The coolest new accessories for the style savvy may be a pincushion and a pair of pinking shears. Once relegated to little old ladies, the frugal-minded and neohippie handicrafters, sewing your own clothes is back in vogue. Inspired by the desire for a unique look and by reality-TV shows like Project Runway, in which aspiring designers compete for an entrée into the established fashion world, more young people are trying their hand at this traditional domestic art. The Home Sewing Association estimates that there are about 35 million sewing hobbyists in the U.S., up from roughly 30 million in 2000, and annual sales of Singer machines have doubled, to 3 million, since 1999.
And as sewing regains popularity, it's also evolving. Since many new sewers never learned from their moms--who were often too busy earning a paycheck to spend hours cutting out patterns on the dining-room table--they're looking outside the home for guidance. Sewing clubs on high school and college campuses are flourishing, and there are even summer sewing camps and after-school classes for kids as young as 9. Some older newcomers are heading to chic urban sewing lounges for classes on making handbags, lingerie and cocktail dresses. Others are joining virtual sewing circles on the Internet, in which strangers exchange tips on the best hem styles and where to find inexpensive fabric. (Try Wal-Mart for prices starting at $6 a yard.) New books--such as Sew Subversive by the founders of Stitch Lounge in San Francisco and the upcoming S.E.W.: Sew Everything Workshop by Diana Rupp, due out next year--give step-by-step instructions for all kinds of projects, from making a raincoat for your poodle to transforming a pillowcase into a sundress. And while some women are starting with the basics, cutting from patterns or stitching a seam, others are reinventing the craft by altering their old clothing for a custom look.
For many, sewing their own clothes is a backlash against the cookie-cutter, mass-produced clothing available in stores. "People are really frustrated with the state of fashion now," says Aja Johnson, 26, who teaches sewing at Spark Craft Studios in Somerville, Mass., which opened in January 2005. "They're really sick of not being able to find clothes they like that fit them the way they like," she says. What's more, making your own clothes now has a special kind of cachet, particularly among image-conscious teenagers. "When people say, 'Where did you get that?' it's like, 'Oh, I made it,' and people think that's really cool," says Taylor Ostertag, 14, who stitched a pair of pajama bottoms in her high school sewing club in Oswego, Ill., using a light green flannel with a Mickey and Minnie Mouse print.