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Ditch My Sewing Machine? Not in This Lifetime!

As the whole sewing community in the US knows, one of the most prominent retailers in the industry  (JOANN FABRICS, https://www.joann.com/) has filed for bankruptcy. In the US bankruptcy is a complicated financial procedure and it does not mean the end of the company. In fact, General Motors has filed for bankruptcy and we are still driving GM cars almost 20 years after.

For Joann stores (and for us) this will probably have little impact short term, long term it remains to be seen. But following this event I read an opinion on CNN that was decrying the end of the era of home sewing (Opinion: Once folks like me ditched our sewing machines, Joann Fabrics never stood a chance | CNN). And I agree with some of the author’s conclusions, but strongly disagree with others. 

Obviously I have no way of answering CNN or the author directly, so I decided to put my opinion in writing, for what it’s worth. And ask for your opinion; let’s see what the community thinks? Is home sewing really disappearing? I say it isn’t. 

But it’s changed and continues changing.

The western world was not always rich. If you read history, life in Great Britain, France, Germany or Italy (really, all Europe) was not really very easy for most people until the full development of the post-WWII industrial society. The US and Canada were not an exception, the image below is an image of an American farmer’s family in 1937.

Family of Floyd Peaches, Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsa.8b19895/

I presume most if not all the casual and work clothes worn by the family were either sewn locally, by a seamstress in the neighborhood, or hand-me-down clothes from an older sibling transformed to fit the new one. This era is of course gone, not that anyone would have wanted to keep it alive. Life was hard, making a good living was uncertain and work was often dangerous.

No, I personally do not subscribe to the idea of “good old times”.For most people they were certainly not very good. Sewing was a necessary thing because manufactured goods were expensive and in short supply.

Related article: The story of us: continuity and progress

This has changed, and a good thing that is. We can now buy everything we need for prices unheard of 100, 80 or even 50 years ago. Mass production, once started, will result in flooding of the market with garments to the point where the stores will have to discount them 70, 80 or even 90% to be able to sell all. 

The overalls we see in the images can be often bought on Amazon for less than it would cost to buy the fabric to make them in house.

Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means I will receive a commission if you order a product through one of my links. I only recommend products I believe in and use myself. 

Liberty mens Stonewashed Denim Bib overalls and coveralls workwear apparel, Stonewashed Blue (Sw9), 36W x 32L US

AUTOMET Black Jumpsuits Casual Overalls Rompers Dressy Summer Vacation Outfits 2024 Cruise Resort Wear Clothes Womens Onesie Jumpers

Indeed, fewer people make garments because they need them. 

But it is my opinion that sewing is far, far from dying – it has just changed.

I am still sewing clothes, and I am not the only one. Some of the easy-to-make outfits that I made have been quite successful, especially that for most I am offering free patterns (or tutorials how to draw the pattern): How to sew a skirt Archives, How to sew a dress Archives, Easy Sewing Patterns Archives. But the difference is that I am not sewing because I need to. I am sewing because I like to.

So yes, people no longer need to sew to dress, even for work or around the home. You can simply go to the closest mall, or even discount store, and buy whatever you need. 

My point is, during my lifetime, society has become richer, we learned to mass produce everything cheaply so sewing has become a hobby, while 50 years ago it was for many a necessity. This is the first fundamental change.
I am not talking here about specialized outfits, like theater costumes. They are the realm of professionals and I have found an excellent example in “Galeria de costume pentru teatru Doina Levintza” in Romania. This is a permanent exhibition for costumes made for theater, and a beautiful exhibition that is.

This photo I took myself with the permission of the owner

Nevertheless there is something that in North America not only did not change, but has been elevated to a kind of art. I am talking about quilting and machine embroidery. Yes, while in-home garment making is probably declining, quilting and machine embroidery are definitely very much alive. Can it also be labeled as a “hobby”? Or art? 

Related articles: Embroidery and Quilting Archives

And perhaps it is a little our fault too, because we are reluctant to teach the younger generations to sew. Without us showing them that serwing can be a pleasure, and lacking a need to do it, the younger generation is content to get their entertainment exclusively in electronic format. Is learning to sew too hard? In the article Is Learning To Sew Hard? my friend Carol Diane is trying to answer this question.

As an interesting observation, I also see sewing as a kind of shelter against the difficulties of the modern world. It is probably not a secret for anyone that sewing helps to alleviate stress, to cope with everyday issues of which we all have many. My article Sewing therapy for healthy living is trying to explain why I think sewing is good both for your looks but also for your health, physical and mental.

The second very important change in sewing activities is the items that people make. Yes, fewer people make garments anymore (I am probably an exception), but many people are making smaller items that can be used either for home decor or gifts. Baby gifts are very common, things for pets are another very important category. Christmas themed items (ornaments, tree skirts, table runners), and so on.

I started sewing when I was very young because I did not like the fit of the ready-made clothes. I still don’t, for skirts and dresses. But largely I have myself succumbed to this trend and I have many articles about smaller items which are remarkable both for their utility and for their beauty. For example: DIY accessories Archives, Scrap projects Archives, How To Make Doll Clothes Archives or Christmas projects Archives. 

Related article: DIY Dog Poop Bag Holder | Easy Scrap Buster Project

Another very important change (and I am not sure this is entirely a good thing ) is the fact that the role of a woman in society is different now than it was 50 years ago. And we have to recognize that most in-home sewing was done by the women of the family. Nowadays a woman has many more opportunities to work outside the family, to have a career if she wants one.

Having a career and obligations outside of home has forced many women to take up sewing (or re-take perhaps) only later in life, perhaps only after the kids are on their own or after retirement. Of course fashion is not necessarily the first priority for an older woman! Is it surprising that we see more home decor items being made? Probably not.

Another fundamental change that I see is our shopping habits. The Internet. The very thing that allows us to exchange information with incredible ease, also allows us to shop not only in the neighborhood store, but everywhere. This is how Amazon has become one of the (if not the) biggest retailers on the globe. Is it a good thing?

Some people say yes, and I am one of them. Society changes, and there is nothing we can do about it. The global retail competition is definitely helping lower the prices for the items we need. Not only that, but it makes available to everyone things that previously could only be found in large cities.

Other people say no, that is not a good thing, because it destroys the neighborhoods and the old way of life. Well, the old way of life was not necessarily “good”. It was probably better in some respects, but much worse for many. However this is again a matter of opinion and there is no reason to debate it here – the reality is that online shopping favors big retailers. The bigger, the better.

An interesting observation: because sewing is now seen as a hobby by most (as opposed to a chore, duty, job) many of my friends, now at or close to retirement age, take up sewing and – surprise! – purchase higher end sewing or embroidery machines which probably none of us could have afforded when we were young. When I bought my Brother Luminaire (which cost more than my first car!) I had to wait a couple of weeks until my turn came, there was a line, despite the high price. Sewing, poor woman’s hobby? Not!

Me and my sewing machine Brother Luminaire

There is another transformation in sewing, one that reflects the dynamic shifts in how we approach this timeless craft. 

Sewing is still a big part of many people’s lives. It’s more than just a way to make clothes or quilts. It’s also about the connections people make with each other. There are large communities of sewing enthusiasts who gather online to show off their latest projects, share tips, and offer support. Even my website provides a space for sewists of all levels to discuss their hobby. 

This online sewing world helps people to make friends who have the same interest. They can talk about sewing, swap stories, and help each other with tricky parts of their projects. We also use social media like my Facebook group Sewing Tips and Tutorials to connect and share.

Being part of a sewing community means you can always find someone to answer your questions or give you new ideas. It’s a way to keep learning and growing in your sewing skills. Plus, it’s fun to see what others are making and get inspired by their creativity. Sewing together, even if it’s online, can make people feel like they’re part of something bigger. It’s a craft that’s all about sharing and caring.

In conclusion: Sewing has grown beyond being just a simple hobby or something we need to do; it has become a pathway for creativity, a statement of individuality, and a celebration of the handmade. In this space, every stitch tells a story, every fabric choice is a reflection of personality, and every shared project enriches the collective tapestry of the sewing community.

Despite all transformations, sewing continues to thrive as a beloved craft and form of creative expression for many, adapting to the modern era while retaining its timeless appeal. And we are proving this point!

Well, I would like you to join the conversation! Visit my Facebook page (and LIKE it please) and tell us in the comments why you’re passionate about sewing.

why do we sew in the modern world

Or, head over to my YouTube channel and in the comments to my latest Short, share your ‘why’.

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Margaret

Saturday 18th of May 2024

I learned how to sew from my Mom, who learned from her grandmother and with her sisters. All accomplished in the creative arts. I got my own machine in the ‘90’s to make curtains, gifts, simple clothes for my children. Fast forward to the CV years where i ventured into quilting with Missouri Star and Donna Jordan. It wasn’t all that long ago and yet I now have more gorgeous fabric than I could sew in a lifetime and 9 machines, mostly Vintage Singers!! I’m retired now and I LOVE getting to sew!!

Olga Balasa

Wednesday 22nd of May 2024

Thank you; I think your story also proves my point. Sewing is fast becoming a hobby, a pleasure, and is no longer a necessity. This of course does not mean we sew less! I know I enjoy it, it is kind of therapeutic for me.

Sharon

Thursday 2nd of May 2024

I am 58 and very new to the sewing community; my mother didn't sew and I didn't even have to learn it in school because I doubled up on taking wood shop. In 2021 during the pandemic, I decided it was always something I wanted to try, so I got a 20 year old sewing machine and started watching YouTube videos. I watched a lot done by Mimi G, and tentatively I threaded the machine and made a fabric basket. Then it was pillows, shorts, and a skirt, a top, and a tote bag. I was HOOKED!!! I love soft fabric, and wanted to make some dresses from double-brushed poly knit fabric. I decided I needed a serger. Less than 2 months from the time I first threaded a sewing machine, I had a new Brother serger. I kept watching videos and subscribed to the magazine Threads. A month after I got the serger, I bought a Coverstitch machine AND a new Brother sewing/embroidery machine! Four months from my first stitch, I had 4 machines, a new iron, lots of cutting mats and cutting instruments, fabric stuffed in every closet, and patterns popping out of all my bookshelves. I just found you, Olga, in April of this year and I really love your videos and explanations! I plan to keep sewing until I can't anymore!

Olga Balasa

Monday 6th of May 2024

Sharon, you certainly move fast, congratulations! Regarding the site, if you have questions, ask - this is the only way one can get knowledge, apart from the trial-and-error method.

Ariane

Monday 22nd of April 2024

Ditch my sewing machine ? Yes...for a knitting machine ! My SM is jealous ;)

Enjoyed reading your words Like you said, there are a limited number of hours in the day or week after work and chores, so each project has to be thought over. I like the idea of being able to sew clothes that fit, in colors and print that I like, in a style I want to wear. For example, recently I bought some vintage (60s-70s) magazines, being obsessed with A-line dresses at the moment. How else could you end up wearing things designed 50 years ago , but perfectly fitting you and made with modern fabric ?

Like MJC, I enjoy wearing things made to last, not produced in a sweatshop. And like Sandi, I'm always amazed (and amused) by what a piece of fabric can become. Even more now that I can also play with yarn (from ball to sweater in a weekend ! )

Mary Jean Cunningham

Saturday 20th of April 2024

I'm 68 and have sewed since I was a child - all the women in my family could sew, even if they chose not to later on when they worked, and my father also sewed - he made his own ties, altered pants, made slipcovers for furniture and made buttonholes for my mother as she was nervous about doing them. Sewing was a skill for repairing and creativity and a source of fun and pride. I watch tons of sewing videos to feel part of a community because I do not know anyone else who sews and I really enjoy the feeling of camaraderie with people who sew all around the world - it's wonderful! I do not try to make everything as it wouldn't make economic sense for some things and for others I do not have the skill or desire (jeans, for example) but I do enjoy the process and "dreaming" about what pattern and fabric to use. I also like to think I am not just buying cheap things that will wear out quickly and may be made with what amounts to slave labor.

Sandi

Saturday 20th of April 2024

I sew because it is a part of who I am. Have had a needle and thread in hand since I was five. My sewing room is my “happy” place where I leave the rest of the world outside the door and just immerse myself in fabric and thread. Not all projects are successful, but when they are, I marvel at what was created from a flat piece of fabric. I feel sorry for those who never experience this.

Olga Balasa

Tuesday 30th of April 2024

I fully agree with the "happy place" part! Thank you.

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