Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Barbies and Sewing Lessons

N. and I have been sewing Barbie clothes for some time now.  It's a collaborative process: he chooses the fabric and has a strong vision for what he wants the clothes to look like.  We measure fabric, cut pieces out freehand and together talk through the process of machine sewing: threading the needle, placing the bobbin, the different presser feet,  etc.  Sometimes N. pushes the treadle while I guide the fabric through or vice-versa.

Here he is experimenting with the various fancy embroidery stitches on my machine, working the whole thing by himself. 

Recently, inspired by some adorable clothes my mom made for the Barbies and gave N. for Easter, we actually used a basic pattern.  Here he is tracing the pattern markings on the fabric.  So we had a little lesson in garment construction and the art of turning a flat piece of fabric into something three-dimensional.  What is the effect of darts?  Why do we sew with right sides together?  The end result is every Barbie's dream: a floor-length strapless Bob the Builder gown! 

It's fair to say that this year N. interacted with fewer kids his own age than he would have if he had gone to kindergarten.  He plays almost daily with the neighbor girls and he has other friends he gets together with, but as the neighbors start school next year, one of my major goals is to get us more plugged in to the local homeschool networks for regular play-date purposes.  Meanwhile, however, I think that because N. hasn't been to school and doesn't watch TV or movies, he doesn't restrict his play by socially imposed gender codes.  He loves playing with trucks and Barbies, often together.  I am really proud of this, even though as a feminist I am ambivalent about Barbies.  I played with Barbies as a kid but in a strongly feminist household where we talked a lot about the consequences of cultural images of women.  I don't think that in and of themselves Barbies are damaging to girls' self image, but Barbies can work in concert with images that can have negative effects on girls.  So, what about their effect on boys?  I am pretty sure I have never read anything studying this!  The main thing we worry about is that the Barbies become some kind of female ideal in N.'s eyes.  But from the moment he saw two Barbies in a box of my old toys in the basement, he wanted to play with them, and we couldn't justify denying him this pleasure.  Instead, while still validating N.'s play with dolls, Tim has talked to N. about why he personally doesn't like the impossible physical proportions of Barbies, and we try to counteract the image of the generic blonde by not calling them Barbies (and by seeking out brunette dolls); instead N. gave each an individual name.  His current tribe (whose provenance is the basement and rummage sales) includes Iris, Linda, Myrtle, Violet, Tulip, Millicent, and Nora.

Overall, the Barbies have provided N. with myriad opportunities for pretend play and an introduction to sewing, a very useful life skill that I hope to help him develop.  I'm so glad that no one has told him he shouldn't sew or play with dolls.


Mom and Kiddo said...

Norris' sewing skills are much better than mine! I remember my brother doing embroidery alongside my mother and me when we were kids. He still sometimes mentions how much fun he thought it was.

I cringe when I think about all the images of women my sons are exposed to, especially in giant-Times Square sized billboards!

mandy said...

now that is too cool. H would love to do something like this for his stuffed animals.

Fanny Harville said...

Mom & Kiddo: I know what you mean about billboards! No Times Square here, but we do have billboards for strip clubs to contend with!