Sew,Papa,Sew!: Thoughts on Fatherhood, Sewing + Gender Expectations

on August 16 | in Interviews + Profiles, Sewing With Kids | by | with 10 Comments

Thomas Knauer from Thomas Knauer Sews is back with another post in our Sew,Papa,Sew! series. You can find previous posts here and here. Thomas launched his second and third fabric collections with Andover Fabrics earlier this year, Flock and Savanna Bop. (Find Savanna Bop in the shop!) Savanna Bop Flannels will pop up soon, and a fourth collection is on the way: Frippery. Look for several of quilts from Thomas in upcoming publications (did you see his June APQ cover?)…

You have no idea just how excited I am to teach Bee how to sew, assuming she wants to learn. All indications are that she is excited to learn how to make quilts, just like her Papa, though we all know how fickle the minds of toddlers can be. But I digress…

I think that most quilters and sewists looks forward to the idea of passing on their craft, whether it be to a child, a friend, or a complete stranger (stranger things have happened). We are a sharing sort; it may have something to do with the type of person who does this, or more likely it comes from the fact that almost everyone learns to sew or quilt from someone else, whether it be in person, via the internet, or from books. So many aspects of sewing seem to involve sharing, which is why I think we can truly be thought of as a community.

And that brings me to why I am so excited to teach Bee to sew.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has referred to Bee as “Daddy’s Little Girl” I could buy a really nice sewing machine, like seriously nice, or I could profoundly go to town on my fabric shopping. The whole Daddy’s Little Girl concept seems like such a double edged sword; it connotes such a weird relationship, or at least one that seems strange to me, in this era.

Daddy’s Little Girl is doted upon and idealized; she is born of an era when fathers had only superficial contact with their children. The male correlate is “Mommy’s Little Man.” Daddy’s Little Girl is beautiful and precious, perfect and innocent. Mommy’s Little Man is being groomed to take on the role of the patriarch, preparing to step in for the father if ever needed and to assume the seat of authority in his own family.

I know these are just common phrases used colloquially, but so many of our accepted phrases do carry lingering meaning; they perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes and expectations. Daddy’s Little Girl is an angel because Daddy never really got his hands dirty with the realities of child-rearing. And Daddy’s Little Girl always rebels against those expectations. Literature and film are replete with stories of the aloof father and the daughter desperate to please him, to make contact in a meaningful way.

You have no idea how much I fear Bee being Daddy’s Little Girl…

Now I know our relationship is off to a good start; that’s one of the benefits of being a work at home dad. But relationships take constant work; they require effort and must respond to change. Of course it is important to lay a meaningful foundation but that is not enough. Personally I still worry over the fact that for the first two years of her life I struggled to get out of bed, that for much of that time getting a few minutes with her on my chest was a good day… But then I am a worrier.

In my mind sewing and quilting offers a remarkable opportunity for maintaining and expanding our connection, to teach her not just a craft but larger lessons, and of course to learn from her. Yes I want to teach her the skills and about shapes and colors, explore the ways fabric tells stories, and learn together about how quilts can make even bigger stories. I want to help her sew clothes for her stuffed animals and then maybe for herself. But there is so much to share.

I want to teach her the value of giving things away, of laboring away at something and giving it away when it would be so much easier to just buy something to give or to write a check. I want to teach her the meaning of sharing one’s labor, one’s compassion, one’s self.

I want to teach her about the intrinsic value of effort, of worth amassed not through commodities, but through one’s own labor. That the value of something is more than just the sum of its components. (Feel free to call me a Marxist.)

I want to teach her the value of sitting quietly and working (oh if she already knew this)… That taking time to do very little can be a meaningful part of one’s life as a respite from chaos and difficulty; I want to teach her the value of this as a private ritual.

I want to teach her how to make mistakes, and that it is okay when things fall apart. I also want to teach her how to put things back together, even if things don’t go in the “right place.” (Actually, especially then.) I want her to see quilting as I do: You cut stuff up, sew it together and repeat. Yes, a lot of intellectual and emotional effort can accompany that process, but at its core it is that simple, and if you look at it that way the mistakes aren’t so bad and nothing is too intimidating.

“Pinning” fabric with her pinwheel…

I want to teach her all of this and more. But more than anything I want to learn from her, to learn what she likes and dislikes, to learn how she learns, to have her tell me stories of her day, her ups and downs. I look forward to sharing my studio with her, to giving her a space of her own. I look forward to watching her grow as she sews with me and near me. I look forward to sharing all of this with her, to her being so much more than Daddy’s Little Girl. I look forward to getting to know the person that she will become.

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10 Responses to Sew,Papa,Sew!: Thoughts on Fatherhood, Sewing + Gender Expectations

  1. Melissa Q. says:

    As a mother of two boys, I really appreciate this post. As always, Thomas is so thoughtful. I hope my boys gain an interest in sewing but more than anything I hope they gain (as you are saying) the understanding of laboring over something when it would be easier to go to the store to buy something but instead you give something of yourself and of your heart. That is what I hope they acquire from me.

  2. Glaudius says:

    Hmmm! My own experience tells me that most of the times daddy’s little girl won’t follow dad. My dad (an artist) would have been so happy if any of us followed his passion. It did not happen with any of the 6 of us… even with those of us he tried to groom for that. He passed away in 2010. One of his grand kids now 17 is following his steps. How strange huh ? I did open an etsy shop this year which is kinda following his steps in a very little way.

    However countless people have learned from him and are carrying his spirit.

  3. what more could a little girl ask for!

  4. Seanna Lea says:

    This is wonderful and sweet. I hope you and Bee can grow way beyond the stereotypes of of Daddy’s little girl.

  5. Mary Ann says:

    Lucky Bee to have a Papa who works and worries about how to grow with her as well as watch her grow. And such a delight for us all to learn from his thoughtful musings along the way.

  6. Jennie T. says:

    Great post. What a good father.

    I’d love to know where I can get the H-quilt pattern. I have a little Henry who would love it!

  7. lara says:

    I love this series by Thomas Knauer. I am always touched by your beautiful writing and thoughtful heart. Thank you.

  8. nopinkhere says:

    I am really enjoying this series! My son is interested in learning to sew, and I hope he continues to enjoy it as he grows (he’s 6).

  9. palak says:

    My son is just two, but he’s already interested in sewing! I’m sure in a generation there will be plenty of men sewing! BTW, we have the same machine!

  10. Beulah says:

    Well said Dad! May all the dads out there have their hearts turn to their children, may the relationships be nurtured, strengthend and restored…with every moment cherished. As each family journeys through life here on planet earth. Children have so much to teach…we adults have so much to share…as we all encourage one another.

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