Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.
Pure Collection Ltd.
Net-a-porter UK

Monday, 28 April 2008

Sew it yourself

courtesy of the Sewing Divas

I know some readers will be delighted to hear that there has been a huge jump in home dressmaking, according to the Guardian.

I speak as one who who has both two left feet when it comes to dancing, and and two left hands when it comes to sewing, and who thinks that shop-bought is always better than home-made (when it's my home it's being made in) but I'm nonetheless quite pleased to see any revival of creativity:

So it comes as no surprise to me that more and more people are taking up sewing. Last week, Argos reported that sales of selected sewing machines have rocketed by 50% in their stores in the past 12 months. Explaining this phenomenon, they cite increasing concern for the environment, awareness of social issues and a backlash against the "throwaway society". They need only add the words "credit crunch" to give a complete picture of why sewing has suddenly become popular again. Woolworths has also just reported a similar trend, with sewing-machine sales growing by 258% in the same period. Their explanation? "We think it's down to more home economics classes being taught in school, the increasing popularity of fancy-dress parties and the death of the high-street tailor."

And those figures show that a trend that has been bubbling under for a decade has finally hit the mainstream. The crafting revival began in earnest in 2000, when Debbie Stoller, editor of popular US feminist magazine Bust, took a fresh approach to the traditional skills of knitting and crochet, reinventing them for contemporary crafters. She wrote the knitting book, Stitch and Bitch, and soon groups of the same name were gathering in clubs, bars and cafes across the world to make stuff together. In the UK, other groups started, too, including Knitchiks (, the Cast Off knitting club ( and IknitLondon (


Anonymous said...

An interesting article - but there seem to be no grounds for their reasons for the increase in popularity. So I'll offer my reasoning too - the lack of well made boutique style locally made clothing today. Everything and everyone looks the same, so if you want to show any sort of individual flair and you can't afford a dressmaker, home-made is the only option.

Anonymous said...

Well, here in the US, from what I can see(and my little area is certainly not any sort of scientific sample), except for sewing on buttons, no sewing is being taught. We had a fabric store locally whose main source of income was their contracts to do maintenance on all the sewing machines at the local schools; several years ago, they closed up shop -- no sewing classes, no sewing machine maintenance. Anyone who wants their children to learn how to make clothing therefore has to teach them themselves, find private classes or sign them up for a 4H group(for non-US readers, 4H is the youth development program which is attached to local Cooperative Extension Associations, which are attached to the State Landgrant College. In my state, New York, Cornell University is the landgrant college). So, any increase in sewing among young people in the United States, I think, is coming out of this same "Stitch and Bitch", "do it yourself" movement among the young people. Burda has jumped on the bandwagon with a terrific new site, Burdastyle, where you can download and print off patterns. The "big four" pattern companies in the US seem to be still struggling with the whole issue, and the local fabric store(except for the huge chains, which concentrate on cotton quilting fabrics)is pretty much a thing of the past. But if there is anything which is saving and promoting sewing, it's the internet.

Susan B said...

I used to sew a blue streak. I wasn't that good with tailoring, but made some beautiful costumes and men's shirts in my day. I have two good machines (one a serger) rusting in my garage because I have neither the time nor space anymore to tackle sewing projects. I've been realizing in recent months that I miss it, especially looking at all of the fab vintage patterns online.

Anonymous said...

The home sewing landscape I see in the US is very much like the points Toby noted; there are two concurrent trends (1) the demise of the old sewing paradigm; e.g. no more school sewing curriculum, fabric stores shutting down, the Big 4 pattern companies being adrift and, (2) a burgeoning non-brick and mortar sewing movement fueled by the internet, blogs and social networking. A good friend of mine teaches sewing, her classes are full and she also owns a booming on-line fabric store called Gorgeous Fabrics (there is a to her site link from Sewing Divas.) The biggest sewing forum is Pattern Review, and it has well over 100,000 members.

When I was a girl, sewing was taught as a trade skill, however today's new sewer wants a creative outlet, and she's dissatisfied with the fit of her clothes and with the choice she sees in stores. It’s not really about saving money per se – it’s more a value for money proposition and a desire to be more satisfied with the clothes one chooses to wear.

Also - I wanted to mention that Vogue Patterns has just done a call out for customers to submit suggestions for the Vintage Vogue collection, so I emailed them a scan of the 1950 dress that Linda featured. If they decide to add it to the collection they will regrade it to today's size standards and ranges. It would be available to everyone in stores and on the Vogue Patterns web site. There's no guarantee they'll take it up of course, but if you really like that style I’ll let everyone know on Sewing Divas if they decide to republish it.

Anonymous said...

I took up knitting a couple of years ago after a very chic knitting boutique opened near my home. I've since become completly addicted: silk, alpaca, cashmere all available in wonderful colours and textures. Its theraputic rather than thrifty. The online community Ravelry has become my second home.

Duchesse said...

Every time I search for a dress to fit my emphatically hourglass, 5'10" body, I think longingly of a return to sewing, like Deja Pseu.

But then I remember all the wadded bits of fabric in bags on my closet floor: the too-tight armholes, the princess seam that wandered too far from the castle, the failed hemming of a silk skirt.
To move beyond the loving-hands-at-home look, you need solid tailoring skills: on the serious sewing sites, the women apply physics.

At nearly 60 I can't throw on a little shift, the kind I made from a remnant of Marimekko fabric at 20. Professional dressmaker for me.

Unknown said...

On American fashion/sewing blogs which I read, the television show "Project Runway" is cited as a key influence in increasing the sales of sewing machines, bringing younger people into fabric stores, and increasing the popularity of sewing classes. The show presented young aspiring designers competing for a large cash prize with weekly eliminations, lots of interviews, follow-ups on contestants on the BRAVO TV Website, etc., all very well done and produced by Harvey Weinstein of Miramax. (Yes, I'm posting from L.A.!)

Anonymous said...

I started sewing as an teenager, long before I was using something called internet. But when I discovered all the sewing communities, blogs and how to's it really boosted my will to create something with my hands. Now that is an important balance for somebody working with the head.

And it's not about saving money, but individualism.

Without my hobby I wouldn't have realised the lack of well fitting clothes. I always thougt "that's the way clothes have to fit" :-(

Anonymous said...

Another reason that sewing and (especially) knitting are taking off: an increase in the quality of the fabrics and yarns available. As a knitter and (less often) sewer, I've met quite a few older crafters who gave up because you could only find corny patterns and yucky, plasticky acrylic yarns. Who would want to wear a hand-knit that squeaks when you move? Nowadays, there are a lot of decently priced online and retail sources of natural and luxury fibres, like my favourites of silk and bamboo for summer-y items, merino and alpaca for more wintry items. This kind of crafting is very different from the old acrylic Christmas sweater kit you used to get from a Mary Maxim catalogue - you actually want to wear the finished product!

Anonymous said...

I've been sewing on and off since I was a teenager. At first it was a means to a cheap wardrobe. Now it's for enjoyment and to create individual clothes.

Anonymous said...

I have to second Lisa... In North America, sewing's trendiness has much to do with the success of Project Runway and Britain's Project Catwalk.

Anonymous said...

Actually, your photo of the gorgeous Marni dress the other day made me tempted to lug out my sewing machine.

But then I rememebered that I want to kill myself and everyone around me when I sew.

Better not.