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As an aspiring sewist (I guess “seamstress” seems too old-fashioned, though I like it, and “sewer” clearly doesn’t work), I also read garment sewing blogs. Which are tremendously helpful fonts of advice and inspiration for sewing, but for thinking, offer an interesting counterpoint to discussions about pseudonymity and academic blogging.

Like academic blogs, there are many many women blogging about sewing (just one man I read regularly). Most of them have a bit of a persona, but also use a real first name, rarely last names. They post full-on pictures of themselves all the time, and sometimes their children—you have to, you can’t blog about garment sewing without posting pictures to show off, or ask for fitting advice as a garment is in progress. Garments might be shown on a dressform, but that is less common. (I might actually use my sewing blog if I had a good picture-posting workflow).

They are usually open about what city they are in, and sometimes people have meetups. (On the other hand, they are not findable as professors are—-that is, knowing a first name and city does not generally enable me to show up outside their office, as would be the case with most professors. A few people do specify their jobs.)

The content, unlike pseudonymous academic blogs, is pretty exclusively focused. The expectation is that blogs are dedicated to sewing—people will sometimes apologize for the occasional post that is not about sewing or clothes. A few of them have other blogs, but not very many.

Some other participant-observation notes:

  • The blog community seems to be an extension of the Pattern Review community, which does forums, classes, and contests as well as reviewing and selling patterns. A “pattern review” discusses making a garment in detail, and people often post their pattern reviews both on the PR site and as a blog post.
  • Garment sewing blogs also overlap and intermingle with the vintage clothing blogs, and general fashion/style blogs. They don’t overlap with the mommy bloggers that much, that I can tell.
  • The community is very international. Many more bloggers and commenters from England, Australia and New Zealand, but also continental Europe and Asia and a few people using Google Translate to automatically blog in two languages.
  • There’s also a significant number of black American women (a contrast with the mommy blogs, I believe).
  • Most of them are on Blogger—very few on WordPress—and they make heavy use of the Follower option in Blogger, tending to do giveaways when follower count hits 100, 200, etc, and keeping the widget in the sidebar.
  • Community interaction is pretty strong. Sometimes people just do random giveaways. Expert sewists often lead sew-alongs, where everyone buys the same pattern and works on the same project while the leader does instructional posts over a few weeks or months. Tutorials are common.
  • There are a lot of regular commenters with Blogger profiles who Follow blogs but do not have a blog themselves.
  • Comments are almost invariably positive compliments (this is difficult for me, as I tend to comment to debate rather than to agree).
  • I much more frequently run into blogs that disallow anonymous comments and have the name/url option turned off (which generally means I don’t comment much, especially since I don’t have a proper google account for my sewing identity, and thus don’t Follow any blogs).

PS. Sewing is going quite well. Just over a year after starting, I successfully made myself a flattering and attractive semi-formal silk dress for a gala weekend before last. I am very proud.

The guest post at Tenured Radical linked to Kevin Levin, a Civil War scholar and blogger, talking about his own blogging quite a while back.

The mistake that people make is in thinking about social media as a way to build community. Some of you who have been around for a while know that not too long ago I was fixated with creating a Civil War Memory community. At one point or another I included Google Friend Connect and even a widget for the Civil War Memory Facebook page in the sidebar. Somehow I envisioned readers connecting with one another and continuing discussions in various online spaces. I now see this as completely misguided. There are no Online communities; in fact, it demeans the very concept of community.

In the end, social media affords the user the opportunity to build an AUDIENCE.

He gets excellent pushback from the commenters on this, and follows up:

I guess I would like to know what the difference is between a couple of people whining about my site and a community of interest or even a more robust notion of community. In the end I don’t see myself as fostering a community or taking part in one. Again, I see my readers as an audience, but an audience that I can interact with in different ways.

I find this really interesting—and admittedly, somewhat bizarre—in part because I started this blog not to get an audience, but to join a community. The blog was largely a home to give my comments elsewhere some context, to make me an identifiable and contactable character while I was out and about on the web. Readers are always conceived of as people who followed me “home” because I wrote a comment they found appealing—because that’s exactly how I read blogs.

For a counterpoint to Levin’s view, we can check out Ta-Nehisi Coates and a cute piece in The Economist. If you don’t read TNC, he’s known around the blogosphere for having good discussion in the comments, especially on tricky subjects like race. I don’t participate in the Open Threads over there, but if I remember correctly, the creation of the Open Threads, or at least doing them every day instead of intermittently, was a request from commenters to open a space to build community among people they enjoyed talking with. And they just held a meet-up, and are planning more.

The Economist piece focuses on unintended communities, with some nice quotations:

It’s somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.

I have an unposted draft that claims people want to join cults—Apple, aerobics, football fans, bullying, etc. That’s a bit too snarky. But forming a community strikes me as a natural tendency of most of the people I run into online these days.

Re: Katrina Gulliver at Tenured Radical, yadda yadda yadda. There’s discussion there, or check out Not of General Interest, Another Damned Medievalist, and Dr. Crazy for more excellent commentary.

Jonathan Dresner’s comment at Another Damned Medievalist’s:

One of the downsides of the internet, and this goes way back before facebook, is the way in which it collapses your activities – personal, professional, political – into equally visible and interlocking things. Whereas our lives offline are segmented and our identities situational in ways that we rarely question until the boundaries of communities get collapsed somehow.

That exactly explains the main reason why I am pseudonymous. It’s the only way to resist that collapsing, which I see as a perversion of normality.
New Kid on the Hallway, at Dr. Crazy’s place:

I think one of the things that’s at play here is how difficult it is to distinguish “work” from “non-work” in academia. That is, like you, Dr. Crazy, I never wrote in any sustained way about my academic field (teaching, yes, teaching medieval history, sometimes, struggling with research in general, yes, but not actually about the subject of my research). But I wrote a lot about being an academic because I *was* an academic, and being an academic takes up a whole lot of one’s life. It’s not one of those jobs you leave at work when you get home. (Plus, being on the tenure-track is unlike almost any other kind of job.) So I think that there’s one kind of academic-life-blogging that is really life blogging, but because academia TAKES OVER your life, that kind of life blogging entails talking about academia quite a lot. And because it’s about academia, some readers assume it’s also professional blogging, and bring professional expectations to the experience. But such blogging is *not* a professional document.

I think New Kid nailed it. I was trying to figure out how to express that.

Michael Chabon after a week guest-blogging at Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Novelist time is reptile time; novelists tend to be ruminant and brooding, nursers of ancient grievances, second-guessers, Tuesday afternoon quarterbacks, retrospectators, endlessly, like slumping hitters, studying the film of their old whiffs. You find novelists going over and over the same ground in their novels—TNC was talking about Gatsby last week, Fitzgerald’s a prime example—configuring and reconfiguring the same little set of preoccupations, haunted by missed opportunities. That may be because getting a novel written, or a bunch of novels, means that you are going to miss a lot of opportunities, and so missing them is something you have to be not only willing but also equipped by genes and temperament to do. Blogging, I think, is largely about seizing opportunities, about pouncing, about grabbing hold of hours, events, days and nights as they are happening, sizing them up and putting them into play with language, like a juggler catching and working into his flow whatever the audience has in its pockets.

I’ve been using fake names since I started getting catcalled by men on the street (when was that? My only memory with a clear date attached: telling some man on the bus that I was eleven when I had turned twelve a month before. Note: by this point, I was familiar enough with the whole situation that I knew a minor lie was a good idea).

So why would it ever cross my mind to put my real name on the web?

(And re catcalling, check out this interesting post about a video game based on it)

Direct followup to this post, one in a series.

Actually, I went through a few new looks.

I was happy with my old theme, Ocean Mist, and may go back to it at some point, but wanted a bigger change than just a new header image.

Motion is beautiful, but I can’t inflict white-on-dark on anyone. I could just about read the white-on-teal, but it seemed hypocritical to stick with it.

I quite liked the dark blue Neat! theme (can’t find a link), especially the random little flowers, but it seemed to require me to bake the Prone to Laughter title into the custom header image—which is fine, that’s right about my level of photo-editing skill—but I couldn’t handle the thought of trying to figure out the perfect font to express Prone to Laughter. I dismissed Bueno as a theme option because it put Prone to Laughter in very blocky capitals that just didn’t match the words.

And although I’d put up with sans serif for ages, I really prefer to have the post text in a serif font, so I went looking for something that used serifs. There didn’t seem to be very many options.

So I went with Connections and a custom header: sulfur steaming from the ground in a valley I hiked over a mountain to get to.

By the way, for Blogger users: I get the sense you all have a lot more control over specific elements of a theme. WordPress.com is pick a theme and that’s what you get, with maybe a few elements customizable. To be honest, I prefer the Blogger themes (especially the blogrolls that re-order for recent posts), but I hate the way Blogger handles comments way more than I care about how the blog looks.

Because I haven’t blogged in forever, but I figure everyone uses an RSS reader by now, which takes the pressure off having something worthwhile to share at any point when people might click over. But, you know, I could try harder to actually finish draft posts if I know there’s a need.

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