with the encouragement of my friends and peers I started to create artwork for merit patches – a small part of the concept for Girth Guides but the most tangible element.
The idea was that people could validate their own experience and reward themselves for their merit. It’s about recognising how we struggle and survive and overcome. There is no measure of fatness or activism, no hurdles to jump or litmus tests.
The original Girth Guide patch collection
After an amazing crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, I was able to get 14 patches made and now I have distributed the rewards to my generous supporters I’m super pumped to announce they are now available on Fancy Lady Industries to purchase!
My personal pink collector’s sash modelled by my dress form. The whole collection of Girth Guides patches have been sewn on.
There’s a limited amount of collector’s sashes (if demand requires, I can make more!) and because I have some ultra special Patron of the Fats patches left over, I’m going to include one when you order the complete collection of patches in one transaction. These patches were offered for the very highest tier of pledges for the Pozible campaign and due to ordering minimums I do have leftovers but I do want to maintain exclusivity!
People seem to have this weird barrier between digital and non-digital life. Naively, the general consensus is that life away from the screen is “real life”, as if what you do on the internet doesn’t count. Online bullying has serious consequences and I think bullies carry on abusing people because they don’t consider themselves bullies if they do so via a keyboard. Employers admit that people aren’t hired on the basis of their public social media profiles, and crowd-sourcing campaigns have the power to significantly change someone’s life. Real life is digital life too.
So my beef today should not be dismissed as “Internet stuff” because it closely mimics the interactions women have with each other in face to face socialising; and while it is certainly not bullying or overt discrimination it contributes to a culture of feminised body shame. I follow a couple of fabric stores on facebook, hoping to be the first to hear about a bargain, however most of the time my feed is full of “cutesy” images about dieting and exercise that make me want to see if I can run my iPhone through my own sewing machine.
“A smile is the most beautiful curve on a woman’s body.”
“Calories (noun) Tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a little bit tighter every night.”
“Who you callin’ a fat quarter?”
I run my own pages, and I’m the first to admit my community building is pretty non-existent, but I absolutely abhor online community building targeted at women that leans heavily on the body, and how flawed it apparently is. Instead of building rapport with audiences about your products, inspiration and projects it seems the easy way out is to fall back on that time-honoured feminine adhesive: how to be skinnier, or at least look it. In my own life I refuse to engage in this topic with family and friends, and it’s really bloody hard to feel part of a group when you cut out body-snarking conversation filler.
It goes from “this food is just empty calories” to “god she looks like an anorexic velociraptor!” and all of it serves to redirect your focus away from meaningful living towards how desirable you can make your body, presumably for men considering the hetero-centric culture we live within. Facebook page owners continue this distraction seamlessly via humorous images that have us chortling “oh carbs, you fiends!” and hitting like.
I prefer to see actual products, the ways people have used them, inspirational photos relating to the topic of interest and most of all, discounts and special offers. Coming back to fabrics, and sewing as a skill, how is it that there is a lack of material to discuss on a page for a fabric shop? There’s a truly immense field of techniques to learn, with a rich history reaching back thousands of years. When people reduce sewing to a mere women’s past time it raises my ire, and conflating it with de rigueur body shaming hits not just angry buttons but shame switches too.
Just tell me what you sell and how useful it will be to me, and I won’t unlike your page.
Claim your gold glitter fat necklace in the presale – until May 29
I’ve been busy giving Fancy Lady Industries a complete overhaul, tinkering with its innermost workings and fine tuning the whole shebang so I can bring you new stuff in different ways. The most electrifying development amongst a cast of thrills is GOLD GLITTER fat necklaces! I’m running a presale for this limited edition of the fat necklace until May 29, so go get one.
Detail of my finished version of the Not Your Pin Up embroidery pattern.
The Fancy Babe paper doll is available as a PDF download. Print, snip, dress!
While you’re over at the new shop, you might notice there’s a bunch of new things and some of them are available IMMEDIATELY! I’ve designed three embroidery patterns with a distinctly political flavour; each pdf comes with stitch suggestions and diagrams of common stitches so even if you’re new to needle work you can start with confidence. Fancy Babe is the first of a line of printable paper dolls and comes with clothes, hair and shoes so you can mix it up in your cubicle at work.
One of ten unique gem powa art card designs.
You want more? Ok! You know how I love to doodle when I really shouldn’t? I’ve decided to doodle on cards so you can keep one for yourself or send it to a nice person with lovely words inside it. The current bunch of art cards have bright gem powa designs and are named after cute minerals from the earth.
Burgundy vinyl collar embellished with hand stitched “Fat Doll” and studs.
The last item I’m proud to show you is one of the collars I’ve made. This “Fat Doll” collar is made from burgundy vinyl and backed with felt; I’ve drafted this especially for people with bigger shoulders and necks. It’s a beautiful hand made art piece to embellish your carefully curated fatshion wardrobe.
I’m going to illustrate a situation you may or may not have been in, but it’s a situation I’m currently in after publishing a piece on xoJane about fatshion blogging, activism and brand influence. Ok. So. There might be a time (or many times) when you’ve expressed how you feel on a topic and then someone strongly disagrees with you; suddenly everything escalates into a keyboard mashing frisson. You’re frantically trying to remember and defend your key argument while responding to lightening fast rebuttal, fingers are tumbling over the keys and you’re stumbling over your phrasing, your cheeks are over heating and your hands are curiously very far away from your body, almost like they don’t even belong to you. It seems your arms are as long as giraffe necks and what’s happening down there on your input device is kilometres away from the goings on in your brain.
Is this a common thing? I’ve seen people talk about Alice in Wonderland syndrome, and while I can definitely identify with experiences people have had and the types of bodily distortions that are described in the book, I have a feeling it’s more common than a syndrome. Maybe it’s passion? Maybe it’s identification? Maybe it’s oppression?
I’ve been taught my whole life that emotional people aren’t taken seriously; being the type who cries readily, laughs loudly and forcefully projects her voice, I’ve always felt disadvantaged when it comes to confrontation. Even if my argument was solid, I’d burst into tears or raise my voice, and suddenly the argument was lost. I’m pretty sure a lot of this conditioning happened as I was growing up, because I was an anxious and emotional child and my father used to tell me I shouldn’t cry or shout during discussions or confrontations. I learnt about the tone argument so young but never knew there was a name for it until I grew up!
Of course, it’s easier for a man to say that. They’re so much more ~logical~ (I don’t believe this is true, masculinity is constructed to have logical traits) that they don’t get emotionally involved in debates. In recent years I’ve started to think that if you’re not emotionally involved in an argument, your participation is merely academic. Or to put it less kindly, get the hell out because you’re not necessary in this discussion. People who are intimate and entwined with an issue, an experience or an identity (like oh, if you’re fat!) are more than bloody entitled to cry and scream in arguments, particularly when it’s against someone who isn’t fat.
And so I think it’s understandable to be emotional in a debate. It’s unreasonable for people to dismiss emotion and say someone’s argument is unreliable because they are so deeply affected that they sob or sweat or scream. Only a person with a buttload of privilege could say that. When two people who are affected by the same thing disagree, there are bound to be strong reactions and none of it takes away from the simple fact that obviously these two people care so very much to be putting themselves on the line. Big conversations need to have that emotional investment or else they are worth nothing.
(That said, please take care everyone. Arguing can be exhausting.)
Remember when I used to blog regularly? I had a lot to tell the world, a desire to be heard and seen. Writing to an audience was a novelty, a gentle fluffing of my ego after writing to no one in particular for most of my life. Hardly anyone was blogging in Australia, people wanted to talk to me, and I got opportunities to do exciting things even though I’m not the most fashionable or the most tactful or well spoken.
After being ignored by fashion all of my life, it felt empowering to be able to source and critique what little fashion was available to me. I spent what money I could on clothes and accessories, never wanting to fall behind other bloggers. As well as being fat, there were other things for me to deal with like mental illness and resultant joblessness. Maybe buying clothes wasn’t the best priority, but it made me feel good. I finally felt like I was part of a clique that lead, instead of followed (or got lost).
I never considered myself a 100% fatshion blogger, because I used too many words and got angry frequently, never fully being palatable enough for brands to consider sponsoring me. I was snubbed on many occasions, and this became more and more apparent as the number of Australian fatshion bloggers swelled. Newer, more congenial personalities were favoured, and I wasn’t surprised. I was categorised as too political, and fell back, feeling miffed but knowing that ultimately it was great that more fat people were speaking up.
Other things worked against me – ongoing mental health issues and hospitalisation kept me from blogging success. Blogging became about networking, personality and (frustratingly) looks. All the things I was terrible at. All the reasons why I felt so at home on the internet right from the beginning in the 90s. Due to my inability to form “relationships” with brands, I had to buy all the new clothes instead of being sent them. I couldn’t financially keep up with that, I didn’t make money out of my blog so it wasn’t worth that kind of investment. Even the advertising network I was part of stopped sending me opportunities and sponsorship offers, and the ones I did take up actually didn’t benefit me financially at all!
Clearly, many things about blogging were turning out to be much like the regular world I struggled to fit in with. Popular bloggers were white, less fat than me, certainly more conventionally attractive, and bought/ were gifted clothes frequently. Events in Australia for plus size fashion started occurring and were in “major” fashion hubs like Sydney or Melbourne, far away from Brisbane and the original Axis of Fat (a group of my friends and I based in Brisbane, among the first fat activist bloggers in Australia). Even when there were events closer to home, I could rarely bring myself to go due to now crippling social phobia.
The focus of fatshion blogs was fashion and consumption thereof, with rarely a critical lens applied. I began thinking more and more about capitalism and how it had tried to reject fat & fashionable people, but now shaped how people were seeing this emerging group of fatshion bloggers. The media requests that came into my email inbox were largely about fashion, and not about medical malpractice and neglect of fat people (which, I propose, is the actual killer in the so called “obesity epidemic”). The mainstream media had cottoned on to the fat activist movement in the blogosphere but only wanted to see us talk about fluffy topics, rather than bullying, harassment, abuse of human rights and denial of health care.
I don’t know why I seem to be talking in the past tense, because this is now. This is why I struggle to chit chat about whichever plus size brand is releasing poorly made, questionably fashionable, dubiously manufactured garments this season. I am angry at capitalist systems that not only abuse fat people for not looking good in clothes, or not providing fashionable clothes, but also make us feel some kind of imperative to spend above and beyond what we have to make up for our fat bodies. I’m angry that blogging is now just a new funnel for PR and marketing people, and most bloggers rarely get paid what mainstream media workers do for providing the same service. Being paid in clothing is NOT being paid in cash money.
I’m disillusioned with this whole fat blogging game. If I blog about clothes, readers will come. If I blog about politics, I am rarely engaged. Mostly, I struggle to put words together these days. I am on a lot of medication to function as neurotypically as possible (for me), and my ability to write and read has deteriorated. Remember when I was a blogger? Am I still a blogger if no one reads this stuff? If I don’t get free clothes? If I challenge dominant ideas? If I can’t afford to keep up? If I am sick, fat, and unattractive?
Cool so that’s easily quantifiable and given a $ value. A $17 dress! Bargain! But there’s also the matter of time and access to resources.
Sundry sewing supplies
Print pattern and sticky tape it together – 30 minutes
Trace pattern and make sizing adjustments – 30 minutes
Dart to princess seam conversion, cap sleeves, side panel slash – 30 minutes
Cut pattern, pin to fabric, mark seam allowances, cut fabric – 30-60 minutes
Construction – 1-2 hours
Pressing – 30 minutes
Fitting – 30 minutes
Adjustments – 30 minutes
Battling with glitchy machine – 1 hr
Hems and finishing – 30-60 minutes
Final pressing – 30 minutes
I’m a pretty competent sewer and cut corners here and there, i.e.: I rarely baste things except when inserting a zip or gathering/ easing fabric. I have no idea how to assign a dollar value to my time but that dress took around 6 hours to make. Maybe more. I can’t remember.
A less experienced sewer might spend double the time working on this dress, even more if they follow the often confusing instructions that come with patterns (and they all love telling you to baste ridiculous shit like darts.) Someone with restricted time and ability could be working on this dress for longer than a week. I didn’t make a mock up of this dress (a muslin) but I have with more complex patterns. That’s extra time and material!
It really chafes my bits when people are smart arses and suggest “oh sew your own clothes” to criticisms fat people have about the clothing they’ve got access to. It’s not a skill everyone has, it’s not an activity everyone has the time to do or the physical or mental ability to carry out without barriers.
Sketches of clothes I want to sew for myself including a button down skater skirt, a slip dress and tapered pants.
I am very privileged to have an interest in sewing that has been developed by attending a high school that taught me how to do it, and to have a family that has nurtured my sewing. My mother bought me my sewing machine, my Nana gave me her sewing cabinet, and recently my Granma gave me her sewing machine, overlocker, lots of fabric and another sewing cabinet! I am truly fortunate.
For many people though, they don’t have access to the skills and resources I have access to. When it comes to clothing for fat people, it’s slim pickings and many affordable clothes are produced overseas, sometimes in factories that have poor working conditions. Domestically produced garments, especially in Australia, are way too cost prohibitive for me. It’s a situation fraught with the tension of guilt vs class with the added bonus of being too fat to get an actual choice.
Sewing is political. It’s something I enjoy, and a skill I use to make the things I don’t get an opportunity to purchase in stores. It’s not especially cheap, especially when it comes down to time, but it can save cash money. I would never sew as a job because the honest truth is that most people can not or will not pay the true cost of a hand made garment, but then again… we’ve all got to wear clothes as per our unspoken agreement with society, so what are we to wear if we can’t pay domestic designers and machinists? Criticising and shaming poor fat people for wearing cheap clothing produced in questionable (and often outright awful) working conditions is futile because there are few other options, and telling poor fat people the last resort is to sew their own clothes is flat out bullshit.
I was going to write a big post about my (and Nick and Miffy’s!) appearance last night on The Project but I have compiled a rushed recap instead because I had to get off the couch to do this and we are in a co-dependent relationship. First, here is the video for your viewing pleasure (if you are outside Australia it may not work but give it a go anyway.) I’m anticipating that this embed won’t work, so here’s a link to the video on the website.
We open with the classic fat zinger footage, headless fatties and motorised scooters. Fat people going about their days having their butts filmed without permission, drinking drinks and shopping for food like they aren’t essential requirements for living or anything.
Dr Cat Pause arrives and is cute! I want to be sure to stress that we need to step away from the good fatty/ bad fatty dichotomy. It’s not helpful. Also, some fat people are unhealthy (i.e. live with disability and disease) and it’s not for reasons you might automatically assume by looking at them. Some thin people are unhealthy (i.e. live with disability and disease) and you might dismiss that because their bodies are read as healthy. Quit the oversimplification of body size, health and disability, ok? It harms people.
Screencap of Nick and I sitting on our couch.
It’s not really called Fat Pride, or that’s not what Nick and I identify with. We say we are fat activists. There are zero things wrong with being proud of your body (at whatever size) but it’s hard for many fat people to find pride because of the burden of stigma, and “fat pride” doesn’t welcome those folks. We talk about stigma, frustration, ill treatment and at a very basic level, try to reach people with the message that fat people are humans and we have heads.
Nick and I arrive. We talk about stigma against fat people. Dr Sam Thomas arrives, talks about overstatement of risks of being fat.
Screencap of Anna Peeters, expert of not letting fatties into her club. Hand drawn text says “No fatties club soz”.
Anna Peeters arrives, we are worrying her with our fatness, she is part of a society for obesity. I wonder if any fat people are in that society? Probably not. Her testimony about health risks makes aforementioned fatties seem all footloose and fancy free, but fails to consider the non-fat related illnesses they have. Also it’s very nice they care so much about scaring fat people, I wonder if Stephen King advises them on their thriller skillz. Can we get a price check on who is funding the ANZOS please? Considering Peeters worked for C.O.R.E at Monash, who are funded in part by Allergan (A LAP BAND MANUFACTURER), I am highly dubious.
Screencap of me walking Miffy on a leash, the camera is at her height! Also hearts are everywhere.
Peeters redeems the case for fat stigma when she says it exists. Unfortunately most viewers probably didn’t believe us when we said that first. Thomas agrees, SOCIETY IS FIGHTING FAT PEOPLE. All we wanna do is have a groovy time and daydream about unicorns — WAIT THERE IS MIFFY. Nick and I demonstrate that we can walk.
Screencap of a close up on my hands typing. Hand drawn text says “bloggin bloggin bloggin”.
Screen cap of me concentrating really hard on sending out laser beams.
Happy music, focus on our blogging! Dramatic music change, I am concentrating very hard on doing up a jump ring on my fat necklace for the 100th time. Peeters bastardises the Sound of Music and stages an elaborate number called, “How do you solve a problem like fat people?”
Screen cap of Nick concentrating on making people fat with laser beams.
Screenshot of The Project panelists: Lehmo, Charlie, Kath and Waleed. A speech bubble says “We have opinions” and text saying NOT FAT with arrows points to each person.
We return to comments from non-fat panelists because they have feelings and opinions.
Charlie Pickering says we do judge people based on weight. Another thin person legitimising things fat people said first! I would give him a cookie but I ate them all.
Waleed Aly pulls out the concern troll card, which coincidentally wields an internet connection and a false sense of entitlement if you look closely. He thinks we are driven to being fat by stigma. Oh so it’s not like our bodies and personal health, environment, class, race, gender have anything do do with it. Thinking is hard for many non-fat people.
Kath Robinson admirably doesn’t even bother with concern – FAT PEOPLE ARE INTENTIONALLY BEING FAT AND STIGMATISING THEMSELVES. “These people could potentially be unhealthy and risk bad health problems!” Like suicide and death by neglectful health professionals or NOT seeking medical help because they know they’ll be treated awfully! At this stage I am laughing bitterly and bringing fat forehead to fat palm with rapid and great energy.
Lehmo, who only has one name because he is special and important, winds up for his big finish: “if you need a motorised cart to get around then you need to lose weight”. What ableist guff that doesn’t consider the intersection of fat & disability! (Not that I expected that degree of nuance on a light entertainment teev program.) Fat people on scooters don’t do it because they think it’s cool and hip and that people will say “SWEET RIDE YOU ARE COOL”. Fat people on scooters get abused because they are fat and SO RUDELY using mobility tools to move about their lives!
A pencil sketch of a fat lady wearing a ruffly top and knickerbockers.
Lately I’ve been looking through my sketchbooks and revisiting bits and pieces of drawings that I want to resolve to a point where I’m a bit happier with them. This fat lady sketch is from maybe 1-2 years ago when I was fascinated by fat lady sideshow performers.
A watercolour and ink illustration of a fat white skinned lady wearing a pink ruffly top and knickerbockers. A banner behind her says, "World's fattest lady... doesn't give a fuck."
And this is my resolved drawing. It only took… uh, forever! I changed her face so she looks more smug ;)
A photo of me rolling around on the bed wearing a blue flower crown.
If you’ve signed up for the Fancy Lady Industries mailing list you probably already know that the patches and flower crowns are up on my shop, but I hadn’t posted about it on my blog because my left shoulder decided it would like very much to cause me bogloads of pain. At least today I’m feeling a bit better, and I could sew my own patch on to my jacket to show you just one way to wear it!
A photo of a fluro red and a black patch that says "big girls donut cry" around a donut, as well as a fluro red sticker with the same design.
I went through a terrible emotional/ financial journey to bring you these patches. At first I was just going to use some fabric pens I’d bought, but lots of people said they liked the donut design so I figured it’d be kinder on my hand to use my Gocco to print a limited run of patches. Sixteen bulbs and eight screens later, I finally had a properly burnt screen! This will probably be the last thing I ever print using the Gocco simply because the cost of supplies has spiraled out of control. There’s another machine called the Yudu that looks fantastic, but sadly it has been discontinued too. WHAT’S THE DEAL?!
When we move I will endeavor to learn proper screen printing so I can continue making stuff like this and t-shirts too! However! In order to move on to bigger and better things, I need capital to invest back in to Fancy Lady Industries so if you want to support me and see me create even more awesome stuff, go on and buy something from the shop! :D
A photo of my fluro red patch stitched on to the sleeve of my denim jacket.
A photo of my denim jacket, patch on sleeve and studs and spikes over the shoulder.
I wanted to have a go at putting my patch on my jacket because I haven’t sewn on a patch in years. When I was a Brownie we had these pillows that we were meant to sew our collection of badges on to but I ended up using PVA glue to attach them all because I couldn’t be bothered sewing them on. If you want to glue your patch on, make sure you fold back the raw edges behind the patch and iron them so you don’t have thread coming off all the time. On the other hand, you might like the raw edge look! It’s up to you of course.
For my patch I had to figure out how to blanket stitch again. I know there is probably a better stitch to use, but I like blanket stitch! It was a bit awkward sewing the patch on the sleeve, and I didn’t end up with a completely flat patch, but I’m okay with it. I recommend using lots of pins to position the patch, then baste around the whole thing so it doesn’t shift as you blanket stitch. Had I basted first, I probably would have had a much flatter result! (Here’s a clear “two step” blanket stitch tutorial.)
If you’d rather have someone else attach your patch, embroidery places should only charge a few dollars to run around it and it will look spiffy and profesh.
A photo of my jacket, focusing on the spikes and studs running over the shoulder.
I also added spikes and studs over each shoulder, and a heart shaped stud on each collar point; I really like the idea of turning this jacket into a living garment, one that is adapted over time to reflect my life. It’s sort of like a quilt except… badass.
To buy flower crowns, patches, fat and vain necklaces and no diet talk badges waddle over to
I'm a fat, crafty lady who lives just outside Brisbane, Australia with my husband and my one-eyed dog. I'm an avid pen collector who holds funerals for them when they die. I've been wearing clothes since 1980 and sewing them since 1995.
I make jewellery and other trinkets and sell it all on Fancy Lady Industries.