Sewing is undervalued. Sewing has been undervalued for centuries. We often talk amongst ourselves about why that is, and how frustrating it is, and then we start trading juicy horror stories about what the most unappreciative members of the public have said to us. But I never noticed before how the seemingly kind comment “You’re so talented!” is one more instance in which sewing, or any other creative work, can be unconsciously undervalued.
“Seamstresses aren’t talented, they’re SKILLED,” @lauren_stowell said on Instagram this week, “and that is worth paying for… you would never say to a doctor or a lawyer that they’re so talented!”
I’ve written before about how I don’t believe in “talent”, but Lauren took my thoughts one step further. She’s right – have you ever told your clever physician how talented she is to diagnose your health issue? Does your lawyer attract gushing praise about her talent at drawing up that will?
“Talent” is a mythical gift bestowed at birth upon a limited number of lucky craftspeople, causing them to exit the womb setting in perfect sleeve heads from day one. “Talent” is the excuse that gets the observer off the hook for the latent guilt of not having put the same work into something that you have done.
A skill, meanwhile, is built with effort over time. It involves expensive training – whether that’s formal schooling or private study – and dedication over the long haul. It’s practice and love and commitment. And understand me – I’m not saying this so that you can agree and mentally give the finger to all those who don’t get it. I’m saying it to convince you… and to ask you this: how can you demonstrate this skill in your work, and stop giving the impression of divinely bestowed “talent”?
Let me make a suggestion: Your audience don’t understand because they don’t see what goes into the final piece. It’s not because they’re idiots, or because they’re unkind or selfish or spoilt by cheap mass production. It’s because they just don’t see the work. So this is what I suggest:
Show your working. Show the progress photos. Show the beginner photos. Show the trials as well as the triumphs. So often we share the result and hide the process – well, STOP making it look so easy, folks.
Understand me – I’m not talking about letting it all hang out. If you’re a pro, you can’t show the crying-and-throwing-it-in-a-corner moments. I’m not advocating over-sharing; that’s not going to attract admirers or clients who trust you.
What I mean is, tell the story of each piece, from conception to completion. Glamourise the process, as well as the result. Make THOSE photos look good too. Show a pretty close-up of the tools of your trade. Show your hands setting in that sleeve – again. Do as Bernadette Banner does on YouTube – share the journey, the joy, the passion, the re-thinks and the part where you cut all your beautiful hand hemming off.
Enjoy building stories over the long term. Sure, people “like” the end result most of all, but people also love to get wrapped up in a story. Even if the pictures of the pattern drafting aren’t that interesting, and you end up posting six hundred photos of the same piece of lace for three weeks, with only incremental differences as the work slowly comes together, it’s worth the investment. At the end of the story, the audience will feel the satisfaction with you. They see how long it takes and how much it takes, and believe me, in my experience, they do love the slow build as well as the result.
People out there are used to purchasing a static, lifeless object; they’re not used to buying a process, carefully played out over weeks or months. You can’t expect them to appreciate something they can’t see. If you want them to see the love, and thought, and skill that goes into your work, then show them – on your website as well as on Instagram. People are fascinated by seeing the craftsman’s workbench, and all its funny little tools. That’s what sets you apart – and perhaps that can play some small part in telling your story a little more effectively.
I don’t pretend that this is the Ultimate Answer to the undervalue issue, but perhaps it could be a piece of the puzzle. SHOW your working, SHOW your skill, make it look as beautiful and stylised as the fabulous final glory shots… and don’t be afraid to (gently) correct those who accuse you of being anointed with the holy talent stick!