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Friday, April 13, 2018

Art, engineering and gender


The same principles apply across all creative ventures. So why don't women follow the money?

This way blindness lies...
I’m in the midst of foot surgeries. As you can imagine, I got bored before I got mobile. My daughter is getting married next month, so it was a good time to do handwork for her wedding. I started with fringing shawls for the distaff side of the bridal party. I could do that with my foot elevated.

The artist is intrepid at making stuff. We simply don’t see lack of experience as a problem. We’re often working in areas we’ve never been in before.

Fringing the shawls was tedious but required little actual skill.
Sewing, however, is something I can do just fine. If there was money in it, I might have been a couturier rather than a painter. From fringing, I moved on to making the ring-bearer a tartan bow-tie from the scraps of his sister’s shawl. Then, since the mess was all out anyway, I started the flower-girl’s dress. All this has been drawing me upright. I work until my foot throbs and then stop.

The bow-tie took a little more experience.
Grace’s dress is meant to be a miniature of the bride’s dress. It has a bouffant skirt with horsehair braid on the top layers of tulle. I like this new use for an old material very much, but it’s hard to scale it to a two-year-old.

A two-year-old cannot go strapless, for engineering and other reasons. A train is also out of the question. And somewhere I need to incorporate a big pink bow, which the bride's dress doesn't have. As you can imagine, there is only so far a pattern can take you, and we’ve long passed that point.

Barb Whitten's paper sneakers. A woman who can make those can make anything.
I copied the first four layers easily enough, but the top layer baffled me. I called artist Barb Whitten for help. She sculpts, so she can think in 3D. She had the layer figured out in minutes. There were eight panels, each with a 90° arc, which meant the skirt encompassed 720° of fabric.

I ran it past another friend, a seamstress and Civil War reenactor. “You realize I had to convert that to 19th century terms, don’t you?” she said. The penny dropped for me. When I saw that wedding gown as a variation on a Victorian gown, the layers made sense.

In the end, it all comes down to craftsmanship.
But to scale it down and cut the pieces freehand required trigonometry. I don’t care if you call it math or you call it “Granny drawing out a pattern on the table.” It’s the same thing. I guessed it, and then I calculated it, and my numbers were right to a quarter of an inch. So I cut it and sewed it.

Women have been doing this work since the dawn of time. It’s not much different from carpentry. It starts with a vision, which is then sketched, measured and constructed.

That’s also how engineering works. So why are women so skittish about entering engineering as a field? Historically, women have participated in science and engineering at much lower rates than men. That’s sad, because those jobs pay well and are in demand.

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