Sew Swatties stitches feminism, environmentalism

Sew Swattie’s workspace in the Women’s Resource Center. (Miyuki Baker for The Phoenix)

Sewing is regarded as a relatively antiquated craft by many people of our generation. Most grew up buying their clothes in stores and handing them off to their parents to be mended. Actually using a needle and thread is usually regarded as the common domestic work of housewives or associated with grandmothers in rocking chairs. However, a student group on campus, Sew Swatties, is looking to revitalize the craft in a revolutionary way: by uniting it with both feminism and environmentalism.

The group is still in its infancy. It began last fall when Miyuki Baker ’12, who loves sewing, noticed that there was no campus group devoted to the activity. So she came up with the idea of starting Sew Swatties. “We also want to have a focus on environmentalism and feminism because sewing usually has been a part of women domesticity,” Baker said. “By having explosively said that we want to be feminists, we are reclaiming this identity. We sew and do these domestic things not because it’s the role of women to do that, but because we enjoy doing it and we want to be able to know how to do these things and how to teach people like creating community by sewing.”

Sew Swatties is open to all students, both men and women, experienced sewers and novices alike. For newcomers, there are chances to learn sewing and screen printing skills. For instance, Sew Swatties had a workshop last year on screen printing where participants learned how to make their own patterns on fabric. More experienced sewers can take advantage of the group’s space in the Women’s Resource Center, which is equipped with sewing machines that have been donated by Swarthmore Borough residents or bought at second-hand stores.

Sew Swatties is a group in which students can fully express their creativity by sewing whatever they are interested in. “The first thing I made was a pencil case. It’s a bit poorly made, and one of my friends makes fun of me for using it. But most of my friends think it’s cute, and I like that I made something functional,” Karim Sariahmed ’13 said.

Sewing can also be a valuable skill. Since learning how to sew, Maria Thomson ’14 has been able to mend people’s clothes and alter the size of her own clothes so that they fit better.

Sariahmed agreed. “I had been finding myself asking my mother to mend things for me and really figured I should learn it. I think sewing is kind of a life skill that should be taught in elementary school or boy scouts or something,” he said.

But the group isn’t just about having fun and learning practical skills. Sew Swatties has found an intersection between environmentalism, feminism and sewing. Last spring the club organized a workshop about how to make and use reusable menstrual pads.

Participants not only learned how to construct their own products, they also learned about the different kinds of alternative menstrual products, like the menstrual cup and reusable cloth pads. Different individuals feel comfortable with different products. The cloth pads the women constructed during the workshop can be washed and reused instead of just thrown away. They can often last up to four years.

According to Baker, this is an extremely efficient way to save resources. Using disposable pads can cause great damage to the environment. Not only do they produce a large amount of trash, pad-manufacturing uses up lots of plastics and chemicals. Women who use cloth pads help reduce the amount of wasted resources.

Sariahmed explained some of the other intersections between enviornmentalism and sewing. “You can buy cheap used clothes from Good Will and make them fly. I particularly enjoy tailoring clothes that I’ve stopped wearing.” Instead of buying new pants, Sariahmed altered several pairs of pants that he no longer wore. “It’s really empowering to make things with your own hands rather than continuing to buy into the system,” he said. “With that said, I think it may be a while before I completely swear off purchasing new clothes.”

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