- Pinterest for the Apocalypse
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My sewing machine repairman is named Steve. At the age of nineteen and in the company of his mother’s retired railroad-man boyfriend, Steve took a three-month training course to repair sewing machines for the Hancock fabric-store chain. Thirty years later, he repairs [End Page 33] every sewing machine ever made; some customers travel hundreds of miles to bring him their machines, and he gets frequent calls from people who ask how to train into his career. He doesn’t know. Steve doesn’t train new repairmen; the program he attended is long gone, and no vocational schools in the area offer classes. There aren’t many Steves. But people are sewing.
Denver fabric store Fancy Tiger offers between twenty-five and thirty sewing and knitting classes each month, plus weekly gatherings for social sewing, troubleshooting, and even a men’s craft night. In an Austin bungalow, Stitch Lab runs as many as six classes per day plus camaraderie builders. Back east, the Brooklyn General Store offers Sewing Boot Camp and a necktie-making workshop.
Fabric sales are up. Sewing pattern sales are up, including scores of downloadable PDF patterns now available on Etsy. Singer sewing-machine sales have grown over 100 percent in the last decade. Craft inspiration is a pulsing primary artery of seventy-million-user Pinterest; fast-growing Craftsy offers a dizzying array of webinar sewing tutorials at an average of thirty dollars each; and the Grand Lady of all things hand-made, Martha Stewart, continues to get more than 3.6 million visits per month at her site. This interest in handmade garments and crafts comes at a time when manufactured sewn goods are more accessible than ever. In clothing, Inditex Group posted more than $20 billion in sales for 2015 at its 2,100 Zara stores. There are over 4,000 H&M, 2,700 Mango, 1,400 Uniqlo, and 600 Forever 21 locations. An H&M store receives an average of twenty new garments daily. Nearly the entire stock of a Zara will turn over every two weeks—the company annually produces around 11,000 different items for sale. Fast fashion has never been cheaper or faster. Home sewing used to be about thrift, but it is now very difficult to replicate fast fashion prices on any home project. Not fifty years ago, many home seamstresses strove to make their clothes so expertly as to appear manufactured in order to dispel the stigma of poverty. But sewing is now becoming an emblem of beliefs—a rebellion against mass production, consumerism, sameness, and waste.
Home sewing is not meaningfully greener or less wasteful. Most home seamstresses are not buying less Zara; they are pairing their creations with their Zara. And sewing involves ample buying—patterns, fabrics, threads, zippers, tools, machines, materials. This is true even if the seamstress is conscientiously upcycling a used article of clothing. The real draw of sewing is feeling capable, able to perform a layered and [End Page 34] technical manual task that results in a physical good, paired with the satisfaction of control—if you’re skilled enough and can find the right supplies, you are making something exactly as you want it.
I was fourteen when I first began to work on sewing projects with regularity. I made a hooded drapey blouse for which I never discovered or created the right accompanying pants; a jacket in a slightly Southwestern fabric that I grew so weary of during construction, I ultimately never wore it; a top in the Chinese cheongsam tradition with closures from armpit to standing collar but crafted from blood-red corduroy; and a pair of flowing, oddly sophisticated pants with the unusual technical detail of being entered like a diaper and then closed at the back waist and front waist. My mother helped me craft a simple black cotton knit dress that fit perfectly; I wore it all through college and well after. Countless attempts and ideas were thrown away.
There are a lot of makers now. A maker is the freshly purposed...