Good things are rarely described using the suffix ‘bro’ but the rise of the ‘sew bros’ could be an exception. That’s the name that’s been given to the growing number of men who are taking up the fine art of sewing, who can now add George Clooney to their numbers.
The father of three-year-old twins, who came out as a self-haircutter in December, told AARP magazine: “I do a lot of sewing the kids’ clothes … and my wife’s dress that tore a couple of times. I was a bachelor for a long time and didn’t have any money, and you have to learn how to repair things.”
With the pandemic sparking interest in a number of typically lo-fi, domestic pursuits- most recently including making marmalade and hairdressing, searches for sewing machines have increased massively, while John Lewis reported that sales exploded by 127%. “I feel incredibly lucky to have a business that has flourished during the pandemic,” says Michelle Zimmer from Merchant & Mills, a fabric shop in Sussex, who says they have seen an uptick in sales since the pandemic began.
Sewing had always been seen as a typically feminine pursuit, a stereotype that is good for no-one. And the sexist assumption that women will take on the domestic tasks which has only been exaggerated by lockdown. “What’s particularly interesting is the rise in younger male crafters we’ve seen in our community,” adds Edward Griffith, the CEO of craft community LoveCrafts. “The majority of our male community is aged 25 to 34, compared with our female audience which is mainly 35- to 44-year-olds.” He says that, surveying the community, about a third of them took up needlecraft during the pandemic (this includes sewing, embroidery and cross-stitch).
On social media, sewing is increasingly positioned as a political act. Menders post photographs of clothes they have repaired, or made, in the name of slow fashion. ‘Craftivists’ protest Trump via the medium of embroidery. But most sewers remain female and most ‘Sew Bros’ I spoke to have been met with raised eyebrows when revealing their hobby.
“When I tell people, they may laugh because they think I’m joking or they look quite surprised by the fact I sew as a guy,” says Thabo Sabao, 22, an apprentice software developer who displays his impressive self-made collection of tops and coats on Instagram. This attitude about assumed gender roles is echoed by Peter Cant, a contestant on The Great British Sewing Bee, who has noticed dismissive ideas about sewing – as a typically female pursuits – wrapped in people’s reactions. Perhaps this is why, even in its burgeoning state, the ‘sew bro’ remains a niche of a niche. “The sewing community can be odd towards men, in that tailors are well-respected and almost expected to be men, but men who sew at home can be seen as feminine,” he says, before adding “[but] it’s what you produce that people look at. I hope so, anyway.”
And still the sew bros continue to populate the craft world, regardless of cultural expectations and raised eyebrows. Sabao says that after “looking for something to take me away from my computer screen,” he found a sewing machine. Ironically he turned back online for help. “YouTube helped a tremendous amount,” he says. “Nearly everything I know came from YouTube.” He speaks affectionately about the first pair of trousers he made, out of an Adidas duffle bag. “[they] gave me a real sense of achievement because I self-drafted the pattern for it, and it took me a few attempts, but when I finished it, it came out well,” he says.
In the same way “cottagecore” has updated homely activities like beekeeping and gardening with a gender-neutral twist, sew bros have subverted the tradwife archetype behind the activity. While menswear designers like Emily Bode have made DIY processes and upcycling desirable. “I’ve been contacted by many men through Instagram who have taken up sewing in recent years,” says Cant. “[They’ve been] inspired by the growing need to mend and reuse clothing,” like Clooney, “as well as to make unique garments.”
“I think men look at our store as a bit of a hardware shop and can spend hours comparing latch hooks, rings, buckles, rivets,” Zimmer says. “The men’s Foreman jacket was our bestselling pattern of 2020, and it was released years ago.” Despite this, Sabao thinks sew-broing is still a niche pursuit. “On [the online community] r/sewing on Reddit, I find it is dominated by women,” he says. “I don’t think it is something a lot of men even have on their radar. I think, when we are growing up, mothers and grandmother are more likely to teach a girl to sew.”
For Sabao, though, sewing is a full-circle moment. “I recently found out, a lot of my family in Zimbabwe are tailors and seamstresses, so my mum was quite pleased for me to pick up the skill.”
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