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Readers, do you ever feel like you spend a disproportionate amount of your day talking/thinking/writing about sewing?

When you mention your sewing projects, do you ever catch friends or colleagues rolling their eyes, glancing at their watches, and suddenly having to catch the 5:15 train — and they drive to work? Do you yourself retreat daily to the comforting, marshmallow, everybody-sews-here worlds of sites like BurdaStyle or your favorite sewing blog?

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Whether I’m writing about my sewing projects on Male Pattern Boldness, or about vintage sewing machines and men’s sewing here at BurdaStyle, I find myself talking about sewing all the time. Sometimes I feel like the president of the Treadle Association of New York or the International Mens Sewing Alliance! (Is there one?)

But I often wonder if I’m converting anybody.

Are you familiar with the word meme? A meme is an idea that spreads throughout the culture, for example through a social networking site, till it seems that everybody has heard about it.

What’s the best way to spread the home-sewing meme in your opinion?

Stated another way: How do we grow home sewing?

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A few weeks ago I met up with a woman who reads my blog (a non-sewer), the friend of someone I met here at BurdaStyle. “Marie” is originally from France, and we met for coffee, visited the wonderfully wacky “Japan Fashion Now” exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and strolled through the Garment District. We talked a lot about sewing machines, sewing, blogging, fashion, you name it. I had a lovely time but I didn’t get the sense that “Marie” was going to start sewing any time soon.

For one thing, she has our mutual sewing friend making a lot of her clothes!

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I know many of you have been sewing for many years and have lived through the dramatic contraction of the home sewing industry: local fabric stores closing, fewer independent sewing machine manufacturers and vendors, an increased focus on quilting among the vendors that remain, fewer patterns for sale, and so on. It’s admittedly depressing.

Yet at the same time we have all these sewing websites and communities, downloadable patterns, countless online fabric and notion resources, sites like eBay and Etsy where you can purchase old patterns, books, and vintage sewing machines, and countless sewing blogs. Nobody with Internet access needs sew in isolation!

Could it be that home sewing has bottomed out and is growing once again? Has a generation raised on H&M and Forever 21 soured on mass-produced fashion?

How can we successfully spread the home-sewing meme? What do you think would help convert non-sewers into passionate sewing fanatics? (What turned you into one?)

Have you ever successfully turned someone on to sewing? Did you actually have to give them a machine to get them started?

World conquest may not be within our reach — not right away. But a little benign evangelism never hurt. It’s in our collective interest to take action.

Let’s think strategically.

Ideas, people, ideas!

~Peter

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

176 Comments

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    Apr 12, 2011, 10.44 PMby corinneski

    I’m sure I’m considerably older than most members of BurdaStyle but I’ve been sewing almost all of my life and I do mean that. I started at 8. Sewing was part of the school curriculum in primary school and we started with simple hand sewing. We progressed to simple garments in the next two years. When I was in High School, our Principal was an enlightened woman. She insisted that as well as Languages, Science and Literature, we needed to know how to cook and sew. As a result, in my third year of High School, we designed a dress, drafted the pattern and then sewed the dress for our year end exam. On top of that, my Mother and Aunts all sewed or were handywomen so it was natural to be making stuff.

    I believe we will encourage people (you notice Peter I say ‘people’) to sew if we start in school. It’s such a valuable skill to acquire. Maths, spatial skills, hand-eye co-ordination, etc.

    I still sew because I’m not an average size (who is?) and I prefer to have clothes that actually fit properly and are scaled for my size. 5’ tall – RTW is way too long everywhere so what’s the point of buying if I have to alter it anyway.

    Good luck on the quest to popularise sewing again – I spread the word at every opportunity that comes my way.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 11.04 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think we can forget teaching it in school — at least in the USA. There’s neither the money nor the will, I think. You’re so fortunate to have been introduced to sewing so early!

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    Apr 12, 2011, 10.18 PMby robynemde

    I don’t have any friends in my hometown of Los Angeles that sew. They all either think it’s cute that I’m so into it or say they could never be good at it, which is silly of course. To me, it’s one of the most useful skills you can have! Anyway, I’m starting a sewing/crafting club and invited all my non-crafty friends to join, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping it’s successful – wish me luck!

    3 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 11.01 PMby Peter Lappin

      Good luck!

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      Apr 12, 2011, 11.21 PMby lovetosew2

      i wish you lots of luck—- and i would look you up once iam in L.A. again,,, a lovetosewer from germany

    • Missing

      Apr 13, 2011, 06.59 AMby BellyMumma

      Good Luck! :)

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    Apr 12, 2011, 10.04 PMby Heather Bamford

    Peter, I totaly understand where you are coming from. I have very few friends who sew, and the ones that do are mostly quilters. my other friends and coworkers think it is “quaint” that I sew and often listen to my sewing talks with an attitude that suggests they are patiently listening to a small child. Unlike many of you though, talking about and teaching sewing is a huge part of my job. I am a secondary school family studies (what home economics grew into in Ontario) teacher and I teach grade 11 and 12 fashion…as well as teach basic machine and sewing skills in grade 9. I spend a lot of time trying to legitamize my discipline in the eyes of other teachers and inspiring students to sign up. I mostly wear my own creations, run an afterschool fashion club for interested students, take students to participate in a province wide skills challenge that asks them to design, draft, and build a garment in 8 hours, as well as advertising the fashion program throughout the school community. i work very hard to make the fashion courses relevant to students lives. In grade 11 I focus on personal expression and making garments that both flatter and fit. In grade 12 students create a fashion business and complete a series of design challenges throughout the semester. The sewing focus is on pattern alteration and pattern drafting so they can create their own designs. In order to help them become life-longer sewists, I’ve worked with our local fabric store to get students a discount, and our AMAZING sewing machine guy offers a great deal on a beginner machine for my students. Some days it feels like an uphill battle to keep things going but when I see a kid walking through the halls wearing one of their own designs (bragginng that they made it), it is all worth it.

    3 Replies
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      Apr 12, 2011, 11.01 PMby Peter Lappin

      Heather, despite the challenges, it sounds like you have what would be many a sewer’s dream job!

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      Apr 13, 2011, 04.37 AMby shavlin

      Wow, you sound like you are doing a fantastic job! I too am a Home Economics teacher (in West Australia) and struggle with the exact same things you mention and just like you I will not give up – I mostly wear my own creations to school and where ever possible try to inspire students to have a go. I find the after school fashion club is a great for offering students the opportunity to have a go at making their own clothes as many of them can’t fit the course into their timetables.

      I think that as RTW becomes more and more mundane/monotoneous that more students will start to make their own clothes – i just wish we could inspire more young boys into the course. In WA it is compulsory for boys to do a textiles course in year 8 (the beginning of high school) and they do really, really well but then never carry it on into later years – such a shame!

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      Apr 19, 2011, 05.35 AMby Rhonda Griffin

      Heather thank you for teaching some interested students. Sewing requires a little engineering. Engineers are problem solvers.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.49 PMby rilo

    While I may sew for many reasons (personalization, frugality, fit or just as a creative outlet) I think that the hardest selling point to a non sewer is that homesewn items don’t have to look homesewn. You should be able to tell something is homemade because it’s tailored well or is unique, not because the stitch lines are wobbly or because it’s hideous. Attention to detail as well as education helps create things that allow you to answer with an emphatic “Yes!” to that inevitable question “Did you make that?”. I love sewing to get exactly what I want from pillows to formal wear. I love getting multiple sets of crib sheets for a fraction of the price by spending $10 on a set of jersey sheets. I love to fall in love with a garment and not be totally disappointed with what the fitting room shows me about my body’s imperfections. And above all, I love to hold my head high with a sense of accomplishment and say “I made that.” Keeping others educated with what resources are out there (ahem… like BurdaStyle!) and being willing to showcase your talents as well as others’ can help revive the commonplace of a sewing machine in every home.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 10.59 PMby Peter Lappin

      Yes! And you make some great points about homemade not having to look “Becky Home Ecky.”

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.17 PMby heyboo

    What a great discussion! I believe in the power and the beauty of the exchange of information. A few years ago I made a commitment to help share my love and knowledge of sewing and crafts. Even though I no experience teaching I signed up to teach classes at the local universities night program. Every single person who took my classes came in saying “I don’t think I can do this” and they all left saying "I’m so excited to go home and get started! The most popular class I taught was called literally, How To Use Your Sewing Machine. People would bring in their machines and I would teach them how to wind a bobbin and change the needle. They all had these machines sitting in their closets unused for years, but fear had kept them from really trying to use them.

    My point is I think sewing, creating, is like a virus and you just have to spread it around! I’ll keep working on it!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 09.41 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great idea and so true. A lot of people simply don’t know how to operate the machines they already own.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.16 PMby Abuelita2

    In the ’80’s and 90’s, I stopped sewing and bought beautiful clothes at thrift stores, much cheaper than sewing. Now I’m back to sewing because the good finds at thrifts have become harder and harder to come by—probably from increased popularity of second hand and a lot more poverty. So I’m geared up for sewing now, but finding it rough going.

    I think the pattern and fabric companies have something to answer for in the decline of sewing, though, as you’ve said it’s starting to come back which is great to see. They are stuck back in the 50’s & havent kept up with the changes in women’s lives, bodies, attitudes. I feel they disrespect us. Example, when I pay good money to buy something off the rack, most times the garment has already been pre-shrunk. Even the cheapest lines come with plenty of clear directions for care. Wouldn’t you think in this day and age, every cotton-like fabric length would be sold pre-shrunk for the sewist and with some sort of tag for care? If you bought a length of linen at one of the top independent shops, couldn’t you expect it to keep it’s suppleness and looks past the first wash? I just wear it around the house now.

    Then the pattern companies: If you’re built like their model, congratulations, but even then you’re in for a wild and unpredictable ride. Sewing is hard enough without patterns that are poorly and inconsistently drafted, and instructions that defy reason. I can’t think of any excuse for this. In reading the pattern reviews online, I notice over and over people saying, “I gave up on the instructions and made it without them.” Great if you’re that nimble-fingered. Most of us need clear, detailed instructions with a few sewing lessons thrown in. Is that really so much to ask? About sewing for kids: My 6 year old granddaughter is tall for her age and just a teeny bit plump. I’ve given up on children’s patterns, they all seem designed for underfed waifs, although she easily fits into store-bought clothes.

    When I was in high school, girls took home ec and sewing. Fabrics held up beautifully and were inexpensive. Patterns were well-drafted. Life wasn’t so frantic; we had time to get it right. Now, people are busy and they don’t learn sewing early on. For the new interest in sewing to grow, we need the pattern and fabric companies to make sewing more predictable, less risky, more USER-FRIENDLY. I think the best thing we can do to help grow sewing is to complain loudly to the sewing industry that we want them to be responsive to the needs of new sewists of fair to average ability. If any of you know who to complain to, I’d appreciate the info.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 09.39 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think it’s a numbers game: pattern companies can only afford to put out so many patterns and the measurements they use are the most common, or so I’ve read. Making adjustments to patterns is a challenge, I know. I can’t speak to the quality of the drafting since I generally only use vintage patterns, or I’ll draft something myself.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.13 PMby Robyn Winder

    I have a small sewing school in Hamilton New Zealand and its wonderful to see young people discovering the art of sewing and making such great creations they did not think were possible. Most like it because they can make things to fit in the colours and styles they want.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 12, 2011, 09.08 PMby sewshesaid

    To me sewing is breathing. And yes I breathe all over everyone. I teach my students that sewing isnt rocket science. It is forgiving. To me quilting isnt. Making mistakes is ok. It might even look better. Dont try and read a pattern. They are written by people that dont sew. Buy quality machines and fabrics, are my mantra. Wish I could count the winding cord of sewers I have tried to inspire, they ravel off and pass the thrill on to others.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 12, 2011, 08.52 PMby dnembhard

    I have an unoffical “sewing club” at my work (I’m a teacher). During the last 2 weeks in June, when students are writing exams, a few teachers get together, and I teach them how to sew something. Our first year we made dresses (and got featured in Threads magazine!). One teacher was so excited that she started making the same pattern as bridesmaid dresses! We’ve made jackets, and last year we started swimsuits (for babies).

    I like introducing more people to sewing, and the teachers hopefully don’t feel intimidated as everyone is new. They realise that sewing isn’t as hard as they think, and they totally understand the pleasure of being able to say “I made it”. I haven’t encouraged anyone to buy a sewing machine yet, but hopefully we’ll get there!

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 09.35 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great going! (Now how about the kids? LOL)

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      Apr 13, 2011, 04.34 PMby dnembhard

      I am that rarity—a high school sewing teacher. While they may be rare in the USA, in my neck of the woods in Canada, we’re here, and we’re trying to get stronger!

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.53 PMby scgeraci

    Sewing is like cooking. Everyone thinks it’s harder than it is. It isn’t. It just requires time. If a recipe takes longer than 30 minutes people won’t attempt it. Because they’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, their starving and have no more patience. Likewise, if a project has more than one page of directions people get turned off. When they were bored last winter they didn’t think how nice it would be to sew a few new skirts for spring. Instead spring is here. They’re invited to a picnic tomorrow and don’t have an hour to sew a new skirt.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 09.34 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think the cooking/sewing comparison is a good one.

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    Apr 12, 2011, 07.50 PMby LindsayTNYC

    Hi Peter, great article! I was just thinking about this topic myself as I was shopping at H&M and Zara today, thinking, hmm, a lot of this stuff isn’t bad for the price, maybe I should sew less and buy more. I know, horrors! At any rate, I don’t have an easy answer to this question, but I do think about it. I’ll check back later and see what everyone else is suggesting. —Meg

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 08.19 PMby Peter Lappin

      Meg, I’m shocked! ;)

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    Apr 12, 2011, 04.00 PMby weare4

    mmm. … You pose a question that I have asked myself quite a bit. My friends think its funny when I geek out about sewing, but they tend to be happy for me. They also ask me to make them things and I tell them no but offer a lesson instead. I think more people need to learn how to sew. Outside of the fact that its fun and for me such a spiritually uplifting and creative endeavor its a craft that’s important to American culture. So I am glad that its something I’ve been gifted with. I believe benign evangelism is exactly what we need to spread the spirit of sewing. This past week I spent sometime teaching a young woman from my church to sew some fabric belts for our praise dance ministry’s garments. She went from saying that she was impatient to saying things like “This is a lot of trial and error isn’t it?” I let her see some of my projects and let her in on some of the secrets of sewing. Like never pay full price for mass produced patterns (JOann always has them on the cheap), check out burdastyle, always be on the look for quality fabric at a bargain even if you don’t have a project in mind. She was encouraged and asked me if I would help her with future projects. I have also had other young beautiful and fashionably hip women express their desire to sew but not sure where to start. So I have been thinking a lot lately about creating a curriculum and forming a class. I think the key is to make the class hip and current. WHen I learned 6 years ago it was from an indy designer who also taught classes out of her shop. I paid a little over $100 for the class but I liked it because she was an awesome teacher and she showed us projects that were hip, fresh and on trend. Other classes I have taken before bored me to death and I didn’t follow through with them because it felt too much like my granny’s sewing class (no disrespect to the elders, they have much wisdom and knowledge)it just wasn’t for me.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 12, 2011, 04.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks for the great comment. It sounds like you have found some of the keys to success!

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