That argument perhaps gets more tenuous the higher up the social ladder I'm portraying; I'm certainly representing a privileged minority when I'm wearing a ballgown. As a dress and textile historian, I can use that ballgown to expand on many aspects of 19th century life: the steel hoops in my bustle represent new manufacturing processes. The ruffled trim, while facilitated by the invention of the sewing machine, still required hours of female labour to produce, which I know because I had to sit there sewing the damn things for hours.
|Ruffles upon ruffles: a preview|
The importance of portraying women's history is obvious when it's explicitly political, or done in a public history context: showing how women were involved in the American Revolution, or agitating for the right to vote, for example. I wore a 'Votes for Women' pin and ribbon to the Edinburgh women's march on Saturday because that still feels extremely pertinent. Reminding people that history has always been more than straight cis white guys helps validate claims for representation in the present. We have a voice and a context, we've always been here and we're not going away.
|Reproduction WSPU badge from the Museum of London, with my ribbons|
However, on a purely personal, selfish, level, I still like to think that this hobby has some value. This BBC article talks about the recent 'pussy hat' trend as part of a long tradition of craft activism, which I think is entirely appropriate. My mother taught me both sewing and politics, which have been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and require a lot of the same skills. You need a vision of what you can create, and the patience and dedication to work for it, stitch by stitch, step by step, the skill to know what techniques work best for a given task, and the willingness to always keep learning.
Yes, a lot of my sewing is escapism. It doesn't do anything for the current dire state of politics, for feminism, or even arguably for the study of history. But it brings me joy when the world at large doesn't, and makes me feel like a person who can get things done. I can look at my hands and remind myself of what I'm capable of. And when I get sick of sewing ruffles, I can sit down and write to my representatives, I can do my research to separate truth from "alternative facts," I can take to the streets and march.