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May 6, 2010

Sewing, Sex, and the Internet

CORRECTION: The above title should read, "Sewing and the Internet." 

I often wonder what it would have been like to learn to sew before the Internet.  How much harder it would have been!

Consider some of the ways the Internet has helped me since I bought my first sewing machine last May:
  • It allowed me to explore countless sewing machine reviews, for both new and old machines, via websites like Amazon, Overstock, and Pattern Review.
  • On You Tube, I found instructional videos that taught me how to thread a bobbin, pull up the bobbin thread, insert a zipper, etc.
  • I was able to find patterns, both new and vintage, on sites like eBay and Etsy.  I still don't know where they sell men's patterns in NYC!
  • I found a vibrant sewing community on Pattern Review and it was there that I met my first sewing buddy, Brian (of Briansews).
  • Before I'd ever heard about the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) bookstore, I was able to explore sewing books, and buy them inexpensively, on Amazon and
  • I was able to launch a sewing blog and connect with an even larger group of sewers.
I can't imagine how I would have managed without the Internet; it has given me so much access to people and information I wouldn't otherwise have had, even though I live in New York City.  I imagine it has an even greater impact on those who live far from fabric stores and other people who sew.

But I also wonder what we've lost because of the Internet. These are primarily hunches; correct me if you think I'm wrong, peeps:
  • With so many people having easy access to online fabric and notions stores, many local stores haven't been able to compete and have closed their doors.
  • Ditto stores that sell sewing machines and or offer classes.  Increasingly, people are comfortable making purchases online, and are likely to do so especially if they're offered a better price.  Buying online also means for most people, not having to get into a car and drive.
  • Being able to connect with sewers all over the world, we're less inclined to explore more local opportunities to connect with people who share our interest.  We're no longer dependent on our neighbors and local community and might find ourselves less inclined to reach out to them.
I also wonder how the Internet has affected those who teach sewing for a living.  Professionals now have to compete with anyone who wants to share an instructional video on You Tube, some of which are very well done.  On the other hand, professional instructors are better able to find their audience -- and vice versa.

I've mentioned Pattern Review as the site that has had the greatest impact on my sewing.  It's great to know that if I have a sewing-related question, I can post it on the PR message board and more than likely have a response within an hour (and sometimes in just minutes!).  Being able to post pattern reviews and receive feedback, as well as entering contests, has been enormously validating and motivating for me as well.

BurdaStyle is another popular online resource, though for me, it doesn't have as strong a sense of community as Pattern Review does; I've never really warmed up to it.

I know Threads is also a popular resource.  But when there's something I need to know where I want visual instruction, I'm most likely to search You Tube.  I have found countless videos there on all things sewing-related.  It's so nice to be able to watch someone do a blind hem stitch than to read about it.

So how about you, peeps?  How has the Internet affected your sewing?  If you learned to sew before the Internet, were things very different for you then?  Were you able to find other people who sewed?  What are your favorite online resources?

Aside from all the good things the Internet has done for sewing, do you think it has had a negative impact in any way?

I'd love to hear what you think!


  1. Peter you are so right. Internet has definitely changed my sewing among other things in my life. I am 48 and have started sewing for myself when I was about 18. It's only a year that I am sewing again a long hiatus. And I can say my knowledge in this field has improved a considerable amount reading sewing blogs and discovering the international sewing community. Before that I felt like a dinosaurus and I knew no other home sewer. Fabric stores have closed. Now I know that if I need a special notion or pattern I can find it with the Internet. If I am stuck I always find an answer to my question reading Pattern Review, Fashion incubator,the stitcher's guild or or some sewista's blog. Honestly it would be very hard to go back to the days before the Internet.

  2. I have been sewing for more than 45 years and in that time I've seen the demise of the local fabric store, but long before the internet came on the scene. Every department store sold patterns and fabrics. I had two fabric stores right in my little town on Long Island. I think that it had more to do with people having more disposable income and the advent of cheap clothing so that they stopped sewing. Sewing used to be a necessity for many women, and I say women, because men who sewed were tailors and shirt makers, not home sewers. Sewing your own clothes was not cool. Now it has had a bit of a renaissance because of the internet in many ways, but those old shops are long gone.

  3. Its funny... I don't love PatternReview.

  4. I have a completely positive experience of the internet for sewing. First I started with fabrics - most of which I buy from the US (don't ask me my carbon footprint because it's going to be shameful). To my defense, there is very little good vintage fabric yardage available in the UK... The US also has loads of fantastic new prints which UK stores simply don't stock (and when they do, it's £12 a meter - approx. $18 for just over a yard for fabric that costs $9 in the US - so if I need more than a yard, well, it's no contest, even with shipping added). I do buy a lot fabric from the UK also, but that too is increasingly via the internet. Even Liberty seem to be encouraging people to buy their fabric online these days. A trip to their store can be a very disappointing affair with only limited stock available on the shelves, whereas you find it on their website no problem...

    The same goes for patterns and sewing books.

    And finally, the internet has provided me with a community. None of my friends sew. The only people I know who sew live in Scotland (I'm in London) or in France. I love reading about and seeing other people's projects. Like you, I'm entirely self-taught and the internet has been a godsend. Although I'd like to, I don't have the time to book myself into a sewing class, so I don't feel the internet is taking away from the professionals... but it is allowing me to sew and 'meet' a whole raft of interesting people all over the world. I absolutely love it and would be lost - and naked! - without it.

  5. I prefer BurdaStyle or PR. I discovered PR first and only casually visited the Burda site until I finally decided to try a Burda download pattern. After posting my finished project in their project gallery, I started visiting there more frequently. I like the Burda community because the projects that people sew are more appealing to my personal aesthetic. I get lots of idea from Burday, not so many from PR.

  6. OMG, the internet has tremendously enhanced my sewing life over the past couple of years (and I've been sewing for more than 40 years)! I've experienced everything you mentioned . . . the vast information resource, vendors, the great online community of like-minded individuals. I'm using patterns and fabrics and techniques that I would have never attempted without the internet's influence. However, like Nancy K mentioned earlier, I am sad that the local "bricks and mortar" fabric stores are closing down . . . we lost a very nice one here in the northern Virginia area a couple of months ago. But when I visit my closest good fabric store (G Street in Falls Church, Virginia), the service is spotty and the selection of fabric has diminished significantly. So I'm less inclined to patronize them, even though I try to do so (thread, zippers, elastic, etc.). I do remember those wonderful "good old days" when there were so many fabric stores and you could buy fabric in upscale department stores (like Woodward & Lothrop and Hecht Company, both of which are long gone).

  7. The internet has encouraged me to start sewing again after a 10-year hiatus, during which I mostly did hand applique. I'm so grateful for the bloggers (like you!) who inspire me every day.

  8. I learned to sew from my mother and later picked up a few techniques from a Home Ec teacher. I love the internet for the availability of fabric and notions. I'm a member of ASG and active in my Neighborhood Group. But I've been disappointed in ASG for their lack of imagination and visualization of the Internet. PR should have been started by ASG, but ASG's idea of technology is the "chat" and having us Houston members join a Yahoo group to be able to read what passes for a newsletter. I'm not crazy about PR; never did figure out how to post my Western Jacket on the UFO contest. I love you bloggers. BTW, Peter, since I don't have a Google or whatever id, and can't post "anonymous" on her blog, I can't post a message on Spare Time telling Susan I absolutely LOVE her series on using vintage attachments. I'm collecting them, printing, and making a book that now runs over 100 pages. She's fabulous! Sure wish somebody would tell her for me! Love, San Antonio Sue

  9. I feel so bad about the decline of fabric stores. When I was growing up in the 60's 70's, you could buy fabric at Sears, JC Penney, Leggets, the five and dime in town, etc.. Now all we have is one small Joannes almost an hour away! I learned to sew from my mother in law 30 years ago. Now I am teaching a group of 4 college girls the art and they are so enthusiastic! I love to see young people excited about creating their own clothes. I LOVE the youtube videos where I learned to make my own bias tape, sew in an invisible zipper, etc..
    I enjoy your blog very much!


  10. There are ill effects of the internet too. With so many amazing sites and resources, I often find myself getting sucked into a time warp of reading about sewing, and then never actually getting anything actually done! I mean, have you guys been on I have lost HOURS of my life there.

  11. Hello, San Antonio Sue, I wasn't aware anonymous bloggers couldn't post on my site. I'll look into changing that. Glad your enjoying the blog!

    I learned to sew in the late 70's in Home Ec and from my mother. We had numerous fabric stores in town. All these but one are gone, and it's fabric choices are pitiful. As someone else said the stores left before the internet took off.

    I think it's nice that the internet sewing community helps and encourages each other. I found how to sew an invisible zipper online. These weren't around years ago and aren't in my old sewing book.

    And I agree with Mz. Whitney. I've sometimes wasted my sewing time kicked back reading about sewing instead of actually doing it.

  12. All of my local opportunities require driving, and I don't have a car, and have a Bernina 1008 with all-metal parts. Not inclined to drag that around on the light rail or bus. Also, most of the classes I've seen are for things like very simple A-line skirts from quilting cotton, and I'm more interested in fine garment sewing and art sewing, so the Internet has been great in this regard--I can find the community that works for me.

    The best fabric store in the Denver area is Denver Fabrics, and it is over an hour away on the I sometimes turn to the Internet to meet my needs, because I can't just run over there after work. There is a Jo-Ann that is closer, but their primary focus is quilting.

    The Internet was also tremendously useful in locating sources and inspiration for vestment sewing, especially vintage Google books. Again, couldn't have found those locally without hours and hours of legwork--hours when I could have been sewing!

    On the other hand, it is an enormous time suck and hard to balance reading about sewing with actual sewing. But then, would we waste just as much time at a quilting bee or similar? And participating in sewing via the Internet gives us the luxury of reflection and having intelligent discussions on related matters--discussions like this one.

    Overall, more pluses than minuses for the Internet and sewing.

  13. The Internet is a great resource for answers of all kinds, and I do find reading sewing/craft blogs inspirational.

    Although I post on PR, and often look up patterns there, I find the site a real mess to navigate and don't use any of its other features. It's just too annoying. A Google search will always yield any information I need elsewhere with a lot less frustration.

    The loss of good independent fabric stores is awful. So much is lost when you can't handle the fabrics, when basics are hard to find, quality is suspect, and you can't try machines to discover which is best for you. Not to mention that each independent (and even some of the smaller chain stores) had its own character. But, as someone mentioned above, this decline pre-dated the Internet by quite a bit.

    Except for quilters, I don't remember much in the way of a sewing community pre-Internet. Although I don't use the Internet for social purposes, I love seeing others' work, and I really love it when someone sees something on my blog that helps, inspires, or informs.

    It's the blogs that I most appreciate on the Internet in terms of inspiration or ideas. The wide variety of approaches, styles, views and methods is something that really wasn't available in more geographically constrained sewing communities of whatever type.

    The Internet has certainly hugely ramped up the chances of finding sewing inspiration that goes far beyond "loving hands at home" -- those sweet, but uninspired, insipid, horrid yarn-and-tin-can, sewing/crafting projects -- that once were everywhere. That's definitely an improvement!

  14. As ladies who sew primarily for a theater, my partner-in-crime Nikki and I would be absolutely lost without the internet, mostly for the sake of patterns.

    Since we do Shakespeare set in various time periods and locales, we depend on the internet to find patterns that we would never be able to find elsewhere.

    For example, our current show is an Arabian nights theme, so we are using several Folkwear patterns for traditional Algerian and Turkish clothing that we definitely couldn't find anywhere else.

    Sense and Sensibility patterns have also been a huge resource for wonderful reproductions of Regency, Victorian and Swing era clothing for us.

    So for us, we couldn't have put on the shows we have without the internet as a resource for research and patterns.

  15. I learned to sew in home ec class circa 1983, but only got my own machine about 10 years ago, and only in the past few months have started reading sewing blogs and putting more sewing content on my own blog.

    Even just a few years ago, I can remember having a terrible time with a collar on a dress and trying desperately to find tips on the internet, and I couldn't find anything. There are so many more resources now.

    I also enjoy just being able to look at other people's projects and to put pictures of my garments on my blog and talk about them. None of my friends sew, so although they admire and compliment my outfits, nobody's interested in hearing the play-by-play of how I created them. On the internet, I don't feel like I'm boring my readers with these details, because they wouldn't be reading my posts if they weren't interested. :)

  16. I am a long-time member of Peninsula Wearable Arts Guild here in northern California, and we have wonderful lecturers, workshops and show-n-tells once a month. I used to live in a university town in N. LA. and had to join fabric clubs, where they sent 2" swatches in an envelope once a month and you could buy fabric by mail order. Life is SO GOOD in a community where there are other fabric artists AND an internet to investigate and shop. But stores I want to patronize - not so much as they are mostly 40+ miles from here in San Francisco or Berkeley.

  17. I've been sewing for almost 40 years and I think chain fabric stores (remember Cloth World?) have always been awful, mostly. I order a lot of fabric on-line. There are 2 independent shops in my town and I try to patronize them whenever I can. I've gotten so many ideas from sewing bloggers -- even patterns I never would have made end up in my stash because I saw them made up on-line.

    Wearinbeads: When I lived in SF, I would treat myself to a quarterly trip to Poppy (which is, sadly, gone) and Stonemountain & Daughter. I'd buy myself a nice lunch and have a wonderful day to myself -- you should try it! You can get to Stonemountain on BART.

  18. The internet definitely helped feed my love of sewing and my experimentation with it. I didn't know the possibilities that were out there! The explosion of ideas for sewing, along with beautiful fabrics and seeing the creations of others really fed my desire to be better at it. I hope I am an inspiration to others in what I create and showcase online.

    When I sewed a lot when I was younger (junior high and high school), I was an anomoly. I didn't know anyone other than my grandmothers and a few aunts that really sewed. It is nice to be able to connect with people my age that are sewing. The internet has really helped me find "my people" in this hobby of mine. :)

  19. For myself, I have met people in my town who sew & found a great class all because I was able to google for "sewing seattle". In other words, the net has brought me closer to live people in my own home town.


  20. Like several of your other commenters, I've been sewing for almost 40 years, taught by my grandmother and my mom, both amazingly talented sewers. My mom always subscribed to Vogue Patterns Magazine, and saved every issue. Once I had kids, I also "educated" myself with the magazines Sew Beautiful and Creative Needle.

    The internet has had a very positive affect on my sewing, furthering my sewing education through all those avenues you've mentioned. I haven't warmed up to BurdaStyle either. I just can't see a downside to the internet in regards to sewing. I think besides linking sewers all over the world, it is really fun to meet up with these people (as you've found) in person, too, and makes it so much more personal.

  21. The thing I struggle with the most is not having a "real life", in person, face to face best friend anymore. I have connected with so many people online, many of whom I consider to be real friends. But, I really miss in person communication, having someone to run to the fabric store with or to ask for advice on a project that they can touch and feel. This is especially hard for me because I have kiddies and getting out is difficult.

  22. The internet is fun, inspiring, community-building. When I look at what I sew, however, it doesn't make a difference (except by inspiring me to up my output, or to try a certain color/style/detail). I was taught the basics (sewing a pair of elastic-waist shorts on a treadle machine) by my mother. Most everything else I taught myself by reading and trying to make sense of Burda instructions. I'm using a slightly more modern machine now, but nothing fancy. I still use Burda magazine patterns like 20 years ago. I still prefer to figure out a problem by sewing on/trial and error rather than over-researching everything. So the garments I'm sewing would/could have been the same without the internet. Hard to believe, since I love stalking the sewing blogs! - I can think of one exception: The beautiful cotton "quilting" fabrics by Anna Maria Horner et al would have totally passed me by without the internet. As for garment fabrics, I still buy mostly from department/fabric stores or fabric markets.

  23. I've also been sewing for 40+ years and the internet has opened up a whole new sewing world for me. I love that I have so many choice in fabric buying, I love meeting (virtually meeting) so many fellow sewists and I love learning new things about sewing via the internet.
    There is a downside for me though. Before I discovered the wonders of internet sewing sites I was a fearless sewer. Not so much now. I've "learned" myself into analysis paralysis. I spend way too much time analyzing fit, whereas I used to just "do it". Sometimes it worked out (usually it did) sometimes it didn't. I liked being fearless better.

  24. Like a lot of previous commenters, I was taught to sew by my mom and aunts. I've also seen most of my local sewing resources disappear, but not at all connected with the internet, most disappeared in the 90's (along with most of the local yarn stores) when home crafting was at it's lowest ebb and knowing how to knit, sew and cook made me an anomaly among my educated, post-feminist generation of girlfriends.

    The internet has really brought back a lot of local resources, oddly enough, people who learn to sew (and knit, it's my primary hobby, so it's what I know most about), are learning their skills online, and getting inspiration, but this is also leading to a renaissance of knitting circles, sewing classes, and much busier fabric stores than I remember when I was last sewing 10 or so years ago. I just got my sewing machine serviced to start sewing again, after a long break, mostly inspired by craft bloggers I've been reading for the last few years, a lot of knitters lately are discovering (or rediscovering) how rewarding home sewing can be (and how much faster it is than knitting, lol).

    The internet is also providing a network for local crafters in my city, who are growing a system of craft shows, guilds, stitch nites, and informal partnerships to create, show and sell their wares. It's actually a pretty neat time around here, especially with all the 20-somethings who don't remember when crafting was a lame and stupid way to spend your time.

  25. The first time I tried to teach myself to sew, in 1998 or so, few good sewing resources existed online. I got myself a simple "learn to sew" book, and tried to teach myself of my grandma's old Kenmore. I'm a very visual learner though, and more than that I need to see something in person - diagrams are jibberish to me. So without youtube I was lost. I gave up, and didn't sew for 10 years, except for occasional light mending. When I decided I wanted to try again last year, I was amazed at the number of resources that now exist. I do not believe I ever would have learned without the internet, and now I love to sew! I have local friends who sew, but they mostly quilt - I only have one friend who also sews garments. And I don't know anyone else interested in vintage like I am! So the online community has been really valuable to me. I'm torn on the Patternreview/burdastyle debate. Pattern review has far better community features (the Burda forums are pretty useless) but the layout and color scheme make me crazy. I use both, and I get different things out of each resource - I'm glad they exist! I will say that Burda has been great for inspiring young sewers, and I think that's really an important thing.

    I miss our big local fabric store, but I agree that most were gone pre internet. I think sewing is having a resurgence, so perhaps we will see a return of local stores? Quilting is huge now, and many of those people are bound to want to make clothes... out of nicer fabrics than quilting cotton (which is lovely, but not my favorite for clothes.)

  26. I don't think I'd even still be attempting to sew if not for the internet. Youtube has been fabulous for those times where I just do not "get it" while reading pattern directions. I will go through reviews upon reviews on PR before I'll even crack open a pattern envelope. Most of my fabric acquisitions have been through, not to mention my vintage pink sewing machine from ebay. While I do spend too much time reading other sewing blogs (and working on my own) instead of doing my own sewing, I don't know that I'd even still be sewing without the internet.

  27. I am a preinternet sewist. It sounds strange now, but I learned to sew from my mom, grandma, and figuring it out myself by doing it. Until Christmas, I didn't own a sewing book aside from my sewing machine manual, (which was printed in 1965) and I'd never asked google to help me learn sewing. I never took Home Ec. I've never had a formal sewing lesson in my life, actually!

    I did get into quilting classes a year ago, but mine are free, informal classes that showed me what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. I've learned that sewing and quilting, while linked, are different, because precision is everything in quilting.

    I've yet to read a sewing book and I follow only a few sewing blogs. While I do get vintage and out of print patterns via the internet, I only rarely order fabric that way. What the internet has done is teach me that I'm not a throwback to a previous generation, because now I'm not the only one I know who sews!

    (I don't follow pattern instructions, either. I rarely have. I can just... see how the pattern pieces fit together. I've always been able to do it.)

  28. Learning to sew before the net was grim. In my post-war case, there was a clear undertone of 'we can't marry you off if you don't know that stuff', particularly distasteful since I knew very early on domesticity wasn't going to be my life. I slogged through 4 years of hateful baby shirts at school, and countless hand buttonholes. I got the use of my grandmother's worn out treadle machine, which was useful later when I got a spinning wheel :-). I later got the use of my mother's 80lb straight-stitch Singer, which only did medium-weight cottons on a good day. I got an occasional pattern somehow, luckily I was more standard-bodied as a teen. I was also lucky enough to live in Montmartre so I never lacked for cheap fabric. But all the instruction I got was piecemeal from harried/disinterested family members. I got earfuls of 'Christian Dior would do it this way', but I was 25 before I ever put interfacing into anything. Sigh. In short, I was bursting with pride from the fact that I made most of my clothes from the age of 12, but if someone else had made them for me I'd still be in psychotherapy.

    As to the net, it's great, really, I can't live without it. You get to find info you'd never have found before (fashionincubator). You get to figure out the professionals whose books you want to buy, whose classes you want to take. And let's not forget the non-professionals, like Debbie Cook whose limpid tutorials got me to use much-needed FBAs in everything. And you get endlessly stimulated, you get to find fabric sources for stuff you'd never have tried (bras for instance), you get inspired at every turn. There is a downside though, as some utterly off the wall things come into frenetic fashion. Underlining is a great couture technique for instance, especially if there's a war on and you're stuck with a fabric that just won't do for what you need. You should know it exists. But putting it into everything you make?!? And don't get me started on binding seams in a simple cotton blouse! Anyway, while there's great support in figuring things out, it's easy to slip into meaningless technical competitiveness. The same crowd that quilters used to call 'the white glove mafia'. You know, where your number of stitches per inch is much more important than any artistic or even practical achievement.

    As to killing the local fabric store, don't be too sure, that process was well on its way before you discovered the net. The real reason was that people stopped sewing, not that hordes were ordering online. Yes, I'm abstractly unhappy that my local Janome dealer closed. But frankly I never got anything from them, not just because it was cheaper to order from England, but because they were grumpy sourpusses and never gave me any solid technical info. If I've got to call London to get an answer, I'm damn well going to order from -them-.

    Anyway, there's always pluses and minuses on all sides. It's different now, that's for sure, and I sure like the modern version better :-).

  29. I have been sewing for about 50 years with time off at various periods of my life. Although my sewing skills were quite good, the fitting was very difficult for me. I used to buy 2 size patterns (pre multi sized patterns) and try to meld them together somehow since I didn't really know how to do it any other way and there were no classes or other resources close by. So, the internet and sewing blogs have improved that situation completely. I too miss the fabric depts in the department stores and all the local fabric stores. I am becoming more clever about ordering fabric online but miss the "touchy feely" part of fabric shopping. I would consider it a trade off and think that young people, who grew up with computers and the internet would like the way it is now much better.

  30. Sewing pre internet was not that hard because it wasn't hard to find others that sewed, friends or friends mothers. Like other posters my mother and grandmother sewed too. Sewing classes were taught in school as well. When all that went by the wayside the internet came to fill the gap. While it is a great educational tool it is also an enabler. My number of machines and amount of stash has tripled since I found sewing web sites. Now I try not to get carried away. Unfortunately it is too easy to become caught up in competitiveness and greed.

  31. The Internet has been HUGE for getting me started with sewing. I never had any desire to sew until I saw a beautiful dress online and decided I wanted to learn to make it. I did take a distance education sewing course from a nearby university which helped a lot, but I couldn't have done it without the support and inspration that I found in online sewing communities. My favorite site for community-building and sewing is: is great for posting pictures of finished projects and sharing patterns/tutorials, but it is not as great with the community-building for me. I use both sites a lot.

    It is sad that so many fabric stores are closing, but I don't know how much is really the Internet and online purchases. I think that most people would rather buy their fabric in person...fabric-buying is such a tactile experience and how can you really know the drape and feel and color from a website? I strongly suspect that the reason for closing stores is lack of people sewing. It is far cheaper for most people to go to Walmart and buy an outfit for $5 than to buy fabric at $10/yard and then put in all the effort to make items. Even Walmart is no longer having fabric sections in some of their newer stores.

    I got into sewing because with knowing how to make my own clothes, I gain freedom to have clothes in a style I like and am not a slave to current fashion. Also, I can refashion thrift store finds and old bits of fabric into new clothes. This is environmentally friendly and thrifty.


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