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Nov 23, 2010

Trend Watching: the Future of Home Sewing

Readers, when you sew all day and write a sewing blog, it's easy to lose perspective. 

Before I learned how to sew, I didn't know anybody who even owned a sewing machine.  Today, I shun anyone who can't use the word presser foot in a sentence, and if they don't know what a feed dog is, I'm not interested.  I think it's totally normal to sew bras, girdles, and crinolines, moreover, and snicker at the men who don't.  I just assume everyone sews.

Still, from time to time I try to step back and look at the big picture.  Where are we today, with regard to home sewing? Are we losing more sewists than we're gaining?  Are pattern companies expanding or shrinking?  Are we still in a period of contraction -- fewer stores, narrower options, diminished quality  -- or is there new energy, new interest, and new innovations? 

I love to read about trends, and a really fun site to visit is, which reports on trends around the world, primarily for industry.  They issue monthly reports about what's going on, particularly in 'emerging' markets, and it can be inspiring to those of us confronted daily with signs of decline to know that in other parts of the world, business is booming and people are energized. (These are reports on current trends, not predictions for the future, btw.)

Friends, today I have an assignment for you. Consider yourselves field reporters-for-a-day.  What are the trends you see in your neck of the woods?  Are people you know excited about sewing, or could they not care less?  Where is the growth, and where is the decline?  Let's hear from all the continents!

If you hang around sites like Pattern Review, you'd think the whole world was in a tizzy about overpriced Featherweights, and unbalanced thread tension was a bigger problem than, say, nuclear disarmament.  I'm not sure that's true.

So just how big is home sewing?

If you wanted to sink some money into it, where would you put it?  What would your advice be to someone who wanted to invest in it?

Trend watchers of the world, we need to hear from you!  (And please tell us where you're writing from.)


  1. No one I know sews. All my friends think I am a freak...but wish they had a little of my freakishness in them and could sew. But all in all they would NEVER spend the time to sew.

  2. The problem with sewing is that it's not something you can easily "dabble" in. I know lots of people with sewing machines, who occasionally make a simple, unfinished garment or craft object. But not many who actually make clothes to wear on a regular basis. Even the garments I've seen in student fashion-design exhibits at the university are often poorly stitched with unfinished seams.

    At my local Jo-Ann's (the only local fabric store around here), most of the ladies are quilters.

    I do know a couple of people who actually know how to make clothes. One makes mostly costumes, and the other gave up sewing long ago and now prefers quilting and knitting. She told me that she stopped due to fitting problems.

  3. The trend in my neck of the woods is empty store fronts. The businesses that seem to be expanding are the pharmacies. There's one springing up at almost every intersection. I think the trend is "self medicating", especially after this latest election.

  4. Someone on PR linked this article from SF last week:

    On the re-discovery (apparently) of home sewing.

    I know a fair number of people who make costumes, be it Hallowe'en, dance, or re-enactment. Not realy any who sew everyday garments, however. I don't know any quilters (well, one colleague's wife seems to be moving in that direction), but I assume they're out there because there's at least twice as many quilt stores as regular fabric stores.

    Hmm. It occurs to me I probably know as many people who make chainmail as who sew.

    My advice to someone starting out sewing would be to get a sturdy, basic machine that won't give them grief, and start messing around.

    I do think the internet has got to be helpful. It allows us to find a community for what is otherwise a pretty solitary hobby, not to mention source supplies which there may not be enough local demand for.

  5. Great article! Just sad that all those sewing machines had to be imported.

  6. I know where I would put my money: Fitting. Making it easier to make the clothes fit. If you can't make your clothes fit, you'll never get good at sewing them because you give up.

    Sewers need to be educated in fitting instead of just going by the bust measurement.

    Here in Denmark you are told to add to the sideseams if needed or else you have to learn pattern drafting. If I were to have a mission with my sewing other than sewing for myself, it would be to enlighten the sewers of my country. And shove (sp?) "Fit for Real People" under their presser foot.

    I agree with the comment about "many people would like to sew but they don't want to take the time". I am teaching a friend to sew - we have just started last week but she seems determined enough to at least get as far as to making her own skirts and other clothing as she can't find RTW that fits.

  7. It's funny, I don't know anyone that sews (other than my mom), but ever since I started sewing I've had many friends say "I've always wanted to learn". Like someone else mentioned, it's hard to just "dabble" since you do need to make an investment in a machine. The internet has opened worlds of opportunity for me, allowing me to seek out knowledge, resources, and most importantly a community. I think as fabric prices continue to increase and retail prices go down (probably along with quality) sewing your own clothes will continue to make less sense for many.

  8. The only people I know who sew are people I've met through PR. The number of options for buying quality fabric here in southeastern Pennsylvania is shrinking rapidly.

    I believe this downward trend is not limited to sewing. I have no empirical evidence, but I would guess people are spending less time on activities like knitting, woodworking or scrap-booking than in the past.

  9. I still don't know anyone locally who sews. I know you and other sewing bloggers I've met in the city. That's been such a pleasure. I talk about sewing to friends hoping that they will want to take it up. Nope they just say, wow you made that and no one says I'd like to learn to sew. I buy notions at the Brother dealer sometimes and all they sell is quilting fabrics and all they teach is quilting and of course machine embroidery. This puzzles me greatly. What do they do with all that embroidery? The machines are so damned expensive too.
    I do think that the bar is high for garment sewing. Quilters don't have to deal with fitting, so I agree with your Danish reader, if you can't fit you'll be unhappy with what you sew.

  10. I live in Northern Wisconsin and we have a large retirement community here which enjoys quilting. A lot of the small towns have a least one quilting store in them. These ladies apparently have a healthy income as they have enormous stashes, and several top quality machines. This part of the midwest does not care much about fashion, so not many make clothes although they did at one time for their children. I think garment sewing causes them to realize their declining figures, not a subject they wish to deal with. On the other hand I do teach sewing, primarily garment sewing at our community college and there are still individuals out there who want unique clothing that fits correctly...even in our tiny little town...which gives me great hope for the future of sewing. Educating them about fabrics, manufacturing, and fit only confirms for them that they are doing the right thing and I always encourage them to spread the word. My class sizes hold a maximum of 6 and we get a new beginner about once a month, probably one of those each year sticks with it.
    Our greatest lament is not having a decent fabric store in the state which caters to garment sewing...they have all closed down because people are simply unwilling to pay what it costs for companies to run their business's, chich causes me to have little sympathy for them. I shop primarily on-line, but then I generally know what I am looking for, this is a difficult quest for those who don't.
    Hope this helps. I simply love to sew and am always looking for ways to spread the word about it.

  11. I agree, it is hard to just 'dabble' in sewing. I live in the Los Angeles area (I noticed no one mentioned where they lived? Why is that? Uhm?). I think 'fitting' as several others have mentioned, has hurt garment sewing the most - learning to fit is difficult and the learning curve can be quite steep.

  12. Living in a small town outside of Kansas City, Missouri, the women I do know that sew I can count on one hand. Met them sewing for school plays. (At one time Kansas City, Missouri had the largest clothing manufacturing company and has never been equaled. Vintage lovers know the name of Nellie Don. Her story is absolutely remarkable...including a kidnapping!)

    There is a Joanne's and Hancock Fabrics fairly close but the fashion fabric selection gets smaller and smaller and the fleece and quilt selection gets bigger and bigger. I think that they follow trends in crafting/sewing but miss the opportunity to lead the trends. I would love to know if anyone in a decision making position even knows how to sew. I know that sounds bitter. But when Joanne's discontinues a staple like Hymo canvas or management doesn't know or CARE to know what a dual tracing wheel is; just makes me wonder!

    If I were to advise someone wanting to get into sewing I would first suggest getting an old Singer, Schmetz needles, thimble, cutting mat and rotary cutter, a very old Singer sewing manual by Mary Brooks Picken, iron, clippers, shears, pressing ham, and if sewing for themselves a dress form....among all the other notions necessary. Oh, and to get on the internet for great blogs like this and invaluable information!

  13. Here in Nebraska quilting is queen.
    I have a very large family, lots of friends and know 1 person who sews garments. She doesn't sew for herself but for her grandkids only.
    I sew a lot for my grand-kids, but also sew almost 85% of what I wear.
    I have to agree that fit is probably what discourages most home sewists. When I get discouraged with fitting issues when sewing for myself, I put that garment aside and sew up a few items for the grand-kids, then go back to the fit issue I'm having.
    If I could dump a bunch of $$ into my very expensive hobby, it would be to hire a professional "organizer" to arrange and design my sewing space. As it is I occupy the entire 3rd story of our home as my sewing space, but I am very unorganized in arranging it. And I would also pay a tailor to help me with my fit issues.

  14. Sewing used to be the domain of the housewife, who sewed clothing and home decor as part of her role as homemaker. A skilled home sewist could save her family a lot of money with her talents! My grandmother made a living sewing, and my mother made many of my clothes, often by repurposing other items so we could save money. These days, with huge discount retailers and inexpensive imported garments readily available, sewing clothing just is no longer a necessity. Add that home economics courses have declined, and many moms are professionals in the workplace instead of in the home, so sewing just hasn't had the same value as a "life skill".

    There is a whole generation who doesn't sew, nor cares to.

    I attend sewing conferences and events, and see a HUGE generational gap. The majority of attendees are seniors. (I do feel so young and pretty when I go to sewing functions! Squue!)

    But although there has been a great decline, I think sewing is coming back - on a smaller scale. It's not as much a way to save money on clothing anymore, it's about self expression. Fabulous designers are injecting some freshness into the industry. Handmade clothing is now something special, to be admired, and kids now WANT to wear homemade - it's cool now, not a dorky way for parents to save money.

    It's interesting to take a look at the market now. Companies still must cater to the majority of the sewing market - which tends to be a more mature sewist. But the future of sewing is in what the new generation is after - so how to balance both?

    I think that as generations evolve, we will continue to see a decline despite more younger people coming to sewing. That's because of the gap -- older generations will depart and the influx we are seeing just won't fill that loss as fast.

    I would tell a new sewist to invest in good one on one lessons. An expensive machine will be just as frustrating as a cheap one if you don't know what to do with it. Invest in learning and then you'll figure out what supplies are appropriate.

    As a business - gosh - I love my current career and sew as a hobby but if I were entering the sewing world as a business - I would get into fabric. Sewing with quality textiles just adds so much joy to the creative process. There are some talented designers but I think there is room for many many many more. I adore the cotton linen blend from Kokka of Japan and I believe that an American company could and should be making a similiar blend with some great designs domestically!

  15. Ah, sorry, forgot to add, I'm in Atlanta. I belong to a sewing group with TONS of (cool, talented) members, but just a handful under 40.

  16. I can see why sewing garments is declining. No sewing classes in school. That is where I got my start, even though my mother sewed for herself and us. Then I really got into it when I had children. I had a handicapped daughter that needed things not found in stores. You will teach yourself fitting if you are desperate enough. Also polyester pajamas made me sew for my boys. Perhaps it is the lowering of standards as to what people will be seen wearing that has had the biggest effect on sewing. I see nothing but tee shirts and jeans even on girls. Western Washington used to have several fabric stores but now only Joann's and if standing in line to check out is any indication, we all loathe what they sell. Soon they will be gone, too, no matter what kind of 'crafty' stuff they try to sell.

  17. This is what it is like to sew in the UK

    I've been sewing for approximately twenty five years.

    I want to sew my own clothes as store clothes do not fit, but I also sew other things.

    I know nobody who sews. Without the internet I would not have any contact with sewing. Unfortunately this is normal here in the UK. Sewing is regarded as a dirty word.

    Earlier this year I made a bundle of spectacle cases to sell, being unemployed the proceeds would have stocked up my fabric. Because I made them, none of them sold and they just remain in a bag, now a complete waste of precious fabric that I don't have the funds to replace.

    Until about eight years ago when patterns did fit me, I am now unable to get patterns to fit me. I know what is going wrong, but can't work out why and how to correct them.

    I have to depend on books which cannot answer my questions as I have never seen any of my fitting problems in any book.

    I have locally a fabric store and a sewing machine shop. I have asked in both to be put in touch with someone who does dressmaking to find someone who will be able to help(and this is what I so desperately need).

    The sewing machine shop.
    Everything to him is Bernina, anything else is 'entry' level and if you don't own a Bernina of some kind he does not really want to know you. Recommended the Bernina My Label software which is pointless as I can't afford it. I can barely afford to purchase a pattern from the big four, in the UK they go for around 14-18 dollars a time with the very occasional offers of half price or 40 percent off.

    When pushed (this was a year ago) I was given a number of someone who does classes. I don't need classes to learn to sew, I can sew, I just need help with fitting. I did ring the number, but because I didn't have approximately one hundred and fifty English pounds to spare they were not interested. But this was a class to make a garment not just fit it so why would I want to pay for something I already knew!

    The Fabric Shop.
    I recently asked in there when I bought a pattern when for once we had a discount on them. All I asked for was for my phone number to be passed to anyone who purchased a dressmaking pattern or if they knew someone who sewed successful garments from patterns, and it is the type of shop who would know their customers. The response..............I was told that the local college didn't do classes for the general public any more, and these would of course be sewing classes, only for actual students,and there wasn't anyone who came into the shop and purchased patterns! Which I found hard to believe as I have seen plenty of dressmaking patterns being purchased in there, they were just were not interested. They had my money so what did they care if a pattern fitted or not.

    We have a British sewing magazine. Mainly consists about which author is travelling where to do courses (normally an exotic place), what holiday the editor has been on and if anyone dares write in with a fitting problem gets a very flippant answer (if one at all).

    The same magazine does run the occasional course, for about 500 dollars, making sure that only those with vast amounts of money can take part.

    There are a few people who do fitting courses, but they are in the north of England (I live in the extreme south), the charges of travelling and their courses are way above what I can afford, yet none of these people who love to state they promote sewing are willing to help anyone who can't afford to go on their courses.

    So, and there are probably many in the same situation who give up, here I am, wanting to make my clothes, unable to do so because I can't get help of a person. I hate it when books start by saying 'get yourself a fitting buddy'. If they were in the UK they would find that impossible.

    Sorry to rant but have just binned another wasted effort both in fabric and in paper. To say I am desperate for clothes that fit is an understatement.

  18. ah well, I live near Portland (Ore.), so I'm the official outlier here....Portland is full of unbelievably fabulous fabric shops and people who sew all kinds of things, from clothes to quilts to home decor. It's an interesting combination of the DIY "stick it to the man" culture, especially in the 20- and 30-somethings, plus a memory of harder times (or their hippie years) in some of the older women.

  19. I'm in Portland, OR, too! I've got about 10 friends who sew garments, a smattering of quilters and a lot of great advice when I get stuck.

    We're pretty blessed to have some really awesome fabric stores (Fabric Depot, Mill End, Pendleton Outlet, Josephine's Dry Goods); the PalmerPletsch "Fit for Real People" fitting queens; and an amazing array of sewing schools. It's cool to DIY in PDX.

  20. OK, guys, we're all moving to Portland!

  21. OK, first I will write my response and THEN I will go back and read what others have written. When I compare home sewing in the 70's, the 80's, the 90's and the aughts, I see a dramatic shift. In the 80's especially, no one admitted to sewing - everyone wore RTW and it was a secret guilty pleasure. Now? People admire my clothing and they ask "when are you going to start teaching?". I am thinking about it - I really am. The younger set (my neices are teenagers and our children are in their 20's) seem to think my sewing is very cool. They admire it. I bask in the admiration. I put a Kenmore 158 series in the basement for my stepson who uses it every time he comes home to visit. He loves a hand-crafted look - he doesn't want his work to look RTW at all. He did appreciate that I sewed him a wool flannel shirt for Christmas last year based on a shirt that fit him to his satisfaction. He is a skin-tight jeaned hipster type. OK, now I gotta scroll up to see what others are saying. Hope it is positive!

  22. What I've noticed in my little corner of the American Midwest is that sewists basically do embroidery or quilting.

    I know there must be a few garment sewists, but the stores don't seem to exist for them. We have both Hancock's and Joanne, but we all know about the deficiencies of these chain outlets. I can think of two independent stores which carry small selections of garment fabric. One store is big, but really caters to quilters, and the other is just small.

    In our area there do exist quilting retailers, and I see similar stores advertised along I-70 going West through Kansas. I know more garment sewing is being done in the Pacific NW than in my area, because of blog posts and the existence of "real" fabric stores.

  23. I wrote a lengthy comment but the computer just chewed it up (nothing to do with my pressing the wrong button, of course...). I live in London and I seem to be the only one in my entourage, close or extended, who sews their own clothes. A few women I know own a sewing machine, which they use for the odd hem, cushion cover or curtain, and that's it. That's where the internet steps in for me, bringing me close to a community of like-minded sewists from all over the world. I don't really mind that I don't know anyone personally who sews, as long as I have people like you and Gertie, and the many other inspirational bloggers on the internet...

    Living in London, I'm lucky that I have a couple of very handy fabric and notions stores nearby (and I don't even live centrally). Whenever I go to my lovely little fabric store, which has a fantastic range of designer fabrics, there are nearly always other customers there (hardly ever men; although the owner is male, as is one of the store assistants). I don't know whether these customers are hoarders, or quilters, or seamstresses, or sewists like me... The same goes for my sewing store, which is huge if a bit tatty, and sells sewing machines, notions, patterns, wool, all manner of crafty stuff, and which seems to have a constant trickle of customers (almost exclusively female).

    I've only been sewing for 10 years, and I owe practically everything to the internet. It has offered me a steady supply of advice, patterns, fabric, sewing books, inspiration, etc. over the years. If it weren't for it, I too would probably be sewing cushion covers and hems...

  24. Here in the Netherlands, interest in sewing and other craft definately on the rise. The fabric store, which disappeared from the center of the city I live in, is back and doing good business. The remaining sewing machine stores are also doing well. Newcomers seem to be mostly young women who may remember sewing as something their mums used to do.
    For about three years, very cheap Toyota and Singer sewing machines have been for sale at a few fairly random nation wide chains of stores. This decreased the 'starting investment' needed to start sewing (and many people start sewing on machines which were collecting dust in their mother's/grandmother's/aunt's attics).
    As a result, quite a few people here 'dabble' in sewing. A friend of mine does. And my sister.

    And if all goes to plan, I might just start to teach sewing and pattern once a week at a local high school in Januari.

  25. OK, now I will comment on this question, "If you wanted to sink some money into it, where would you do it?" I'd lease one of those empty store-fronts mentioned by Mainelydad (hopefully in a hipster neighborhood) I'd set it up like my Home Ec. class from junior high school with a bunch of sewing machines, ironing boards & all necesssary supplies. Everyone needs alterations, so I would hang out a shingle to include "Yes, we do alterations". I'd use the space for classes and give people some free time to use the facilities for class projects. Home Ec. worked. We all learned how to sew. And none of us had sewing machines or any other supplies at home.
    I would also market made-to-measure clothing and target middle-aged women. So many of my peers have money in their pockets and can't shop without bursting into tears. If you could sell a "Chico's-esque" jacket for the same price (or maybe 120% or MSRP) I really think there are women desperate to purchase it.
    The alterations thing would get people in the door. Marketing: Get Tim Gunn to appear in your advertising campaign. Have him tell everyone to get themselve to their local tailor shop right away!
    OK while I am thinking big - franchise the idea and make millions. lol
    Just give me some caffiene and I'll spout ideas til the cows come home :)

  26. At the risk of being really annoying now, I have one more idea. So many people say, "if not for the internet, I don't know what I would do".
    A venture capitalist could sink money into the creation of a cutting edge social media tool for sewing fiends. Maybe modelled after ravelry, or maybe there is still a better mouse trap? Will definitely need some teenaged genius freak for that idea, I guess.

    A wiki-tool of knowledge? I dunno?

  27. Oh, and I should have added that Burdastyle's community seems to be growing steadily and is, for the majority at least, rather young.

    Anonymous from the UK, have you checked whethet or not there's a Burdastyle sewing group anywhere near you? They should be free.
    Altough I can't offer any help in person (the North Sea is in the way ;) you could drop me an email (my profile should be visible) or leave a comment on my blog. I'm a bit of a fitting freak, so might be able to give some advice.

  28. I live in SW Idaho, near Boise and have been sewing for about 45 years. I have sewn clothing, a few quilts, bags, toys, home dec and other stuff I don't remember.
    The only people I know who sew are one of my friends who makes quilts, my middle daughter (currently sewing in Korea who sews anything like a fiend and puts me to shame) and my sister who does clothing.
    We have several Joanns, one Hancocks, a few quilting stores and I even saw some fabric at one of the larger Walmarts the other day. Don't see that much anymore. The very best hidden treasure is Caledonia in Boise. Dorothy has exquisite fabric, but it is a little pricey. That's where I went when I made my daughter's wedding dress and I recently took a jeans making class over three days that was so worth the hefty (to me) price. I now have a pattern for jeans that fit.
    I have a Pfaff expression 2036, a Brother 1034D serger and just refurbished an older Singer for my oldest daughter who wants to make curtains...any gateway drug to get them hooked!
    My youngest daughter, 24, has sewn a little in the past, but is now living in N. Africa and it's not on her radar at present.
    We have to mentor young people in whatever we believe is a skill worth perpetuating. Hook them in and teach them how to do what ever they want to do (Including stuff that is "too hard" for their skill level--don't discourage any interest. Let them see for themselves. You'd be surprised what determination can do.) Help them see that they can repurpose garments into other garments, bags, toys, and harvest the notions from those garments, etc. Show them how to go to thrift stores and buy machines, cloth, notions, and books. This can get them started without a huge outlay and then they can graduate to higher-end fabric, notions and machines.
    If I wanted to invest money, I'd maybe start a co-op, swap thing, where people bring items they are willing to donate to people who want to learn how to sew. It could even be funded by pattern, fabric an/or machine manufacturers just to help seekers start somewhere.
    Mentor, donate, encourage!

  29. Like Lauriana says, in the Netherlands (where I live) the trend is on the rise. If I tell I sew always someone says "Oh, my friends so and so also sews!". My mother in law just bought a Toyota machine in a drugstore for 89€.
    On the other hand we have Spain. I'm originally from there and my family lives there. Except for my mum, nobody I know sews. Even worse, when I say I sew I get the "you're weird!" look. Often in combination with the "oh, if only I could learn" comment which is not true because as soon as you tell them they can actually learn with the help of YouTube the conversation is quickly changed. Also, nobody has heard of Project Runaway or thinks that DIY is cool. In my (medium small) Spanish hometown used to be 3-4 fabric shops, now there's only one standing. *Sigh*

  30. Lauriana
    What is a Burdastyle sewing group???????????? Fascinated about that one.

    Someone who has posted on here is presently trying to offer help over the internet, but of course someone in person would really, really be welcome!

  31. Living in LA, I am lucky since I am 15 minutes from our extensive fabric district. When I am down there shopping for fabric, I run into a lot of sewists who make their own clothes. I have also met a few in various classes but my friends do not make their own clothes. I am involved with a costuming group, most of which do make their own outfits. I do not know any one who quilts.

    I purchase most of my patterns through ebay or etsy and rarely step into a JoAnns or that type of fabric store.

    More and more sewing, pattern making and fitting classes are popping up all over LA. Be it through community colleges, independant fabric stores or schools such as Otis.

  32. A suggestion for the anonymous in the UK, we have nursing homes for old people here in the US, if you have a similar place near you, then volunteer some time there. I bet there is a whole world of knowledge about all kinds of things, including fitting, there. A lot more people did garment sewing sixty years ago, so talk to the seventy and eighty year old women (as sewing was more of a women's thing back then).

    People love to share and instruct, I don't know what you would do for them; but I'm certain an eager outlook and appreciation for their skills would be welcome.

  33. Sewing is definitely starting to take off in the UK, although it's certainly still very niche. Over the last few weeks I've heard about three sewing cafes opening in London. However, it's still fairly difficult to get hold of fabric and we certainly don't have "craft stores" (or JoAnns, whatever that is) invoked by U.S. bloggers advising readers on where to get tools and materials.

    I've tried to get my day job (which is related to cinema) interested in the emerging crafting trend as an idea for film programmes, but they're not interested - they think I'm a crazy lady.

    Bring on the revolution!

  34. I forgot to mention when I posted above, I'm in western Canada.

    @ Anonymous in the UK---that's really too bad that you've had such poor luck looking for fitting help. I wonder if you'd have more luck at the places that do alterations? I sympathize with lacking the money to sew---I am always trying to scrounge free patterns and pick up fabric at the thrift store. Have you tried selling your cases on Everyone who goes there is *looking* for handmade :) is a sewing site and community; people post projects, there are tutorials and patterns (many free, some better than others), and a discussion forum. is another excellent sewing site; they don't have free patterns like burdastyle, but the discussion boards are great, and there is an entire forum devoted to fitting where people can post about their fitting issues and get advice. People also post about their projects, generally as reviews of various patterns, which is a good way of deciding if a pattern is worth investing money in.

  35. Here in NZ sewing seems to be growing among the 20s and 30s. I went to dressmaking evening class at our local high school 8 years ago, and they nearly cancelled the class due to small numbers. Last year there was a two-semester waiting list.

    In Wellington, with about 400 000 people, we have three quite good dress fabric stores plus a Spotlight (like your Joannes, by the sound of it).

    I think it's partly down to the knit-your-own-pickled-vegetables movement (all those things also having their day in the sun), partly the interest in vintage/ retro stuff, and partly just the good old fashioned desire to make nice stuff and wear it. Quite a few of my colleagues (government department) sew a lot of their wardrobes, including at least one man (well he does shirts, anyway).

    Recently I posted a question on Pattern Review which boiled down to 'could I make this dress work with my over-ample behind' and within a day I received 4 different, helpful suggestions, lots of encouragement, and TWO offers to buy the pattern on sale in the US and post it to me. Fab or what!

  36. In my neck of the woods, and I do mean woods up near the Canadian border, garment sewing is an anomaly. People look at me with the "wow, you really do that? My great aunt Twitsie used to sew" and then the conversation drifts off. Now quilting??? Everyone up here quilts, and then quilts some more. They buy huge long arm machines for thousands without a moments hesitation. All is made and finished by machine. I find these are the people who need to have the TOL embroidery/sewing machines for ten grand and they are proud to tell you they have them. There are quilt stores in each little burg around here. Finding quality fabric is not an option up here. There are guilds and meetups for quilters. I have tried to get the same going for sewists. Doesn't happen. I am a lonely soul. I would like to bust one of these guild meetings and tell them to at least give my side of the fence a try. Unfortunately the trend to get clothing quicker and cheaper doesn't translate into bothering to make your own. I thought I could do classes. Turns out the only interest was in learning how to use their machine so they could quilt faster!

    From my little corner of the world, I see garment sewing trending toward near extinction. But I keep on keepin on.

    For a machine, I would like a miraculous serger and the same Pfaff I have had for the last ten years.

    I do like the trend, again attributable to quilters, of there being a much greater variety of threads in the market place. There is a place for quality fusibles as well. While they are attainable, TG, from Pam Erny, a bit of competition between manufacturers would be great. Out in retail it seems that all that is available is the nasty Freudenberg Pellon stuff. With the big move toward quilter/sewists, why would that change?

  37. I follow your blog from germany, so please forgive my rusty english..I don't have the chance to use it very often....

    But as a fanatic sewer and working in a fabric/sewing machine store I had to take part in the interesting discussion you started.

    The future of sewing here in germany seems quite bright at the moment, our sewing classes and workshops are booked for months. People seem to be bored by the mass produced goods from h&m to zara to mango etc. There is definitely a focus on fitting and the general appreciation for handmade things seems to grow here too.
    Sites like dawanda (German-Etsy) are very popular and especially the US-Blogging-Community
    is an inspiration to many people starting sewing.

    I think it's becoming a trend to become a producer instead of "just" beeing a customer.

    Quilting is on the rise too, small shops are opening, "Stoffmarkt Holland" (a moving market with vendors from the netherlands) has like 30 dates a year around germany...

    Uhhh I could go on for hours about sewing...hmm the community is still not big enough, I guess..and family/friends still don't "get" it.

    Off to read the posts! Bye!

  38. I live in London too. I learnt to sew some simple stuff- like a skirt during a high school summer vacation. I've just restarted- bought a couple of patterns and trying to figure it out as I go along. There's not much resources that are accessible to people in London who don't want to go crazy spending money. I tried taking private sewing lessons, but at the end of it, I had a very simple summer dress, but the fitting was terrible and I was being told "oh, thats how it's going to be- it's a toile. Take more classes to fit it properly", and I was paying £20 an hour for about 14hours!!! huh?! I think I have better chances figuring it out myself.
    I've heard of a couple of sewing classes- makemylounge and paperedparlour, but I'm not going to throw good money after bad, unless I get a recommendation for one of these classes.
    Somebody suggested places that do alterations- there are a few drycleaners who do alterations, but they are dingy places and charge an arm a foot for a hemming that should take 15minutes. People don't sew here- almost as if it would be beneath them to sew.
    In short, I'm under 30 and I'd like to sew clothes for myself, but I know 0 people either in India or here that sew. In India, it's cheaper to find a tailor, and here it's too expensive to find a tailor, so everybody seems to wear RTW (or atleast everybody in my world of banking, which is the only world I know here)
    Oh and if anybody wants to know- Rolls and Rems is super-nice fabric store, although they don't do classes, the staff is very nice and they've got a lovely selection which changes every time I go there.

    If anybody in London would like to get together, give me a shout- runestone at ymail dot com

  39. Modern pattern companies are shrinking Vogue/McCall/Simplicity are all the same conglomerate now. Have been for a while. I guess thats why I love old patterns so much. 1000s of styles and its so rare to find someone wearing your dress.

    Thats the beauty of sewing. And yes, it is a dying art. Artisan anything is a dying art.

    Like automatic cars, everything thing that didn't need to be is being given computers for brains. Why, mostly easier. Rather than learn embroidery via trial and error, or sewing a complex stitch by hand, which is 'imperfect', you have good old sewing machine 2100 to do it for you.

    As someone said earlier, sewing isnt something you can dabble in, its a learned craft. A trade. The more you work at it, the better you get. You will have to mess up. We ALL have messed up but we keep working at it. A lot of people are afraid of failure on any scale and just wont begin at all. Sad really.

    Sewing hasn't changed, the sewers have.

  40. I live in a very small town in western Montana. I have 2 friends that sew garments and know of a fair amount of quilters My sister also knows how to sew. We have one chain fabric store and one really hip independent store. But they are 50 miles from where I live.The chain store frustrates me to no end with their endless choices of fleece, and quilters cotton. ANd the other store while very fun and cool is small, so again, limited options. I end up buying almost all fabric online which as you know can be a miss sometimes.I think there has been a small resurgence in sewing with younger DIY types in my area.

    I think fitting is an issue for many. I have figured out my fixes and am lucky they are fairly easy, but I really think the pattern companies could maybe do a little more to help out ,like make more patterns with various cup sizes etc..And sometimes the instructions are so lacking that it would certainly intimidate the beginner.
    The internet is a godsend for sure. It is such a great resource. I also knit and wish there was a sewing site like ravelry for sewists.
    For myself, I like to stay on top of trends and cannot afford to buy what I like so I have to sew certain items like dresses or skirts. I hate wanting a certain color and style of something and not being able to find it in a price point I can afford. I know some people think that RTW is so much cheaper so why sew but I disagree, maybe t shirts are cheaper but I certainly save a ton by making some of my own clothes.

    All and all I love to sew and will continue to do it but frankly sometimes there is a lot of fuss I have to go thru to even complete certain projects. I have limited fabric selection locally(if you call driving 50 miles one way local)limited options for trims and other supplies etc. I feel slightly crazy ordering buttons from New York to finish a coat for example.

  41. I have been a member of the Peninsula Wearable Arts Guild (California) for over 10 years. We now have over 150 members, meet monthly, and a big part of our meetings is Show & Tell. You can find photos here We have fabulously creative and imaginative members.

    The best fashion fabric store around here is Britex in San Francisco, 50 miles away. Thai Silks is also a good source. Upholstery and quilting fabrics are easier to come by. I think most of us buy fabrics by mail, or pick them up while traveling.

  42. Anonymous in the UK, and anyone else needing help or feeling lonely on the sewing front: the Burdastyle website started to encourage members to set up sewing groups in spring 2009. As far as I know they were meant to be get-togethers for sewing enthousiast. A place to talk about sewing and learn from each other.
    I haven't really followed the developments but you can find a list of the groups of 2009 and links to a internet features to locate a group near you over here:

  43. There's a difference between making clothes and styling a garment that fits beautifully. Both are skills but the first only gets you half he way there. So I"m with all the peeps who put their money on fitting. We are liberated by the ability, not only to sew, but to sew beautiful things that fit us perfectly. That's the essence of chicness - of design.

  44. Peter, I really really hope you sort through these comments and do a post on them...

    I'm kind of like you- I sew constantly, I blog about sewing, and also I teach sewing and I'm surrounded by hundreds of really talented sewists and quilters. I tend to lose perspective. I can count on one hand the people I know who don't sew.

    In two years of teaching, I've taken 500-800 (I'd rather estimate than go back through my records) from knowing nothing to a basic level of competence with patterns and sewing machines. My class numbers spike DRAMATICALLY in the Jan-Feb-March time frame, I figure I am someone's New Years' Resolution. There is a much higher demand for what I do than there was even when I started teaching, and it looks to be growing.

    I really think the internet has a lot to do with this. I know my own sewing has improved since I started posting on PR and blogging, and reading others' posts. It's hard to be a good sewist in a vaccuum.

    I live in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

  45. I'm in Adelaide, South Australia and before I started sewing in earnest about a year ago, I used to really wonder how on earth the fabric store around the corner survived. I'm still not entirely sure, because they have an odd middle-of-the-road assortment that seems to cater to no market in particular.

    I agree with whoever up above said they'd put money into fabric, or at least a great fabric/sewing shop. I have fantasies about taking over my local shop and filling it with organic fabrics, linens, bamboo, hemp, japanese imports, japanese pattern books, Liberty tana lawns, AMH cotton voiles, independent designer patterns, top quality crafting materials e.g. feather cushion inserts, real wool felt, wool stuffing for soft toys. I order a lot of stuff over the internet but sometimes you would just like to get your hands on things to feel the quality, drape etc. Maybe I would also sell good quality refurbished old sewing machines.

    Then again, the market might be very very small here. I know a few other mums at school who do a bit of sewing, and I have one fanatic friend. Apart from that, er... I dunno. What are all the people doing with the horrible, horrible fabrics they're buying from Spotlight? There must be an awful lot of crappy sequinned costumes out there somewhere.

  46. In Melbourne Australia sewing clothes is probably still a sport only for the truly dedicated, but it must be getting more popular. The 'Thread Den' venture has expanded from one place to two. They run classes, sell vintage bits and pieces and offer a 'sewing lounge' where you can buy time on a machine.

    And the 'Cloth Shop' classes where one brings a project and can get help with fitting tweaks or learn from scratch seem to be expanding too.

    Additionally there are now sewing magazines from the UK in my local newsagent, in addition to 'Threads' from the US and the local 'Australian Stitches'. So I think the market is growing.

  47. In Brisbane, Australia there is VERY little choice in terms of stores for buying fabrics and notions. I have sewn all my life and my friends have always found it a bit weird (I even gave it up for about two years because I was embarressed).

    I don't know anyone else who sews as much as I do. On the up side, everyone loves the fact that I can make my own things.

    I think it's ready for a boom here, but it's just not happening yet.

    I really want to open my own haberdashery store! Argh! Would be so much fun!

  48. I, too, am in Australia and have been sewing since childhood (the outfit I was wearing in my kindie photo was self-made. A 5-year old sewing! My mum's wonderful - and patient!).

    I'm now attending sewing classes at my local technical college and it's fantastic to see rooms filled with eager and talented young people. (At 35 I'm the oldest student by far!)

    Having said that, the only people outside of my class that I know do sew are my family - sister, mum, aunts, cousins.

    I've had two friends ask me to teach them; each lasted the total of one lesson. They both had the idea that it would be a quick and easy skill to learn with immediate and enviable results.

    Which we all know is not the case!

    The other extreme is when people - strangers, work colleagues, acquaintances - are told I made my garment, having given me a compliment on it. The common response is for a person to firstly be flabbergasted, then dismissive of their own potential, telling me that they'd love to learn to sew but that it's too hard.

    And we all know that isn't the case either!

    In terms of attracting new people to the art, I think reliable, close-by fabric stores are a must! I detest my biggest store - Spotlight - and the one small shop in town is lovely but limited in it's offerings. I don't think buying online is advisable for a new sewer - at least not without assistance. Having a helpful, friendly store with excellent fabrics and knowledgeable staff would certainly help interested people take the financial and commitment plunge!

    There's also the idea of a sewing lounge, where machines and cutting tables are set up and available for use for a small fee. Assistance is free. This is just ideal, I think, to help fan the sewing interest in people who don't want to lay down a lot of cash before knowing if they enjoy the pastime.

    The Thread Den in Melbourne is the organisation I'm thinking of:

    Peter, I love the topics you write about.

    Thanks for being so great!


  49. Hello all compulsive swewists out there!
    I´m broadcasting from a small town in Spain, where every lady over 45 owns a vintage singer. I have yet to find a home where there isn´t a sewing machine in the kitchen, wedged between the TV and the dishwasher. There are almost as many fabric shops as schools and grannies make the most amazing things for their grandchildren.
    NOW, the sad thing is that thirty something women don´t know or don´t want to sew. The interest vanished overnight and all of my friends give their mums clothes to alter or cut outs from magazines to replicate "that dress" for them. The market for home sewers is directed to a rather "vintage population", with dull fabrics, over rickracketed children outfits any kind of notion you can imagine to sew a curtain. As an example, shops here don´t stock invisible zippers foots, as local seamstresses hardly ever use concealed zips.
    I´m on a mission to change this but it takes time. I sometimes feel so out of place.
    Well,sorry for my ramblings, but since you asked...
    Thanks for your intelligent blog Peter.

  50. Hi Peter,

    I'm sewing in South Africa and I actually know quite a few people who sew. Friends and of course their moms/aunts/grannies. It's not a Huge community, but you definitely don't get treated like a freak because you sew.

    When I first started sewing in earnest 5 years ago, I found it very difficult to find fabric that was good quality. The fabric shops always seemed a bit empty. But for the last two years, the fabric shops are a hive of activity and you can find LOADS of delicious fabrics. Some of the shops have even had to move to bigger premises. It's great!
    My only gripe is that I haven't found many sewing classes. We have a very small population that is online here, so such things are normally advertised at actual fabric stores or through word of mouth, which makes it harder to find out about.

    Generally though, home sewing seems to be on the increase.

  51. Thanks for whoever it was who posted the details about Burda Style Groups. I have found that there is actually one in my area, however the last post regarding it was September 2009, the contact email address does seem work. Whether I get a favourable response or not remains to be seen.

  52. Hi Peter & Friends,

    I'm in Florence, Italy and noone sews here. I think because Italian women have, until recently, visited tailors for their clothes, noone has ever really sewed at home. Young people (that I know) are still shunning 'homely womens things' and there are few resources, supplies cost a bomb, 'vintage' is mostly seen as strange too.

    If you were to invest in the home sewing world i would suggest, as someone else did, for community creation, take a look at if you dont know it yet, it has done for knitters what myspace did for emos.
    Love your writing!

  53. To: Anonymous in the UK
    Re: your looking for someone to help you in person with fitting-issues / a sewing buddy, perhaps you might have some luck with this UK-based site The Sewing Forum ? :)

  54. The online sewing world totally needs something like ravelry. I love you PR, for all you've taught me, but you're so hard for my super keen fledgling sewing babies to navigate.

  55. Dear Claire (aka Seemane). Shame that there is no direct contact address for you. I would dearly have liked to email you privately.

    Yes I have tried THAT Forum. What happened? Nothing.........apart from receiving a very abusive private email because I was unable to offer anything more than a cup of tea, friendly chat, a cake or two.
    Anonymous UK

  56. Most of the people I know (I'm from Melbourne, living in Sydney) either don't sew, or have always sewed. I'm in the latter camp.

    Don't know too many who have taken it up, sad to say, although I have been instrumental in the odd child learning (and she is very odd, in the nicest way possible).

  57. Hi All
    Just thought you would like an update.....yes I did try the BurdaStyle groups, yes I found one near to me and YES, I got a reply from the co-ordinater, who says she is really not a group leader at all but just put her name up for contacts.

    The result when I mentioned the words to 'fit patterns'?

    Told to go and get private lessons on pattern cutting and fitting!

    If I knew where that was possible I would have tried long, long ago.

    And besides.........I can guess what the charge for anything like that would be, way beyond what I and any ordinary person could afford!

    Apparently she only sews craft items.(SIGH!)

    Anonymous UK

  58. I was born in 1952. My mother sewed most of our clothes when I was growing up,and I learned to sew in high school. I lived in a small town in Nova Scotis, where the shops only sold ugly clothes, so the most fashionable girls were the best sewers. Move the rest of this story to Queensland, Australia. I sewed for my daughter, and when she was a teenager she drew the clothes she wanted, selected the fabric (with my advice)but I had to make them for her. She recently finished a Fashion Design course at TAFE, and she has opened a little shop where she sells garments she and her friends have made and does custom work and alterations. My friends? They all say "I wish I could sew", not "Will you teach me to sew?"

  59. Hi Peter, hi all!

    First of all, congratulation on your great blog! You really touch on interessing subjects here!

    I live in Germany, in a 170.000 people town, where sewing seems to be boom! There are just three fabric shops(one is new and just for quilting fabrics) and two sewing machine service shops. They are always empty, when I go there, but twice a year the "Dutch fabric market", a sort of traveling market for fabric and related things to sewing, comes to the town and boy, how full becomes the market place!

    The Dutch fabric market visitors are most women, between 30 and 50. Mostly moms, who want to sew for their kids. There is also a community of arabic countries immigrant, which is always present too and the last, it is growing the numbers tennies and young women who, I can see, carry their own self-made bags and totes.


    Andrea from Germany

  60. Hi calling from Oslo, Norway. There's a certain interest in handmade and refashioned "designer" clothing here, but not many people sew. Chain store clothes are just too cheap and labour costs here in Norway are very, very high compared to all other parts of the world.

    If I were to invest here, it would be in a type of "designer cafe". An atelier where you could come with your friends, family or collegues to design your own one-of-a-kind garment or accessory under the guidance of a teacher. I would try to offer anything from teambuilder exercises for the workplace to childrens birthday parties. Also try to get designer talks, all kinds of happenings. It might work.

  61. I'm also in Portland, OR. There are lots of sewing folks here. More than anywhere I have been. Our Mecca is Fabric Depot (, which I believe is the largest fabric store in the country. There are fashion shows and lots of places that upcycle clothes into other things. There have been three Project Runway winners from our area (Seth Aaron counts because Vancouver, WA, is actually a Portland suburb). I even have my own kilt-sewing business ( Like most places, the fabric shops cater extensively to quilters. Still, the Portland sewing and fashion scene is incredible.

  62. I live in S. Korea, about 45 minutes outside of Seoul. Home garment sewing is rare here, but there are a ton of tailors who make custom clothes. When RTW and custom clothes are so cheap, there isn't really any incentive to make your own. I see a lot of design students at the markets, but they will probably end up working in the industry and many probably don't sew outside of school.

    Fortunately for me, the Koreans are very into their outward appearance so the fabric markets in Seoul cater to an enormous clothing industry. I have been to the garment industry in NYC, textile town in Tokyo, seen the fabric market in Beijing... none of them come close to size/selection of the places in Seoul. Did you know the Samsung company makes high end wool textiles? Yes, the people who churn out flat screen TVs are famous for their fabrics here.

    Quilting is also more popular here among those who have machines at home or they do it by hand. Many of the American quilt fabric designers (Robert Kauffman, Alexander Henry, Ana Maria Horner, etc.) get their materials printed here because it's cheap and the quality of work is high.

    I take advantage of what is available here, the fabrics, the notions, and the well illustrated garment sewing textbooks at the bookstores (the Korean books are geared more for industry sewing, the Japanese books have a bigger home sewing market).

    Retail clothing selection is much greater than in the US and I don't think the consumers have as many problems fitting wise because a. most Korean girls (and guys!) are thin with few curves, and b. they can pay for someone to make custom clothes. It's just a different market.

  63. That's fascinating, Ming. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  64. Here in Iowa (US), quilting and crafting seem to rule. There is 1 store near me that has nice apparel fabrics. It's a small store, so the selection isn't large (nice but small). Otherwise it's Hancock's, Joann, and a number of quilting stores. Sewing classes also are for quilting usually. There are quilting groups I could join, but no groups for sewing garments that I know of.

    As other's have pointed out, many might think they want to learn to sew garments, but when they realize it takes time and effort to sew them *well*, they drop it. Or change to crafting, quilting or home dec. Not that it's easy to do those well right off, but those projects don't have the fitting concerns that apparel sewing has. What I mean is, yes, the curtains have to be made the right size, but they don'twant to move their arms without binding, and sit without the crotch... let's just say "getting snug".

    I gave up trying to sew clothing for quite a while because I thought it was just me (and my fault) that I couldn't sew anything that fit. People on the internet have let me realize it's not just me, and that it's not my fault that patterns don't fit right out of the envelope. I've learned alot from those who share their sewing, and realize there's still much I need to learn.


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