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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?


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?


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!


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!


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!”


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    Apr 10, 2011, 09.14 PMby Rhonda Griffin

    Hi Peter, my story is similar to yours. My mother purchased an old 40’s Morse machine from a local pawn shop for 5.00 us dollars. I turned it into a toy, and by 7 years old , I could make Barbie doll dresses from my paper dolls as inspiration. During my junior high years, my Home Economics teacher expected perfection from me as she saw my potentials. during my college years I used sewing projects to help fund my education along with waitressing at Shoneys. After college graduation came marriage, and later, daughters and sons that needed school play costumes, recital dresses, pageant dresses, and much more. Two of my four daughters bought sewing machines immediately after their college graduations, and are now sewing. They were very impressed at the work they have seen me do, and were fascinated by the completed projects. All of the garments that I made for them were show stoppers, and they would always gobble up all attention. During their brother’s wedding, 2 of the girls wore imported dresses from a fine dept store. The other 2 girls wore dresses that were customs, and they looked like movie stars.

    Do you get the picture now? What has evolved over the years is that CHILDREN are no longer fascinated by watching Mom or Grandmom CREATING their favorite childhood fantasies. My daughters were in awe to see their pageant dresses get the final fittings.

    The next issue, is that most people do not know how to shorten the steps. I worked for a swimwear manufacturer that marketed thru the Miami Apparel Mart and the Jacob Javits Convention Center NY. From this operation, I learned how to look at a garment, and reduce the steps for most basic articles of clothing. On the historical garments, it is almost impossible to reduce the steps, and remain true to historical correctness and historical accuracy. So, with the exception of the historical clothing, most everything else can be reduced in the steps. I think if potential sewing students knew the “art of step reduction” I believe that most would commit to learn.

    I went from primary easy patterns to intermediate patterns. I moved to advanced and difficult at age 17. By the age of 21 came my own pattern drafting. Overall, I never would have reached this point had I not been able to tinker and play with mothers’s old Morse machine. So the answer with the future, and the future is with our children, as in all things. Children can revitalize the home sewing industry.

    How to do it? Most children love the custom made costumes for fall festivals. Children need to see these show peices being made. They need to be allowed to assist in the construction. Just like the county fairs move from place to place, why can’t childrens’ sewing booths be set up at carnivals and fairs, and the likes. Parents will easily travel to Disney World. Why can’t a childrens sewing center be set up there to engage the children in sewing? Why can’t the children just watch the ruffling made to put on Beauty and the Beast Bell’s yellow dress, instead of just purchasing the dress from the Disney Store? that is why the industry has gone flat and lost its sparkles. We can bring fireworks back into the industry if we approach it from the children of the future. I can see it now, the good fairy from the Wizard of Oz with her wand watching over the children as they watch their costumes being made. All of the Disney Movies should have some sort of set up where children can watch their costumes being custom made. The cutters should be wearing clown uniforms. And of course there are safety issues to be considered. So why can’t some sort of plexi glass shield separate the sewing machines from the child, but leave an opening so that the child can actually touch some of the fabric and pattern peices as it moves thru the machines. I allowed my daughters to sew on my machines after I knew they understood the safety measures. I would also lightly supervise them until they were about 14y/o. The future is in the children, and even they are weary of the imported looks.They wish to have that oh so special appeal in their clothing again.

    Glad to see that you were not afraid to tackle your jeans.That is the issue with most adults. Fear has set into their brains. The number one reason that they blame it on is time. Time can be set aside, but they must first have enough excitement to override their fears. I believe that their children can somehow excite them, and cause them to become more engaged in the process. This can lead further. Remember Peter, when you purchased the machine and had a firm resolve to alter your jeans? Excitement had set in. I too was excited about producing dresses for my barbie dolls from my paperdolls.EXCITEMENT is the key to unlock this door. GOOD DAY,Rhonda

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 09.54 PMby Peter Lappin

      Fabulous comment, Rhonda. You’re right about fear, though: I think as adults we’re less able to accept not knowing to do something. But you have to begin from the beginning and that can mean a lot of wadders along the way. Children seem less judgmental and more open to experimenting.

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    Apr 10, 2011, 08.29 PMby aceshey18

    I have been having a go at converting someone who has a love of unusual clothes and so would be able to create her own. As a joint Christmas gift with my Mum and sister, we bought her a Singer sewing machine, she has had a few ‘lessons’ on mine to get her started. I suspect however that it will be slow going for the moment as she has a six month old baby to occupy her time, I will continue to nurture her creativity…..

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 09.47 PMby Peter Lappin

      She’s lucky to have you!

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    Apr 10, 2011, 06.45 PMby sewinl0ve

    I love the ad with the sewing machine on ice! That’s something I’ve never tried… lol

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 08.05 PMby Peter Lappin

      Make sure the ice is thick! LOL

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    Apr 10, 2011, 03.53 PMby aleah

    No, I’m not a sewingvampire… I have never “turned” someone, haha. I’m 18, my friends think it’s strange. Sometimes I think it’s quite strange as well. I still love it, haven’t sewn a lot lately.. school, a lack of money, a lack of fabric….

    The inspiration is here. The money isn’t.

    My brother asked me what the heck I was doing… I could just run to a store and get a new dress, or some new tops.

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 08.06 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s allowed — from time to time, that is. ;)

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    Apr 10, 2011, 05.42 AMby Nermina Croata

    I could never find clothes in the store that would fit my body shape (triangle). I keep searching for clothes that accentuates the waist and did not find many choices. That is why I decided to finally learn how to make my own clothes in the 50’s style that fits my figure perfectly. I am 31 now but I guess it is never late to learn new skill. Sewing is incredibly relaxing, feels like some sort of therapy from everyday life and work. When I talk about it people look at me weird. They don’t understand why I am doing it. Most of them admire what I am doing but wonder why if there are so many stores out there. They just don’t get it.

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 12.44 PMby Peter Lappin

      Nermina, I guess there will always be more people who “just don’t get it” than people who do. The important thing is that you are enjoying it — and it sounds like it’s a perfect fit (ha ha)!

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    Apr 10, 2011, 02.32 AMby SewnLovely

    I guess I am a baby to the sewing world but I’ll try to explain my interest if it helps…first of all I really loved watching shows like project runway, America’s next top model which I guess sparked my interest and I am a bargin-hunter and love findng beautiful clothes for a steal. Maybe it was a combination of both, but mostly I think it was becoming a wife and wanting to bring something more to the table also wanting to become more self-reliant. I am not going completely off the grid, but if I can provide stylish, unique clothes for myself and my husband why not?

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 12.42 PMby Peter Lappin

      Exactly! It’s great to have a skill that’s both practical and fun.

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    Apr 9, 2011, 11.35 PMby ppitp

    I’ve been sewing for a few years, but only really started sewing clothing for myself seriously in the last year or two. I’ve actually found the response to my sewing quite positive, and most people react with a “cool, wish I could do that!” to which I respond with an offer to teach them & the use of my sewing machine at any time they want. While not everyone I tell that to takes me up on the offer, I like to think it starts the ball rolling. I also think that the culture of mass-production really does not appeal to many people, and that leads them towards thrifting, altering, and eventually making their own clothing. I’m a student at a liberal arts university, so perhaps the people I interact with are in some ways predisposed to be interested in the opportunities sewing can offer; refashioning thrift store finds is a cheap way to be creative and get new clothes in the bargain! Sewing can be simple- I rarely use bought patterns and instead ‘follow my instincts’, and I encourage the people I help with sewing to do the same- that way they move at their own speed and at the same time make pieces they really feel proud of.

    EDIT: What I left out here was what I thought my answer to the question about the role of the internet: the greatest resource I use are tutorials on techniques (videos are awesome for this) and simple how-tos. I also think one of the coolest aspects of the internet is the ability to see what other people create, and the variety of things that can be sewn- there’s something out there to inspire every potential sewist!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 10, 2011, 12.41 PMby Peter Lappin

      I agree with everything you’ve said. Great comment!

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    Apr 9, 2011, 02.36 PMby ttnora

    Great post! I agree with you.

    On the other hand, my sister took up this activity as a hobby because of me. I made clothes for her long ago but later I didn’t have too much time so she made a complaint. I asked her: “Why don’t you do it yourself?” She was surprised but soon she called me that she applied for a Burda sewing course. It was a perfect beginning and after we practised a lot. At present she can make anything alone. I’m very proud of my sister.

    Later, it happened again with my friend. She got some lesson from me and nowadays she uses this skill to alter her family’s clothes.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 9, 2011, 09.20 AMby amandala

    A lot of the people I know don’t do anything creative at all. I’m nineteen, and most of them are all out clubbing, drinking, or doing something bad. Very few of the ones I know are actually somewhat like me. Not drinking, smoking or clubbing. That’s not my game at all.

    I think many of this generations people have had way to much fed to them, there so use to the easy life. They buy clothes that they think make them unique when they are actually a walking advertisement with the companies name plastered on their t-shirts.

    I find so much joy out of actually making my clothing. It’s a great feeling.

    ..I had a very rough childhood, I was never really privileged. I couldn’t but THAT dress that was ‘A Must Have!’… and I was okay with it. I was taught that you have to earn the things you want, and even if I got the dress for free, I would feel guilty. I know there are a million things people could buy, but nothing looks or sounds better than saying you made it yourself.

    When I was little, I use to cut up my mom’s work shirts and glue together clothes for my barbies. I didn’t have any money for fabric- none. She use to get soooo mad. I use to cut up all my jeans and make little bags too. YEAH, those bags everyone had in the early 2000’s.

    Things got really bad, and sadly, we ended up at a homeless shelter. I knew my mom was going through a really rough time, and sometimes I wish I could’ve understood that young. I would feel guilty just asking for $5.

    There was a volunteer that came and taught a sewing class, it was me and five other girls. We learned a lot and made our first tunic’s. The teacher gave me a sewing machine for Christmas… (can you say WOW?!), and I was stunned. No one has ever given me something like that. I was so grateful.

    Three years later, I am no longer living there, and I come back to volunteer. That’s how I got started sewing.

    1 Reply
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      Apr 9, 2011, 01.03 PMby Peter Lappin

      Amanda, it’s painful to hear how hard your life has been and inspiring that you are already giving back to others. Keep sewing!

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    Apr 9, 2011, 05.01 AMby kddcreations

    I find it hard to talk to others about sewing. It seem that they would reather spend all day at the mall buying clothing that have not personality. I love design and texture. I would love to make a living doing old school couture all by hand.

    1 Reply
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    Apr 9, 2011, 12.14 AMby alicerain

    Well, I started sewing for a variety of reasons. One, my mom would sew a lot of my clothes until I was ten or so, and naturally I was interested just by watching her. Two, I’m obsessed, and always have been, with fashion. Unfortunately, I couldn’t buy the $1200 Gucci sweater featured in Elle. So of course I had to make it myself (which turned out terribly, by the way).

    I think it’s hard to “convert” people to sewing since it has to be something you really want to do. It’s like drawing or playing music – you either like it or not.

    Anyways, the only time any of my friends have been remotely interested in sewing was when I wore a pair of my fingerless gloves to school. Maybe that’s just because gloves are a lot less intimidating than dresses or pants. I mean, if you’re trying to convince someone to take up sewing, you want them to know that there are simple projects they can do, right? (If someone tried to convince me to take up the violin by playing Bach, I’d be terrified).

    I do think that you need to show people how un-scary sewing is for them to try it.

    PS: I love your blog!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 9, 2011, 12.55 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Alicerain! You make a great point: ultimately, people have to WANT to sew. But just like music, if you’re introduced to it by someone who truly loves it, that could help to create the desire.

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    Apr 8, 2011, 10.47 PMby Cynthia Bohli

    I’ve been sewing since I was about 9. Learned from watching my Mom make clothes for me and my sister. None of my friends are sewers, and only a few even think of themselves as creative. I’d be more than happy to help someone get started, and have said as much to anyone who was curious about my projects. No takers, though! My New Year’s resolution was to make 100 projects in 1 year, because my sewing and crafts stash has grown out of control!! :) I recently hooked back up w/ a HS friend, who is very creative in her own right. My own projects (sewing and others) have really taken off as I feel super inspired to create now! It helps a lot to have a friend who gives you that kind of inspiration!!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 8, 2011, 11.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Definitely! Good luck with the 100 projects in 1 year. Wow!

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    Apr 8, 2011, 10.27 PMby deeps

    5 things helped me:

    1. free patterns online (burdastyle was really helfpul in this regard) 2. cool fabric stores with reasonably priced apparel fabric (I am blessed to live in the bay area. If I only had joannes, I may never have gone beyond refashions.) 3. classes, especially “sewing labs” where you can turn up with questions, which are not too expensive. 4. getting a machine for free. (my mom gave me hers. now, if for some reason I couldnt use it any more, I’d by a new one immediately, but its hard to make the initial investment. 5. blogs- showing a variety of skill levels, and people making the same pattern you want to try!

    at this point- I’d pay more morney for any of those things, but at the beginning, I was a bit gun shy more from a financial than a time perspective.

    I have had some success converting three people to sewing… all of them were already interested, but I got them to the point where they actually started on something, and want to do more. in one case it involved buying her a machine (as you may remember!) In another, it was arranging meetups. In a third, I actually gave a lesson. We’ll see how this goes in the months to come, but I am a committed sewing evangelist!

    1 Reply
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      Apr 8, 2011, 10.32 PMby Peter Lappin

      Wow — it sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job, Deeps. Great comment.

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    Apr 8, 2011, 09.01 PMby NouveauStitch

    I like to think my sewing blog, nouveaustitch.wordpress.com, is helping to spread the word some! I blog about home dec sewing which I certainly feel is growing in popularity due to the recent fascination with all things slip-covery. I don’t have any friends that sew and I haven’t had the opportunity to teach, but I sure would love to. So I try to give encouragement via the interwebs….I must say though, when I hear, “I can’t sew” it’s like nails on chalkboard. I’ll keep banging my drum if you will!


    1 Reply
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      Apr 8, 2011, 09.12 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great, Ellen! (And thanks for the info about slipcovers — I had no idea!)

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