Friday, February 23, 2007

Yeah, I Said It! - Sewing News has reached the local level

Everyone knows that I LOVE sewing! And recently there have been several articles in the news magazines (Time) and segments on the national morning news shows on the resurgence of sewing. Well that news has now filtered down to the local level because about three weeks ago I was interviewed for a sewing article in my local area newspaper. It was really interesting because the author of the article found me through my blog! Too kewl, huh!

Because I like to share...the article is listed below:

The Times of Trenton Archive
COPYRIGHT (c) The Times of Trenton 2007

Millions of sewing enthusiasts are finding fun, friends and fulfillment as they stitch away

The way Elizabeth Anderson sees it, "If everyone in the world sewed, it would be a much better place."

While it's unlikely that everyone will pick up needle and thread, each day more and more people are joining the estimated 35 million stitchers in the United States.

Classes at area sewing centers such as the ones Anderson and her husband own are bustling, while dedicated seamstresses are blogging about their latest projects. Teens look forward to their sessions on streamlined machines that bear as much resemblance to those cranky old black Singers as PT Cruisers do to Model T's.

Experts chalk up the surge in sewing to various reasons: the influence of home-makeover programs and shows such as "Project Runway"; an urge for self-expression; a surefire way to stretch a wardrobe.

"It's part of the do-it-yourself craze," says Karen Koza of the Home Sewing Association, a national nonprofit group that bills itself as "the authority on all things sewing."

Sewers, "young and old, want to look like their contemporaries, but also stand out," Koza says.

That's an aim Pat O'Brien, a sewing instructor with Stony Brook Sewing and Vacuum Super Stores owned by Elizabeth and Howard Anderson, knows all about.

"Kids now want to stand out, they want to personalize their stuff," she says on a break between classes at the bustling store in the Hamilton Marketplace. "When I was a kid, all we wanted to do was blend in, make sure we were all wearing the same thing."

It was a fact demonstrated yet again at the beginning of the school year when her two teenage daughters got rave reviews for the fabric-hemmed skirts they'd fashioned from old jeans.

"Sewing skipped a generation," says O'Brien. "My generation."

As a teenager in the '70s, O'Brien was taught to sew by her mother. But she was reluctant to wear any of the clothes she made for fear of being seen as poor or, worse yet, different.

" 'What, you can't afford to buy your clothes?'" was a typical reaction to her homemade ensembles, O'Brien recalls.

The women's movement then relegated sewing to a quaint domestic science soon expelled from schools' curricula.

"As the baby boomers became mothers and grandmothers, retiring from the work force, they've turned to sewing as a creative outlet," continues O'Brien. "And their daughters have become interested. But there's no one to teach them." That's where O'Brien and thousands of other sewing instructors across the country come in.

At the Stony Brook centers, classes run the gamut from quilting to embroidery to home decorating.

A recent class was devoted to making panels for quilts that will be raffled to raise money for breast cancer research. The buzz of activity suggested a hive; questions ("Do we stitch the binding on or quilt first?"), comments ("There's a dog hair in my quilt!") and encouragement ("Just like that, that's it!") ricocheted around the quilt-paneled room.

Some of those quilts are works of art: Two, placed side by side, materialized from different interpretations of the same pattern. One shows gardens of demure and diminutive roses while the other is an explosion of bright insistent flowers. Some fan out their colors in peacock fashion; another uses the copper hue of new pennies and the brown of old ones.

Lisa Dekovitch, one of O'Brien's students, describes the joy of translating colors and fabrics she loves "into something that everyone can enjoy as much as I do.

"Quilts know no age limits, everyone from infants to the elderly loves to be comforted by them. I love mixing different fabrics and textures together and making it a `Lisa quilt.'

"A part of me is thrilled that I possibly could make something that could still be loved many years from now," says Dekovitch of Bordentown.

But quilting is just one aspect of the needlework being done by men, women and children.

Teens gravitate toward the "Make It You" line, says Elizabeth Anderson. That includes patterns for bags, belts and pillows in candy-color fabrics and sparkling accessories.

"Sewing now is for entertainment," she says. "Maybe you won't be able to compete with the outfits at the store, but it's a creative way of expressing yourself . . . it's doing something creative for your soul."

Once a technique is learned, it can be applied to other projects.

"You can translate the techniques of quilting onto garments, home decorating . . . it's not restricted to one area. There's a blurring of the lines," says Anderson.

Classes are a give and take, chimes in O'Brien. "Students ask for projects requiring specific skills. Some are afraid at first, but I tell them, `If you can turn on the machine and sew a straight line, you can learn.'"

All agree that sewing machine innovations have hastened the revived interest.

At the Stony Brook center in Hamilton, pale machines proceed along a shelf like a sleek train. They're computerized, portable and second nature to a generation that thrives on technology.

Older sewers may be a bit intimidated at first by the variety of options, such as pushing a button to accomplish a buttonhole, but once they see the results, they're sold.

"The technology has helped tremendously," says Koza of the Home Sewing Association. "The new machines are fun to use."

Anderson talks of struggling with treadle machines, while O'Brien recalls tensions - never being able to get the right setting on the machine and the resulting tensions with her mother as teacher.

"All that headache stuff is gone now," says Howard Anderson of the sleek machines, which can cost anywhere from $79 to $7,000.

Barry Yellen, manager of the American Sewing Center in Princeton, says he has noticed a lot of first-time sewers visiting his shop in the last three years. "More people are taking lessons, and the classes with younger people are growing," he says.

Sewing classes also are offered at area schools, whether as part of the curriculum or as an afterschool activity.

In the Ewing Township School District, for example, students can get a taste of sewing in middle school then take more in-depth courses at the high school, according to Brian Bittings, a district supervisor.

"The kids love it," says Bittings of the high school courses on designing contemporary clothing and apparel design and construction.

Both elective classes are well attended, says Bittings, and a few of the students are boys.

Then there is Sew Trendy, created as a partnership between the Home Sewing Association and the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, Inc. It's intended to involve select high schools, including many in New Jersey, and their communities in a yearlong sewing and design project, says Koza.

Sewing as they reap
For Carolyn Norman of Somerset, sewing has been a passion for most of her 47 years. Home-ec classes were complemented with instruction at home from her grandmother. By the time she was 11, Norman had learned to sew. "I sew everything!" she says, including her wedding dress, maternity clothes, prom dresses for her daughters, school clothes. "Everything!"

Only one of her three daughters sews, and very few of her friends are interested in sewing. Working as an executive assistant in New York, she leaves for work at 8 a.m. and does not get home until 7 or 8 in the evening.

With no time for a sewing group, Norman treasures her virtual connections.

She keeps a sewing blog illustrated with photos of finished projects and regularly converses with other sewers online.

Like crowded pin cushions, the Web sites are bristling with advice, patterns, questions and answers. There is solidarity in sewing.

"This is really a solitary thing, but you can log onto that board and talk to anyone, around the world, anytime. They have the same sensibility, and it really fosters a community," says Norman.

That sense of community is something the Andersons and O'Brien have noticed about those who sign up for classes at their stores.

"Sewing groups are like the old-fashioned quilting bees, it's a way to connect people of different backgrounds. People who never would have met otherwise are going out to lunch together after class," says O'Brien. "Some are coming to class even if they are not going to sew." Howard Anderson puts it this way: "There's no backyard fence anymore. It's the backyard fence."

Karen Sowney, another student of O'Brien's, talks about gaining expertise with every class until she was able to make a very special gift. "The first quilt that I made was a `memory' quilt for my 84-year-old mother with pictures of our family, which she absolutely treasures," says Sowney of Burlington Township.

The positive energy of sewing may be an antidote for the doldrums.

"I was very depressed last winter when my friend suggested that we take a quilting class together." says Mary Fowlie of Mount Laurel. "That may be one of the best decisions that I ever made. Not only did I learn how to quilt, but it's hard to stay depressed when you're making something lovely. Quilting has helped me so much that I convinced my daughter to try it and she loves it as well. And I've made some very nice new friends."

Koza of the HSA recognizes both the experience of Norman and the camaraderie of O'Brien's students.

"One of the best things about sewing is that it can be as social as you want, and as solitary as you want," she says.

And whether it's a vest passed for admiration from person to person in a sewing circle or a picture of an stunning outfit posted on MySpace, the creativity comes across loud and clear.

Hope you enjoyed the article - Happy Sewing!


  1. Congrats on the interview in the paper! It's fun to see your name in print, isn't it?

    It's a well deserved mention. Your blog is insightful as well inspirational and your sewing projects are wonderful.


  2. what a wonderful article! congratulations!

    i just found out that my oldest will have sewing in 6th grade next year. i'm happy to learn that 'home ec' is still required in some areas. :)

  3. Very cool! Congratulations - and thanks for sharing the article!

  4. Ha, we all must be of an age - my first reaction and want to post is exactly what Janime said:
    How cool is that!?!

  5. That is the coolest thing. Thanks for sharing the article with us. I appreciate that you got the word out about the community of sewing enthusiats on the internet. Kudos!!

  6. Great article! Thanks for posting it.

  7. I didn't know you were from NJ!! I live in Central NJ, and was so excited to read this article! Thanks for sharing! What fabric shops do you go to? I'm always looking for good independent fabric shops in NJ but doesn't seem to be many. If you're in Somerset I guess you go to Fabric Land any other places you can recommend? I'm willing to travel to find something good. Or do you shop in the garment distrist in the city? Thanks, Jeannie W.

  8. Jeannie ~ I haven't been to a brick's and morter fabric shop in NJ in years. I do have my sewing machine serviced at the Stony Brook shop in Lawrenceville but I do most of my fabric shopping online or in the garment district in NYC.

  9. How great to see your name in print Carolyn! Interesting article and I enjoyed your contribution. Congrats!

  10. Great article, thank you for posting this. Glad you got included in the article. It is fun to see your name mentioned in a positive news article.

  11. How wonderful to have that platform to express your views on your passion! I'm so glad you re-printed the whole article.

  12. Oh thanks! I have never ventured into the garment district in NY and have no reason not to, since it's so easy with the train. Is the garment district in walking distance of Penn Station? I've been meaning to do research on my options. I need a nice white bridal fabric to make my daughter's first communion dress. I'm looking for something special and everyone says I should just go to NY. Any suggestions you have are greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again,
    Jeannie W.

  13. Jeannie send me a note at and we can talk more about it!

  14. Thank you so much for posting this! I actually attend Monday morning quilt classes at Stony Brook and i missed this event because i was at the Poconos celebrating my mother-in-law's 50th! This is awesome!


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