The iPod generation in stitches
Young people discover a traditional domestic art tailor-made for them – sewing.
After eight years of hard work and perseverance, Salma Khan landed a job at one of the country's top accounting firms. But as the soon-to-be college graduate finished up her academic career this past semester, she realized she needed a creative outlet – something to occupy her time other than just numbers and net assets.Skip to next paragraph
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That's why every couple of weeks Ms. Khan gets together with an instructor at the Stitch Lounge here, where she is learning the finer points of straight seams and buttonholes. Khan is taking up sewing. "My creative side had been put on hold, so before I started my career, I wanted a hobby," says the 26-year-old, who just finished her first project – a green and pink dress made from a pattern she altered to include cap sleeves and pockets.
Khan is part of a growing trend among young people – yuppies, Gen. Xers, Millennials – who are rediscovering a domestic art once identified more with their grandmothers. Indeed, not since the 1950s has sewing been so "in."
Boutiques like the Stitch Lounge, where they rent machines by the hour and teach sewing classes, are sprouting up from New York to Illinois to Texas. Sewing machine sales aimed at novices are rising. The Home Sewing Association, a trade group, now claims 35 million enthusiasts – with the fastest growth in recent years coming from females aged 12 to their early 30s.
"Sewing is a 21st century manifestation of multi-tasking," says Glenn Altschuler, an American studies professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "I see students sewing in my classes."
Several factors underlie the renewed interest. One is the popularity of "Project Runway," the cable TV show about fashion design that has made the craft look cool, if not something of a contact sport. In this age of you-are-what-you-see-on-TV, it is making sewing appeal to younger and younger kids. Hope Meng, one of the owners of the Stitch Lounge, says they get a lot of 12-year-old girls who watch "Project Runway" and request to have their birthday parties at Stitch.
Sewing is also a way for people to express their own individuality. At a time of off-the-rack-everything and a Gap on every corner, many people want to create their own wardrobes – and put their stamp on them. Topstitching and ruffles, in other words, may be the new tattoos. "I want to make my own clothes," says Christina Kelley, who works at a day-care center for dogs and who is also taking a sewing class at the Stitch Lounge.
More broadly, sewing lounges and clubs offer people a social network and personal contact that many don't get in the high-tech age of IMing, online chat rooms, and blogging.
"I think young people are looking for new social outlets, and sewing certainly does that," says Sharon Wirth, who teaches an introductory sewing course at Iowa State University in Ames. "With garment construction and quilting, even knitting, I think a very big component is the socialization. People are learning a lot about coping skills, patience, and persistence. You learn some real life lessons with sewing."
Certainly Ms. Meng and her two childhood friends, Melissa Alvarado and Melissa Rannels, were aware of this when they opened the Stitch Lounge in 2004. They had been thinking about starting some sort of arts-and-craft shop for several years, but finally narrowed their concept to sewing. More than anything, they wanted to create a place where people with all levels of skill could congregate. "We want people to find their own place in the sewing community," says Meng.