Patchwork groups sharing gender-affirming underwear designs

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Mel Martinez’s father had an unusual (and very unofficial) title in the Air Force: Stitch Bitch. Decades later, that title — given to the many men whose duties included sewing — has now become something of a rallying cry for queer seamstresses like Martinez, who put gender affirmation at the center of their designs. Martinez and many others are updating their art to subvert designs of the status quo that don’t quite fit, instead creating a world of underwear, lingerie, and lingerie in which everyone (and the body) is welcome.

“I’ve always been very demanding when it comes to the cut of the clothes; I have very sensitive skin and skin allergies and sensory issues,” says Martinez, who uses both the pronouns them and her. In the realm of underwear, this means that it often takes months to find the perfect pair. So, knowing how to use a sewing machine, they finally decided to make one themselves.

When it comes to dressing, gender affirmation can mean a myriad of things: a celebration of self and body, functional – and perhaps unconventional – tailoring and, of course, comfort. . But there’s not a lot of information available on the subject, Martinez says.

They’re right: Communities like Sew Queer and The Sewcialists (which closed in 2021) have served as digital gathering spaces for queer people who want to create their own intimates. But this is a joint effort of sharing information and pattern hacks – worlds away from traditional tailoring companies that have been mass-producing patterns for generations of (mostly) women. Gay men are looking for something often overlooked: binders, gaffes, lingerie for trans women, boxer shorts for non-binary people; designs that simply never existed in the world of McCall’s or Simplicity patterns.

While conventional, gendered bra designs are a dime a dozen, Emilia Bergoglio, a queer seamstress in Tokyo, Japan, found there were “essentially no resources” when it came to sewing Workbooks. This led them to write a blog post called “The Great Binder Story” for The Sewcialists as part of a larger series called All Chests Welcome, which cobbled together knowledge and advice from a wide range of hobbyists. .

“Binders are essential for many trans people, and they don’t come cheap,” they say. “Sometimes it’s impossible to find something that fully represents who you are in the market, so tailoring helps you with that. You can create it yourself. The cut, the fabric, the silhouette, it’s very stimulating.

The Sew Queer blog has a similar page of resources more specifically aimed at queer sewing, full of links to tutorials, Facebook community groups, patterns and suggested materials – which range from posts like the Floozy Doozy DIY Underwear Strap On Hack, which comes with a full pattern available for purchase, to a Facebook group hosted by Rad Patterns, where people can share pattern hacks, tweaks, and modifications to better suit their needs. This is a small but growing rolodex of vital information.

The queer community has been rooted in a do-it-yourself mentality for generations, making their own clothes, media, music and more, says fashion historian Valerie Steele – who in 2013 curated the FIT Mode exhibition: du walkway closet. Because clothing is one of the clearest forms of non-verbal communication, it has been essential in enabling under-the-radar queer dialogue.

“When you start looking at fashion, you realize there were all these hidden stories — hidden at least for the mainstream now, not necessarily for people back then,” she says. “If you look at your sexuality, your gender, your sexual orientation, your sexual presentation to the world – all of those things relate to your identity, and fashion is very much about that interface between your feeling about who you are and who the wider society thinks that you are.

From this perspective, it was clear to Martinez that fags who knew how to sew often make their own underwear. Fags who couldn’t needed an alternative. That’s what led Martinez to launch Aqua Underwear, a brand of boxer shorts (for now) that started amid the pandemic at her home in Salt Lake City, Utah. “At that point, a lot of people started telling me about their underwear frustrations. Underwear is not necessarily a casual conversation you have with people, but when they find out that you make underwear, all of a sudden it’s like everyone wants to talk to you about underwear. clothes !

Martinez operated a market that exploded during the pandemic; women’s lingerie alone was worth $42 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $78.66 billion by 2027. Of course, these statistics don’t include nascent categories such as gender-affirming and expanding underwear the kind that manufacturers like Martinez specialize in.

It’s a growing niche driven by community needs, says Rae Hill, founder of Origami Customs, which offers custom, hand-sewn lingerie. Hill estimates that gender-affirming items now account for 85-90% of their sales.

“My community has really influenced the direction in which the business has grown,” they say. “We are not reinventing the wheel. These things already exist. And I think people really needed to feel good and safe about where they came from, knowing that this is a queer and trans company, that it’s ethically made, that they feel good buying it and it fits – size inclusion, body inclusion – that they can message us. Everything is really done on an individual basis.

Of course, hyper-custom parts don’t come cheap. Hill partners with more than a dozen community organizations to provide low-cost or no-cost options (Martinez also runs a pay-as-you-go program).

Whether custom or homemade, queer seamstresses around the world ultimately share the same goal: to help people feel comfortable in, as Bergoglio puts it, “their chosen skin.”

“I think it’s just about feeling comfortable with yourself,” Hill says. “I really hope that [our pieces] can be an entry point for people to start playing with their gender – literally, we try things out and see how they feel.

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