Sewing is so in.
Credit the ailing economy, do-it-yourself TV shows or pop culture hits like "Project Runway," but interest in sewing in some circles is bursting at the seams.
Across the Carolinas, enrollment in sewing classes and clubs is growing. Nationally, sewing machine sales are on the rise. Even though sewing is not being taught at most high schools, school-age kids are catching on to the joys of making garments and accessories.
You can see the trend come to life in Durham's 7-year-old Sew Crafty ( besewcrafty.com), where owner Toni Mason gives private beginner sewing lessons to girls starting around 8 years old, teens and plenty of adults. "It's about 50-50 adults," Mason says. "We have a lot of young women in their 20s and 30s who don't know how to sew, creative types who maybe tried knitting and like working with their hands."
And on a recent Saturday in South Charlotte, Wendy Orenstein-Berglass was leading a party for 7-year-old Hannah Higbea in the purple-walled, pop-music-playing studio of Sew Fun!, a sewing birthday party business for girls. She hosts about 30 parties a week in addition to offering classes for kids and adults, Girl Scout troops and YMCA programs, as well as camps during the holidays and summer vacations. "I was always upset that they stopped teaching sewing in school," Orenstein-Berglass said. "I want these children to learn this art."
Industry experts say women between the ages of 35 and 45 make up the "sewing gap" - a population of people for whom sewing never really caught on. Blame the affordability of stylish clothing, sewing's perceived "uncool factor" in decades past or just all the distractions of modern life, but many in this generation can't craft a semi-complicated Halloween costume or hem their pants.
"It was an aging population until a couple of years ago, but now young people are getting really interested in sewing," says Kristine Saracelli, owner of Sew Unique Sewing Centers in Raleigh and Cary.
"People in their teens and 20s are really enjoying the creativity aspects of it," Saracelli says. The stores recently cleared out apparel and bridal fabrics, she says, because most customers were coming in seeking fabric for quilts or other crafty projects like tote bags.
"I find people are just making creative projects right now, more than anything else," she says.
'Oh, I made it'
Lindsay Kay, 23, is a first-year apparel teacher at Broughton High School in Raleigh. She graduated from the school herself and took the classes she's now teaching. She says what sold her on sewing were Broughton's trips to New York's garment district. She's found that, like her, her students love creating something. "When someone compliments them on a garment, they love to be able to say 'Oh, I made it.'"
Entrepreneurs are seeing potential in the sewing upswing.
When Meg McElwee, who lives in Durham, was studying to be a Montessori teacher, she tapped back into her dormant sewing skills to make handmade classroom materials, including designing her own patterns. While spending three years in a rural one-room school house in Mexico, she'd come home to stock up on fabric; when that got costly, her husband suggested she start selling some of her designs to pay her expenses.
His suggestion led to her becoming an independent pattern maker and author of "Sew Liberated" ( www.sew liberated.com ). "It's a pretty good industry to be in with the downturn," she says. "My sales have not been as impacted as I might have expected. You can buy a pattern and go to a thrift store, or re-use fabric and you can continue sewing."
Plan B for workers
In North Raleigh, telecommunications support worker Danny Goux opened My Sewing Shoppe last fall. He expects to be laid off from his software support job with Nortel Networks as the company finishes its Triangle phase-out, so he figured the sewing shop would be his next business venture.
In addition to selling Pfaff and Singer sewing machines, his shop has added a 1,200-square-foot space for classes and fabrics. He'll have 10- and 12-foot quilters and will carry high-tech embroidery machines
"This area of North Carolina is pretty strong with sewing guilds and quilting guilds," says Goux, who has sewn since age 9.
Passing along skill
Indeed, Joan Cavin, is president of the Raleigh chapter of the American Sewing Guild, and has been a sewer for more than 60 years, a skills she learned from her mother. In her role and because of her passion, she's a bit of a sewing ambassador, chatting with people she meets in sewing shops around town, asking about their projects, giving tips and telling them about the guild.
She says she's seen the resurgent interest in sewing up close; she's giving lessons to a mother whose daughter learned about the craft in middle school. "She looked to the mother for assistance and the mother couldn't sew," says Cavin. "Now I'm giving her lessons and it's fun to see someone get enthusiastic about it."
Staff writer Adrienne Johnson Martin contributed to this report.