March 19, 2021 22 Comments on About Cultural Appropriation
Recently we have been called out on social media for our extensive catalog of patterns that originate in the folk cultures of Asia and Southeast Asia. We appreciate this calling out.
Let's be honest - Folkwear develops and sells patterns based on garments from folk traditions from around the world. Many of these traditions are not our own. We do this in the belief that these are more than just clothing patterns. We hope to inspire and provoke interest and understanding of the deeper value of how clothing has helped shape the world. We believe that sewing is made richer, and therefore more enjoyable, when you understand more about the garments you have been inspired to make - including their histories and cultures. The whole reason Folkwear exists is because of cultural appreciation. We are working to balance the historical cultural context of the patterns we sell and the very real objectification and othering that is experienced by the people who identify with the cultures that created these garments. We should, can and will do better.
Some actions we are taking and will continue to take:
Once again, we welcome your feedback on our efforts. We thank those in the sewing community for urging us to do better. We do believe that to gain a true understanding and respect of all people, it is equally important to look a little deeper into the truths and realities of history.
We would also like to recommend some writing on this issue by others in the sewing/craft world:
Textiles Of The World: The Line Between Appreciation and Appropriation – Sewcialists (thesewcialists.com)
(1) When Does Cultural Appreciation Become Cultural Appropriation? | Yala Jewellery
April 01, 2021
I saw a wonderful explanation of the difference between cultural appropriation, appreciation and assimilation. It was a tik Tok made by a young Black man. As a Black woman I was very proud to see this young man explain the issues so succinctly and clearly. Unfortunately I no longer have the link, but I will summarize.
Cultural appropriation involves the taking of the art, custom, clothing, etc of a a marginalized group by members of the dominant group without giving credit to the marginalized group and without giving the original creators access to the material gains for that art. So for example in music we had White performers reworking blues songs and making lots of money while the original artists suffered in poverty. Or in the case of textiles you might have Westerners using indigenous fabrics, selling them at a huge profit and leaving the indigenous artisans out of the loop.
Appreciation involves a cultural exchange. Members of one culture willingly share their products, art, etc. with another culture in an exchange between equals.
Assimilation is what happens when marginalized groups adopt the culture of the dominant group. Assimilation is often a matter of survival. That is why it is disingenuous to say that the logical conclusion of this discussion is that other cultures can’t wear Western clothes. Western culture is the dominant culture.
I think Folkwear does a good job of navigating all of this, and I appreciate your continuing efforts to be mindful.
April 01, 2021
The idea that providing patterns from non-Western cultures is “appropriation” isn’t even correct – the textile trade has relied on cultural syncretism for centuries. Using non-white models for some of your patterns is a great idea, but the well-meaning folk who are calling you out need to look up the catalogue for the Metropolitan Museum’s show “Interwoven Globe” from a few years ago. Also? Many of your patterns are based on European folk cultures that were also discriminated against and exploited (Poland, Hungary, Spain, Ireland…). Take them all away and suddenly you’re left with a bunch of American garments worn largely by the upper classes, and by your critics’ standards that’s equally problematic.
You’re doing fine. Keep up the good work.
Keep up the good work.
April 01, 2021
Thank you for being aware of this issue and clarifying your position regarding cultural appropriation. It is a fairly new concept to me, since I used to think of it as celebrating other cultures. So there’s a lot for me to learn. I have bought Folkwear patterns since the 70s and have enjoyed learning about other cultures and times. And learning something new is never a waste.
April 01, 2021
I discovered Folkwear patterns while living in southern Vermont in the early eighties. As a foreign student at the time, and an internationally minded person admirer of other cultures , I was grateful that there was a company offering patterns based on the traditions of other countries.
I have enjoyed sewing a few of your patterns, and hope to continue doing so.
I have always felt that your patterns have been developed as a sign of respect and acknowledgment of other cultures, helping to disseminate the characteristics and details of people around the world.
April 01, 2021
Sewing is a creative act. The creative spirit is open, joyful, spontaneous, and respectful of differences. Artists around the world have long learned and borrowed from other cultures. The spirit of Folkwear patterns is in this tradition, much like the spirt of the times that birthed Folkwear. Folkwear patterns enrich life, with a deep appreciation of other cultures.
What makes Folkwear patterns special is that they reveal the universal nature of clothing. A Moroccan caftan? Mid-eastern kameez? Japanese trousers or kimonos? These timeless patterns translate across cultures, especially when sewn in non-traditional fabrics.
My cultural heritage, Canadian, comes from England, the Thirteen Colonies, Holland, the Scottish Highlands, the Cree people of northern Canada, and the fur traders of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry. Go back far enough, and you’ll find your ancestors came from all over, mixed with other cultures, and evolved. As long as we approach other cultures with appreciation and respect, I believe that we are validating the worth of peoples who might otherwise have their immense contributions to world culture forgotten or ignored.
Warm regards, Mersenne
April 01, 2021
I agree, you are doing fine. I’ve personally been attacked by other folks of Western European descent for my investigation into traditional garments from India. At the same time I was very encouraged by people from India. My interest is based on climate and practicality. I was preparing to move somewhere where the summers were very similar to that of India. I was seeking garments that were easy to construct, which require minimal energy to launder (and dry) and are more comfortable when the temp is 100F+.
With an interest in permaculture and seeking parallel climates to identify plants that may be appropriate for my climate it seemed natural to apply the same point of view towards clothing.
The Indian (and others with predominantly non-Western Euro ancestry) people I interacted with over this were supportive and appreciative of genuine interest and appreciation for the many beautiful and traditional styles worn by other cultures. Obviously they (and I) can’t speak for all of any ethnic group but respect and understanding seems important and that in my opinion is the responsibility of the sewist or wearer, not necessarily the pattern maker.
Given my experience that the people most offended and hateful were not of the same ancestry as the garments in question, I tend to suspect most of those are folks with the so-called “white savior” complex.
I’m happy to engage in respectful and thoughtful conversation with folks who have genuine, personal concerns in person with individuals.
Over the thousands of years that human culture has developed adaption and appropriation of technology (which includes clothing) is how people evolved the complex cultures we have now. A good idea or solution to a problem should not be restricted to the original culture that developed it. Imagine how much poorer human civilization would be if we applied that widely and broadly. Sorry, no spices for you! And you can’t have silk. And you can’t have jeans. Good bye modern music. Good bye broad variety of foods in the market.
March 28, 2021
Folkwear, I think you are doing just fine. This is one of the few places that sewists can find to have a truly diverse experience in terms of other cultures’ clothing. Anyone who thinks that someone would spend time making something by hand as an effort to dishonor or disrespect another culture is truly ignorant. Different people learn in many different ways—some learn best with their hands. To make a traditional costume is a way of learning something about that culture in a way that one can’t learn in any other way, and isn’t that the point?
March 27, 2021
It’s not an easy topic to cover. I am South East Asian origin. Like many reviewers of your patterns, I appreciate folkwear patterns because they are accessible (English language) patterns available for me to create traditional clothing for my heritage. I think there may be some updating required for some of the patterns but I hope anyone who understands this company should be a little bit understanding of the history of the company and the independent nature of the company. Your blog post has made me appreciate your company even more. Well done for opening up a dialogue and not shying away from difficult topics.
March 24, 2021
I have long purchased and sewn Folkwear patterns, appreciating a chance to look into other times and cultures. I have welcomed the chance to make a jacket or a skirt or even a type of dress from another country or culture, often an impulse from traveling in that country. In one instance, I saw that the country itself offered patterns for their traditional clothing, but as I didn’t read that language, I waited until I could purchase a pattern written in English.
This idea—that only those of a particular culture can enjoy the fruits of that culture or depict that culture—is not a new one. I remember being in grad school in creative writing and listening to vehement discussion about whether a white woman could write in the voice of a black man, or visa versa. Of course, the issue is never solved. Are creatives only allowed to “make” (whether it be writing or stitching or sewing) in their own narrow cultural heritage? Am I only entitled to the lineage of my grandparents and gr-grandparents? Or can I learn and wear and write and participate in this entire glorious world of influences and cultures and traditions? It is always important to respect and honor different cultural traditions, but if this idea, if taken to its logical conclusion would dictate that other cultures could never wear Western clothing, a laughable idea. Cultural Appropriation also has those who would caution about calling out every instance, as this could unfortunately limit our ability to learn and create from the best parts of our collective human experience.
May 12, 2023
April 01, 2021
I appreciate this post. And I do understand the sentiments of the people feeling their culture is being appropiated and sold cheaply. However I think that some historical and anthropological perspective wouldn’t hurt. Clothing is only one of the aspects humans use to express identity. How you see yourself in relation to others and the world is always changing simply because everything changes. Copying patterns or techniques may stem from admiration, some level of identification, as a means of support or protest, or simply because you like it. Over thousands of years changes in wear and adornment, imitation of pattens, use of fabric and techniques can be observed. Influenced from without and within. ‘Traditional’ costumes that are still worn, are not static; just check out the fashion changes in dirndls over the last 20 years, or the changes in use of materials and style in costumes created by native Americans nowadays. Let’s celebrate the way we are connected and enjoy and respect each others creativity.