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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!”


  • Mekidsmountain_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 06.29 PMby Lucha Suarez

    I am proud to say that I have spawned a few sewers in my day! I think that showing people that it is not rocket science, and can be a relatively easy way to express creativity even when you can’t draw or paint to save your life, is a great way to peak intrest in sewing.

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Apr 8, 2011, 05.05 PMby sewhandy

    I collect sewing machines. Some for my personal use, some to service & then sell. Profit allows me to buy more. Brilliant, eh? I offer a one hour sewing lesson at time of purchase. Buyers appreciate the lesson & leave confident, enthusiastic, & ready to sew. I always include a copy of the instruction manual too, so that they continue learning at home. I was surprised the first time I sold a machine to a man, but now, several years into this post-retirement hobby, I’ve sold machines to many men. It’s my experience that my customers want to do their own mending & alterations. They’re not into fashion design. They are tired of paying for alterations &/or doing their own mending with a hand sewing needle.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.14 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s precisely why I bought MY first sewing machine — to hem pants.

      What a brilliant idea, to offer a one-hour sewing lesson!

  • 20596winter_20fairy_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 03.40 PMby sewingfan1

    I talked about setting up a craft group with a group of friends.

    We got as far as deciding to do it once per month and to rotate houses but then it stalled for some reason.

    It’s still in my mind as a great idea that if I could get started would possibly snowball and grow.

    My reasoning was that it can be a big expense taking up a new hobby and you may find it doesn’t suit you, but you could share resources in a group so….when the group came to my house we could do clothes making and they could use my equipment /threads etc and I could help them re pattern layouts etc, then maybe we’d do a painting project at someone else’s house and I could use their materials, gardening at someone else’s etc

    Maybe it’ll take off one day.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.14 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think that’s a great idea.

  • 1_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 02.58 PMby cupcakedreammachine

    I feel like the best inspiration for my friends to try sewing is when they see something I’ve finished. I just recently feel like I’ve learned enough to complete real wearable clothes (just drafted my first pattern from scratch!) and my friends are super impressed when they realize sewing good looking clothes is possible. A few have come over and used my machine to make little projects and I think I could encourage them to do more. I feel like I am the one who has dropped the ball because I spend so much time thinking about my own projects instead of helping them realize their ideas. This article has inspired me to be more inspirational!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 03.36 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great! I do think it takes person-to-person contact these days. I remember before I learned to sew I couldn’t imagine that you could make a men’s shirt yourself and have it look professional. How could I have known?

  • Missing

    Apr 8, 2011, 02.25 PMby Kimmoy Kimmoy

    I have to say that I don’t think money is a hindrance for getting people to learn to sew, otherwise there would be tons of people out there making their own snowboards, golf clubs, etc. While sewing was once meant to be a cheaper alternative, that is not the case today w/ mass products clothing as mentioned. It’s just a matter of marketing it the right way.

    I just started sewing 2 months ago because I saw there was a beginner’s class in my County and I haven’t stopped since :) Maybe if folks would invite their friends to take a sewing class with them or form a local meetup group in their area it would attract more people. I say target a lot of the folks who do nothing but sit on the couch and watch TV when they get home from work; they clearly have time on their hands to learn something new ;-)

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 03.34 PMby Peter Lappin

      These are great ideas! I do think, though, that a lot of people use the TV to unwind. Sewing might not be a substitute for that sort of “decompression.” That said, many people can find time for things if they’re willing to manage their time better. Not that I should talk…. ;)

  • 014_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 01.55 PMby bhghatesyou

    great post! i think the upswing in home sewing and more “crafty” projects are positive signs. at least in america. we a a country that is run by consumerism. this makes for bland, commercial items that could be bought in any store. this leads to a lack of creativity and personality. i have just recently gotten really serious about sewing. just for myself but the main reason i made that choice is that i am a larger woman. i wouldnt say i am huge but i am tall and that brings more girth in certian places. when i go into a store and try on pants either they are to short or they are super tight on the legs and loose on the waist. thats why i bought an old used brother sewing machine and started slow making skirts and tunics. now i have graduated to making my own pants and i am going to be trying some more complex shirts this weekend. i have already made a bit of an impression on some of the women i work with. they are always complaining about the price of clothing and then i inform them of the cost of my outfit and they cant believe it. I know some of them have already broken out their old machines. This whole Home Made movement has me very excited and i am already looking for new hobbies. my husband actually suggested we BOTH take a soap making class. go figure huh?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 02.08 PMby Peter Lappin

      Fantastic — and very inspiring!

  • Missing

    Apr 8, 2011, 01.32 PMby fuzzyg

    I think the time argument for not sewing is bunk. I think I spend a lot less time on sewing than most people, who tell me they can’t sew because of time, spend on.. shopping. The main difference is that I end up with stuff that fits and suits me and that I wear with pleasure.

    That said, I think using your customer base to brainstorm about how to to increase your business is a bit disingeneous. Of course they picked well, a relatively new convert is more likely to sincerely want to spread the word :-). But on the other hand did Burda listen when we howled about how much we used and wanted the magazine archives that they axed recently?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 01.46 PMby Peter Lappin

      I guess it depends on the person, fuzzyg. It may not take a lot of time to sew, but to learn HOW to sew and do it well requires a large investment of time. I’ve yet to hear otherwise.

  • Monjio-1_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 11.39 AMby Monjio

    Wonderful post Peter, I enjoyed reading it!

    I have been sewing since a very young age, my mother began sewing for others at the age of fourteen. I know whatever I was going to do, or be in my life had to do with sewing!

    So when I was working in an Opera house in California- of all things sewing- meeting and working with Julie Taymor, and Bob Mackie! I was in heaven! A love for sewing can actually be a profession!

    Now for the last four years I have been living in the country-side of Italy as a stay-at-home mom! But I teach sewing classes to locals! I recently converted an architect student to begin fashion and tailoring courses!

    I also do projects for clients around the world, unfortunately with most of my local projects I have dealt with people not wanting to pay for the labor and experience I charge, they would rather buy mass produced, cheap goods.

    I have to continue creating! I have an etsy shop and I write a sewing/fashion blog! And I am always so excited to get a new student!!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 01.33 PMby Peter Lappin

      What good fortune you’ve had, Monjio! It’s great to hear you’re passing along your expertise to others. It doesn’t surprise me that people are reluctant to pay for labor — I think many of us (in the West at least) don’t realize how much things would cost if we had to pay people a living wage.

  • Img_4043_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 10.36 AMby psychorat

    This is also a topic I have been thinking about a lot. I rather think that this H&M mass product culture actually brings back sewing and hand made products. In my case it was like that. It is very difficult right now to find clothes that really fit although my figure is standard. I know a lot of people who are really fed up with the uniform mass of clothing and are a lot into sewing. Some of those I even converted myself ;-).

    For me converting people works best by teaching them to sew. I always get questions like “Oh, that looks pretty, can you make one for me, too?”, but I ended up doing a lot of stuff for other people (free, because they are friends) and didn´t have time to make something for myself. Now my answer is always “No, but we can do it together”, which works quite well. It reduced the questions dramatically ;-), but some people get interested and agreed. As for blogs, I can´t say to much, because I just started one and it is still a secret to all my friends. I didn´t want give them the impression that I boast too much, as I always talk about sewing anyway.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 01.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      I’m struck by the “boasting” thing because I’ve heard it a few times now. I never think of talking about what I’ve sewn as boasting, even when I’m especially proud of something I’ve made. We SHOULD be proud of what we’ve made and feel the right to talk about it with others, no?

  • Dscf6507_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 08.07 AMby urbandon

    Peter, I think there is a movement going on. It’s slow but there IS a shift to hand-made. But as to pushing that along- I think we are all doing our bit if we talk up our clothes that we make. Show them off online, too our friends and anyone we meet. Maybe it will filter out more.

    I think the ‘green movement’ is helping, when people realize their clothes are being made in overseas sweatshops where people and the environment are being exploited for a crappy top that lasts a season then making sounds so much better.

    International Mens Sewing Alliance? Where do I sign up?!
    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.57 AMby Peter Lappin


      I think a lot of the reason people don’t sew for themselves is TIME. It seems like many people I know have very little free time to themselves, and spend a lot of the free time they do have just recovering or catching up. Sewing really does require a lot of time to learn…

  • 958f82a55d1f911aea11daf7f2e4e6295bbe805d_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 07.39 AMby bohemiannow

    Wow, that’s what I’ve been thinking about these days. Sewing is a lonely hobby, at least for me. I learned to sew on my own, my mother used to emboider and even thought she has briliant ideas from time to time she cant’, and I think she won’t sew. My friends can barely sew a button that fell off. When I talk about sewing, they seem to admire my work, because they know absolutely nothing about how it’s done and seems so difficult to them. But that’s how far the conversation can go. I can’t talk about patterns, styles, fabrics, notions, anything… thank God for sewing blogs and Burdastyle, or I would feel such an alien! Even if I give them a link of a sewing blog, usually showing a dress or pretty picture, they won’t bother taking a look at the rest of the blog. I’m afraid there is no way of showing them the joy of sewing – creation. Even if I let them use my machine, they wouldnt end up getting one for them selves. They prefer shopping and spending their free time relaxing and going out… I do feel like an alien now… Unfortunately the result is that since I prefer spending my limited free time sewing, I limit even more the time I spend with friends…

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.55 AMby Peter Lappin

      I guess you just have to make some sewing friends now! ;)

      It’s weird: some people can convert friends successfully and some (like me) can’t. I wonder if it’s a question of our approach or if it’s the people themselves?

  • J_avatar_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 07.19 AMby jenyjenny

    I’ve started a sewing blog in the past year, and I’d hoped that I didn’t seem like I was boasting, but I was telling people about projects that anyone can make, if I can do it. But I may end up coming across as a smart aleck to the non-sewers. I definitely have a lot to learn about presenting projects to my facebook friends who are not sewers. Our Real, not Virtual knitting group came to life, and though we don’t seem to attract many converts, the ones who come are very dedicated. Serving food adds to the fun, but in many of our meetings we didn’t have refreshments and it didn’t matter. One friend who is a sewer formed a non profit group to get together and make elephants out of cotton scraps or old clothes, for kids in war zones or disaster areas. While I like to connect with people online, the face to face contact is a lot more fun, and gives me something to write about too.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.53 AMby Peter Lappin

      Great point. Sewing in groups also allows us to form real-life communities — I think we’ve lost a lot of that in the last few generations (esp. since television kept us cooped up in our apartments/houses).

  • Missing

    Apr 8, 2011, 03.36 AMby taitai60

    I’ve sewed most of my life as I learnt from my mother. I am Dutch and live in the Philippines and the major restriction to sewing here is that you can’t buy ready made patterns. I’ve drafted my own patterns over the years and I’ve always brought Knip and Burda magazines back with me from Europe. Slowly more and more patterns are available for downloads which already a big improvement. I’ve taught quite a few people to sew, but I find it very helpful to use patterns with clear pictures and directions so that students can also work at home between classes. Knip and Burda magazines don’t have this (no pictures and often not clear!) and whilst you can order patterns from Vogue etc. over the internet, shipping to Manila is expensive on top of which they are all drafted for US and European sizes and not for petite Asians. So sewing gets quite expensive. It’s also very cheap to have clothes made, so even though there are quite a few fabric stores, no one sews for themselves but has the local seamstress do it. I would love to pass on my love for sewing to more people in Manila, but until patterns are easily and cheaply available in Asian, there will never be a big market of hobby sewers. I haven’t given up though and have started a blog in teh hope of attracting more people to the fun of sewing!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.51 AMby Peter Lappin

      Great to hear your perspective! It’s very different from country to country, obviously. I never thought about how it might be in places where commercial patterns are scarce (and local labor is relatively cheap).

  • 5_large

    Apr 8, 2011, 02.16 AMby susanne2011

    Actually, I feel like sewing is undergoing some sort of revival. Home sewing seemed to got a bit out of fashion after my mom’s generation (my mom still did loads of sewing). And I could imagine that had something to do with the introduction of cheaper stores like H&M etc. I think my mom sewed a lot of clothes for us simply because it was ways cheaper back then and with the introduction of these type of shops, that was not really necessary any longer. But among my group of friends ‘being creative’ is really getting more and more popular. Especially in the ‘indie-music scene’. Ten years ago, my friends and I were visiting gigs every weekend and everyone was making music. Now, My guy friends are still all in bands and making music, but my girl friends are creative in other ways. A few of us started sewing (including me). I started knitting too. Two of my friends started there own businesses in illustration/design, some of them started drawing/painting and selling things via etsy. I just took screen printing courses and will buy my own screen printing gear. Other friends are growing their own vegetables and taking cooking classes. I think what unites this all is the feeling of wanted to make your own things instead of buying everyone ready made. It is so easy now to just buy everything in the store, but it is way more special to make it yourself. I really feel the urge to learn the skills that our grandmothers had and that got lost in the generations in between. And my friends all feel the same. I really feel sewing is ‘hip’ again and I have had little trouble convincing other people to start sewing.

    2 Replies
    • Cara_kiss_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 04.18 AMby caramia-made

      I completely agree – it is SO nice to have something home-made rather than just mass-produced. Whether it’s clothing, or furniture, or food! I also think it’s important to learn as much from our grandparents as we can about being self-sufficient (hey, they lived through the Depression!) b/c so much information DID get lost in the generations that followed :(

    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Apr 8, 2011, 09.49 AMby Peter Lappin

      It seems to be a basic human need to work with our hands and create. Also to feel in some way self-sufficient (this is truer of growing one’s own food of course) is very satisfying. Great to hear your perspective!

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