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Sewing enters the computer age

Created date

August 23rd, 2011

In its earliest days, the tools of the trade were two hands, a pair of eyes, a needle, and some thread. But the art of sewing has carved out a niche for itself in the hi-tech 21st century, and it s making a comeback. An activity long associated with frugality and age, sewing has become a hip pastime with those who ordinarily wouldn t have given it a second thought. The sewing clubs that normally met in living rooms and church basements are now popping up on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The skill sets taught in home economics courses are now all over the Internet, with a Google search of the phrase sewing tips returning over 1.3 million hits. What many once considered their grandmother s pastime is attracting a wider population than ever. According to Janet Pray, executive director of the nonprofit National Sewing Council, it s only going to get bigger. Over the last few years, we ve seen a resurgence in sewing that is, quite honestly, rather exciting, she says. Until about 2009, the average sewer was around 55 years old. Now, it s roughly 45 and younger.

Artistic and practical

There are a number of reasons for this trend, foremost among them the demand for a pastime that s both fun and productive. This is a movement of pure interest, says Susan Beck, editor ofThrough the Needle,the online magazine of Swiss sewing machine manufacturer BERNINA. People are looking for a creative outlet, one that s not an empty pursuit. As a skill, sewing is artistic and practical. Yet, unlike the baby boomers who have had at least some exposure to sewing in home economics classes, younger generations are turning to the digital ether of cyberspace for pointers. Regardless of the project, there s an online resource about how to make it. One blog offers tips on everything from choosing the right zipper for your purse or handbag to sewing elastic bands into yoga skirts. Others provide step-by-step instructions on rudimentary techniques like how to make a simple hem.

Not your mother s sewing machine

The machines, too, have added an element of simplicity that wasn t possible 30 years ago. BERNINA s line includes basic units that cost a few hundred dollars to some of the most sophisticated models on the market. The majority of those available harness computer technology to make sewing easier and technically more accessible to less experienced sewers. For instance, on several models the sewer can set the machine to perform any of over a hundred preprogrammed stitch patterns with the push of a button. Computer technology has enabled us to provide customers with machines that do a lot of the tedious tasks for them, says Beck. Say you want to stitch a row of hearts on a girl s dress. You can select the heart, and the machine automatically sets everything up for you. All you have to do is run the fabric under the needle. BERNINA also has software that works in tandem with their machines. On their computers, sewers can select existing embroidery patterns or create their own designs and logos, then load them into their sewing machines. Ease of use is a key component in the design and functionality of our machines, especially considering that the new generation of sewers doesn t have a lot of formal training, notes Beck. Computer technology brings a certain level of automation to the process but without stifling creativity, which I think is important to novices and experts. And creativity seems to be a prime motivation for the millions of Americans who sew on a regular basis. In fact, Pray says that few people sew out of necessity any more. It used to be cheaper to sew your own clothes, but prices have gone down significantly with overseas production, she explains. Those who sew today do it because they enjoy it. Whether it s a purse, a dress, or various craft projects, they like the idea of creating something. Beck couldn t agree more. Naturally, sewing has been around as long as it has because we depend on it, she says. At the same time, though, a younger generation of people is beginning to realize that it s a healthy form of expression that actually produces something tangible.