{Sewing for Boys} How to Use "Unconventional" Prints

I am NOT one of those "gender-minded" parents. Never have been, never plan to be. I *think* I'm in an ever-growing minority in that respect. (Hurrah!!)

My 2.5 year old son's favorite color is pink. His eyes actually twinkled when he saw me pull a "girly" carousel print knit out of the mailbox last week. He loves dump trucks AND Princess Elsa. Mud AND stomping down the hall in my high heels. He's a happy, well adjusted kid, and his momma loves watching his world grow in every way - not just the ones that conform to social norms.

But he is 2.5 years old. And he's not mature enough to understand - much less REPRESENT - the "statement" a boy wearing 'girly' clothes makes. He is blissfully unaware of public confusion or intolerance, and I intend to keep it that way until he's old enough to CHOOSE this "unconventional" path for himself. 

So... how do I avoid judgy looks, AND indulge him anytime he brings pretty fabric to my sewing machine, begging me to "make that, momma!"?? Why... I NEUTRALIZE it, of course! Here's how I do it:

Neutralize it... With Simple, Classic Styles

"With great power comes great responsibility" - and in the world of apparel sewing, I believe that responsibility is balance. That's why I pair nontraditional fabrics with traditional patterns. Take this bird print from Kate Spain's Canyon line. My husband immediately objected when I told him it was for a shirt for our son. But once it was in the form of the SisBoom Ethan button-up, the print didn't feel so overpowering. Paired again with pretty standard, neutral gray cargo pants and you hardly notice the birds at all. They're just part of a very standard "boy" outfit - they don't define it.

Neutralize it... With Conservative Colors and Prints

This comes back to "balance." I've talked on this blog before about the magazine-makeup-advice I read as a teenager. "You choose bold lip color or bold eye shadow - never both!" The idea is you want one area of focus - otherwise they compete for attention and the result is overstimulating and over-done. That's how I feel about outfit planning, too. And since this is a post about challenging prints - we already have our "area of focus" covered. That's why the coordinates you use should be neutral:

  • "Neutral" doesn't always mean "solid colors" - Neon orange is solid, and definitely not neutral. Think white, black, navy, gray, brown/tan. 
  • "Neutral" doesn't always mean "print-less" - Prints are fine! But the more they "read as a solid" the better. How do you know if it 'reads as solid'? Hang it up across the room from you, step back, and observe. If the print is at all striking, it does not read as a solid.
  • "Neutral" doesn't mean "boring" - they're still coordinates used with a challenging print - how boring can the end result really be!? Don't underestimate the visual punch bringing in different textures can make!

Neutralize it... With Humor

Full disclosure - this is pretty much my go-to defense mechanism in life. "Can't make fun of me if I make fun of me first!" But in the case of designing boy's clothing, I see humor as more of a marketing strategy:

Humor gives YOU, the sewing mama, the power to put that 'girly print' in your own context.  "My kid isn't wearing a carousel print because he likes the horses' pink flowery saddles.... He's a PRINCE CHARMING IN TRAINING!" (Yet another awesome brainstorming suggestion from the very talented Falafel & The Bee - Thanks Michelle!!). 

How sweet is that gold glitter vinyl?? Perfect touch for a "All that Glitters" entry for Project Run and Play!

How sweet is that gold glitter vinyl?? Perfect touch for a "All that Glitters" entry for Project Run and Play!

My silhouette (affiliate link) is my favorite tool for this job; but I've used free motion applique (FMA) and embroidery, too.

Neutralize it... With Confidence

Neutralizing "girly" prints in boy's wear is not always easy. Or successful. But that doesn't have to stop you from sewing with them anyway. At the end of the day - the real "neutralizing" doesn't need to happen in your sewing room. It needs to happen in the hearts of uncomfortable strangers.  

I truly believe those strangers have your kid's best interests at heart, too - even though it's not their place to do so. They carry a belief that his confidence, his sexuality, or his peer-acceptance will suffer as a result of his unconventional attire. (Or something? I don't share these objections, so I can only really guess as to what they are...) The most effective way to challenge their misconception is by showing them your happy boy's big toothy grin. They can't argue he's a tortured soul when he's sporting a huge smile because his momma made him something with love from a fabric he adores. 

Now look. These are my rules. They don't have to be yours. Not everyone is going to share my aesthetic preferences, or my parenting philosophy. We don't have to agree on either position for me to be completely supportive of you sewing anything that makes you and your kid happy.

But I absolutely have an agenda for writing this blog post. (Hey, don't go feeling sleezy about that! I'm owning up to it aren't I?) I don't want moms to shy away from sewing for their sons simply because they don't know how. And I don't mean the "how do I thread a needle?" how, I mean the "how do I design clothes for my son that won't stand out for all the wrong reasons?" kind of how. IE: looking too youthful, too busy, too handmade, or too girly.

I hope those readers walk away with some new "neutralizing tools" to tuck into their sewing boxes. Whether their fabric be too "girly" or too "themey" or otherwise BOLD and difficult to design around.

What other tips do you have for sewing with difficult boy fabrics?? Do you utilize any of the strategies above? Sound off in the comments! I love hearing from readers :)

Wanna check out more of my boy sews?? I just added a whole page for you to browse my projects from the last two years! I hope you find something to inspire you: