The Sewing Revolution

Sewing RevolutionSewing back then

1When ready-to-wear clothes were not yet popularly available, generations of women learned how to sew for home and hearth.  And they usually started stitching when they were still at their mother's knees.  Others learned sewing from their home-economics and 4-H club teachers, but unfortunately, this practice has been done away with some years ago.  And during the height of the feminist movement in the 70’s, many women stayed away from the sewing machine as an act of protest.  While we certainly don't support any of the negative stereotypes, you have to ask how a skill that makes you more independent and self-sufficient should be seen as a negative..

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photo credit: 1957 Simplicity Fashion Layout, with Singer & TV Star Gisèle MacKenzie, Sew for Spring in Rainbow Colors (2 pages, full color) via photopin (license)

Sewing in the 1990's

2It was only in the 1990’s when sewing at home became popular again, landing seventh in the Fortune Magazine 1991 Investor's Guide’s list of most promising industries.

Back then, most women who sewed at home were between 25 to 45 years old, college-educated, and mostly had a household income of $35,000 to $40,000 –which was quite a lot back then.  Studies showed that there was a directly proportional relationship between advanced education and women who sew.  In the US alone, there were more than 21 million people who sewed –mostly women.  While most of the data we have is for the US, it wouldn't be surprising if the same holds true in countries like Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Sewing today

3Today, the sewing revolution rages on and here’s a look at the women who have joined the movement.

The reason behind the increase of home sewers is not always economic. Women who sew at home are also discovering its therapeutic effect. For them, stitching clothes stimulates their creativity and provide balance in their lives so that having a stylish and unique wardrobe is just an added and welcome perk.  Still, for others, sewing is an extra source of income. In fact, many women have gone into sewing full time and are in the enviable situation of enjoying what they are doing and making a tidy sum too!

Some famous women who sew at home include television actress Daphne Maxwell Reid, Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner, Today’s show anchor Deborah Norville and Houston criminal court Judge Carol Higley-Lane.  Also, not many people know that actor Tim Reid’s wife sews her own suits, coats and gowns, about 30 items a year, and she saves a lot of money by doing so.  And I believe that with the advance in sewing machine technology, making her own clothes is sometimes less time-consuming for her than combing the racks for the right outfit.

Katherine Heigl is another celebrity who has recently dusted off her sewing machine.  She has talked to several magazines and newspapers about her love of sewing.  Shortly before their separation, Tom Cruise bought Katie Holmes a sewing machine for her birthday.  Julia Roberts has also talked about taking sewing lessons and is proud to say that she is making cushions for her twins and trousers for her husband.  And who would have thought that George Clooney, who once came to his date's aid when her zip broke on her dress, has a tailoring experience?  According to the tabloids, he ended up stitching the back of her date’s dress!

sewing revolution

The So Sew Easy Audience Demographics

The graphic above is a snapshot of the So Sew Easy community.  You'll notice that it's mostly female, but we're doing our best to encourage and support the men who love to sew in the community.  Our age demographics are pretty well distributed with the largest segment being 25-34 years olds.  About half our community have children and half do not.

For Men Who Love to Sew

I dare say that there is no doubt that a sewing revolution is still underway and aren’t you glad that you are part of it?  Please let us have your thoughts and share your experiences below with the changing perception of sewing over the years.

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42 Responses to The Sewing Revolution

  1. PattyP says:

    I am a 64 yr. old plus size woman with a 2″ longer torso and arms than most people have. Pretty fabrics in plus sized ready-to-wear have not been available until the last few decades, almost as if those who made the clothes did not think a plus woman could be considered beautiful and therefore should not be “allowed” to wear the same fabrics as those who are thin. I am so glad attitudes changed, but i still prefer much of the time to make custom fitted garments for myself from the actual fabric I prefer.

    Cotton has been in even greater demand over the last decade or so and all-cotton garments with any style to them are becoming harder to find. I live in a warm climate and wear cotton graments almost exclusively for the cool breathability.

    My mother was a competant sewist, having learned from her mother’s old Singer treadle machile. can you imagine have to pump your feet while guiding fabric? I am “sew” glad she taught my sister and I to use an electric machine proficiently. She started me hand sewing at age 5 with a fat plastic needle (like comes in crochet or knitting notion kits) and cardboard sewing cards. Once I was proficient with those, we move on to bigger things.

    I received an electric child’s sewing machine soon after, but it was taken away the second time I told her it was “biting me”. She finally took a closer look and realized the thing was shocking me. I was sitting in a metal folding chair to use it. Good thing I wasn’t electrocuted! I did beg to havre it back anyway.

    When I was 12, she bought a new Singer Slantomatic, a heavy metal-geared machine that could stand up to heavy use. I learned to use the new machine that year, and attended an all-adult class every Saturday during the summer for 6 weeks, having my first experience sewing from a pattern. I started making most my own clothes and accessories. I played with Barbies until I was 16, simply because I had great fun designing and sewing fancy new fashions for them, stuff I could never wear at that young age.

    As I soon discovered, fabric stores were wonderful. I loved the $.88 per yard table at Hancock’s! I made several outfits I was asked about in high school, by girls wanting clothes in the same or similar fabrics.

    I was quite dismayed by the lack of interest in learning sewing by many young females as I grew older, the same sort of shock I experienced when I discocvered children were not taught cursive wrting anymore, and cannot even read it. I was worried sewing would become a lost art. What I was most worried about was that sewing would become so unpopular that my favorite fabric stores would close due to low sales volume.

    The internet, especilaly the DIY movement for people to be more personally involved in the creation/alteration/recycling/repurposing of existing items has helped fuel the new interest in sewing. Pinterest has set it on fire, as far as I can tell. It is a treasure chest of everything sewing, not only what many of us already know, but a trove of new smarter ways to do tasks we may never have thought of.

    The one that blew my mind was how to put an all-in-one facing in the bodice of a dress or top instead of individual facings at neck and armholes. Proof that you can always teach an old person new tricks!

  2. Demetria says:

    I learned out of necessity, lol. Being 4′ 11, long waisted with short legs & curvy rear by 13 yrs old meant it was hard to find pants that fit! Luckily my older sister sewed but once I got married & moved away I had to learn! My husband bought me a second hand sewing machine & once he learned how to use it. He taught me! Thank goodness too since my 2 boys had the same issues that I did! I love sewing. It has brought out creativity in me that I never knew existed! I do so much more than just hemming clothes. I make home decor, purses and more! I am on my 3rd machine. A Hursqvarna Viking that I am in love with! My 2 sons are now grown up & accomplished artists. They say they owe it to me because they see me being creative in sewing, scrapbooking & other pursuits.

  3. Alexa says:

    Soy de Colombia y amo coser, mi sueño es dejar de trabajar en una empresa y dedicarme a mi maquina, soy diseñadora de modas y me especializo en denim, pero amaria dedicarme a coser, gracias es un buen articulo y me da mas animo para hacerlo por mi cuenta!!!!

  4. Bernadette Hodges says:

    I started hand sewing as a small child making doll clothes. In the 60’s I took homemaking in Jr. High. I took sewing in high school too. Competed in contests and won ribbons for my work. I still enjoy sewing. Now in my 60’s I still enjoy learning new things and continue to sew and taking difference classes.

  5. Marlene Person says:

    I was born in 1939 and have sewn since I was little. My mum sewed and taught me. When I went to school we had to do sewing and cooking classes and the first thing we were taught to do was hand sew an apron. Through the years I have always made my own clothes and still do. When I went to work at 16years it was in a clothing factory. I became a sample machinist and have work at sewing continually even when my children were born doing outwork while they were little and then going back into the work force when they went to school.It is something I love doing and would not be without my industrial sewing machine. I still sew for my family and the latest project is slip covers for the new lounge suite. I love your free patterns as being a pensioner I don’t have money to spend on bought patterns so thank you very much for them.

  6. Patty Low says:

    I am 56, so older than your demographics. I started sewing in the mid-70’s through home ec, which my mother did not want me to take! she wanted me to take a more scholarly elective. I sewed the majority of my clothes in HS and some in college. I love to sew but it is mostly quilts at this stage of my life. I work full time and don’t have the time for both quilts and clothes and the clothes I wear for work are t-shirts and jeans. I’m waiting for retirement when I can make all of those cute skirts for summer! Legs must be covered for work, so no skirts for work. I love to hear about all of the celebrities sewing. Love your blog.

  7. Linda says:

    Sewing and quilting are my happy place. I sewed when my kids were little and they and their dad learned that the house may be messy and meals won’t be fancy but momma will be happy. And now after the past years of health issues and my DH’s passing, I sew on.
    Teaching the skill to a new generation too!

  8. Cindy S. says:

    With cosplay being as popular as it is, there is a pretty large contingent of young males learning to sew. It is a market that is not yet well-served, and could certainly be a money-maker for someone to fill that void.

  9. inge jensen says:

    i love to sew. learned it from my mother, who ended up in the haute couture school in the Netherlands. I’m by far not as good as my mother was, because i am not precise and “picky” enough.
    but my mother sometimes saw it too as a curse, because it is hard to spend money on something simple like a skirt and say “oh, i can do that myself easy enough” but in the end don’t have the time to make the skirt.
    she passed away and when i cleaned out her closet she had more than 50 slacks hanging in there! not talking about the skirts and tops……
    i hope i can pass on some of the sewing tricks i learned from her to my daughter and granddaughters!

  10. J Bryan says:

    Only 7% of the SoSew Easy followers are over 65! I would have guessed more. As many people grow older, their body proportions no longer fit the typical measurements found in ready-wear. Sewing, along with a few pattern-altering skills, means we can still have clothes that fit well. It also means that sometimes we can even alter that ready-wear bargain to fit acceptably. Since retirement, I have had more time to sew. Sewing fits my less-energetic lifestyle: it takes place mostly sitting down and involves no great strength. With online communities like So-Sew-Easy and fabrics or notions readily available online, it could even work well for the shut-in. Let’s get the word out — you’re never too old to learn!

    • Liz says:

      I’m 72! Just take up sewing again as haven’t done any since my kids grew up. Now teaching granddaughter how to sew and learning lots myself too.

  11. Shirley Lister says:

    I love to sew and have been sewing since I was a little girl I’m now 67 and during those 60 years of sewing I have taken my City and Guilds dress making and design qualification. I have made my own clothes most of my life and since taking my qualification I can draft my own pattern designs its the thing that made me confident enough to make my daughters wedding dress when she got married (although I used a Vogue pattern and adapted it to her). Please keep writing your articles and patterns I enjoy reading them and as the saying goes your never too old to learn new tricks.

  12. Diane Sebbio says:

    a beautiful spring purse

  13. Teri says:

    Good story. I grew up watching the feminist movement (love it). All the women in my family worked outside the home so I didn’t get the one on one training and had to take home-ec in school. It was all about making clothes. You couldn’t try any other pattern and I wanted to do bags, quits,pillows ect. That almost took away my desire to sew, but I had kids and they needed things and my love of the craft came back.

  14. Debra says:

    If there is a resurgence in sewing I wish the brick and mortar fabric stores would offer nicer garment fabrics. I don’t know if my tastes have changed or what. Going from making most of my clothes in high school and college to taking a long break from it after burning out having a drapery business, I’m very disappointed by the slim offerings at stores these days.

  15. Margaret says:

    Very nice story. So happy that sewing is making a comeback!
    I was born in the 50’s and although my mother didn’t sew she sent me to the local 4-H Club for lessons. I remember making a skirt and jacket that I wore to school, a dress, an apron and I can’t remember what else. My sons always were interested the sewing machine when I broke it out to sew.
    One of my sons as an adult called one day and wanted instructions on how he could attach a larger fabric bill to his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes for hunting. He got his wife’s sewing machine out and followed directions over the phone since he lives in another state. He was so proud when finished and took it to work to show off. He showed it around to his fellow male coworkers and one fellow worker said duragatorily “You Sew?”, and he replied “You Don’t?”…… This was just a few years ago!

  16. A. Jenkins says:

    I recently got my son-in-law into quilting and he loves it! He’s an Iraqi vet with PTSD and finds the whole experience very therapeutic. His counselor agreed it was very beneficial and he now has quite a few tops pieced together and we are going to quilt them on my big frame when he’s all done with them. I’m thinking about offering lessons at the VA for other veterans.

  17. Becky says:

    I recently changed careers from teaching high school English to teaching middle school Family & Consumer Sciences. I’m currently teaching sewing to my eighth grades and the boys often love it. It gives them the rare chance (in school) to work with their hands and they’re so proud of their new skills. Though our class work is limited to one hand sewn project and one machine sewn gym bag, boys and girls alike often come before school to attempt repairs on their clothes or sew extra projects. It’s such fun to teach!

  18. Diana says:

    Enjoyed that perspective! You all at So Sew Easy are wonderful sewing ‘ambassadors’. Thanks for all you do to empower people to try sewing and gain confidence in their skill.

  19. Nice article. I learned to sew in home ec class in the mid 60’s. One of the first class projects was a gathered skirt with a waist band and buttons down the front. I made a terrible mess of it so my mom fixed the mistakes so it was wearable. Oh those memories.

  20. Mary Jane Kestner says:

    A piano tuner by the name of Jon Ross mentioned his daughter had a sewing blog – are you her?
    My daughter lives in LA also-
    Her name is Molly Kate Kestner Baker (husband Brock) and she is signed with Atlantic Records.

    I love to sew also – I started 50 yrs ago when I was 7 😊 with Mom’s help of course.
    After he finish on our piano he told all about his grandpa’s WW2 story.
    Well just wanted to say hi – hope this is the right person – his dad and grandpa were tailors?
    Sincerely, MJ Kestner

    • So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Mary Jane, thanks for your note. No relation to Jon but appreciate the story. Kind regards and keep on sewing! Mayra

  21. Barbara Dobree says:

    Who is actor Tim Reid’s wife? It seems appropriate that she is named since she’s the one doing the sewing!

  22. Dara says:

    Hi Mayra, thanks SEW MUCH for this informative post! Happy Sewing!!✌

  23. My world was filled with sewing my entire life. My grandmother made underpanties for my sister and me out of patterned feed sacks. (On the farm in Kansas.) My mother sewed every dress we ever wore as little girls. I learned to sew in 4-H, and also in school home-ec class. For my final project in 4-H I made a wool suit with bound buttonholes. I wore it in a style show.

    Later, when married and the kids came along, I was constantly sewing. My daughter, while in grade school, would describe what she wanted in a dress and I made it for her.

    The only thing that stopped me was that my love for writing finally took precedence. Now, 50 published books later, I still relish my memories of the creativity I enjoyed by sewing. And now my daughter loves to sew — for which I’m very thankful.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Norma Jean, thanks so much for sharing your story. I’ve been sewing all my life as well. Congrats on publishing 50 books!

  24. Eileen Fac says:

    I’ve been handling a needle since I was 18 months old (I am now 60). I used to sew buttons onto bits of cloth while my mother nursed my sister. I cannot remember a time that I didn’t sew and my enthusiasm has increased through my lifetime. My dolls were the best dressed dolls in the neighbourhood!! I remember in the 70’s, buying a yard of fabric for a skirt on a Saturday morning for next to nothing and wearing it to the disco later that evening! Oh happy days.
    I am still sewing and now work in a fabric shop which means I am in seventh heaven. We get many young sewers through the doors too so I know that the craft won’t be dying off in a hurry and is in safe hands.

  25. “Others learned sewing from their home-economics and 4-H club teachers, but unfortunately this practice has been done away with some years ago.”

    Sorry but this is just not true. 4-H is alive and well and still teaches sewing as well as many other skills.

    Home Ec was renamed Family & Consumer Sciences and is still in schools. Granted, not every FCS program teaches sewing, but many do.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Vanessa, that’s really good to hear that HomeEc and 4-H are still going in some places. Where are you?

  26. MJD says:

    Like Carol, when I attended High School, Home Economics was one of the choices and ways to learn sewing. at our high school we had a couple or rebels. Two boys took the Home Ec. classes (their reasoning was because it was the class with the most number of girls! :-)) At that time I was not interested in learning to sew. My mother who grew up in a generation where sewing was a necessity, admitted she was not very good at it. When I finally became interested in learning, she was unable to help me with my chosen projects. At that time the High School I attended didn’t have a Home Ec. class. There were two ladies who helped me get started. Aside from the two projects they helped me with, I am mostly self-taught. Thanks to Threads Magazine, and the TV show sewing with Nancy Zimmerman I am now vaguely competent at the sewing machine. Along the way I taught both my daughter and son the little that I knew about sewing. Am I part of a revolution? I am not sure that revolution is quite the right term. Perhaps Rediscovery is a better term?

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Thanks for sharing those experiences. You’re right, maybe Rediscovery is a good term for it. Revolution is a bit more dramatic though. I too like Threads Magazine.

  27. Carol G says:

    OK I’ll admit it – I’m one of those antiques who did needlework as a high school subject in the 60s and have used those skills continually over the years. I constantly remember things I learned in that class from slip stitching to french seams. It was fabulous and so useful. It should still be available and to boys as well of course. Now that I’m retired I can indulge in my love of sewing and even make a little pocket money from it, but the best satisfaction is from finishing a project that looks fabulous! I’m continually learning more and love your site for tutorials and inspiration. Congrats on winning the best blog award – well deserved!

  28. debbie says:

    It is very hard to read your posts because of the G+, Twitter and other symbols on the left. You often come up in my bloglovin feed and I don’t read because I know it frustrating when I try to read. Thanks.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Debbie, sorry to hear that. What sort of device are you using to view the site? That really shouldn’t be happening. On mobile devices, those tags are removed completely and on desktops, they should be far to the side. Let us check it out and revert.

      • Liz says:

        This happens on an ipad and its very annoying! Better to put those social media gifs at the bottom so we can read on mobile devices more easily.

  29. moois van me says:

    I always knew my mother as a feminist and I always knew my mother sewing/knitting our clothes 🙂 . I don’t remember that in the 70’s women didn’t want to sew anymore. My mother made it feministic by teaching my brothers and father how to knit and my father and mother also shared a love for spinning wool 🙂
    My mother also made our clothes herself because of our financial situation. Back then it was still cheaper to make your own clothes than buy then.

What do you think?