Sewing is cool thanks to social media

When I first started sewing, I had no one around me to show me the ropes. I turned to the web and found friends. Through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, I discovered a whole community of sewers willing to share their advice and tips, and commiserate with me about common frustrations. This story, which I wrote, originally appeared in the News & Observer.

While Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook may be to blame for the countless hours that people spend on their mobile devices, the social media networks are also inspiring a new generation of sewers to put down their phones and pick up a craft many learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

Newsfeed images of bags and garments made with patterns by hip, independent pattern makers like Colette Patterns and Grainline Studio, and gorgeous fabrics from contemporary designers like Cotton and Steel are eye candy to home sewers. Caroline Williams, a 32-year-old account director from Raleigh, avidly follows sewing bloggers to get a glimpse of what’s coming next. “I have a compulsion to want all the fabric and all the patterns even though I’m never going to get to all of them.”

Williams sews with a small group of women every Monday night at Mulberry Silks and Fine Fabrics in Carrboro. The women in her group, all in their early 30s and 40s, perfect their sewing techniques under the tutelage of Susan Kobesky and find inspiration for their next projects from each other and through social media.

Linda Graham, a 33-year-old graphic designer from Chapel Hill who is part of the Mulberry sewing group, said, “If I’m thinking about a pattern I’ll look online to see it made up.” Graham says she doesn’t necessarily trust the picture she sees on the pattern envelope because “they may have picked a weird fabric or shown it on a 10-foot-tall model. It’s nice to see actual people who made the garment.”

Kobesky’s weekly social sewing clubs have waiting lists, however, a similar sense of community and inspiration can be found online.

Social media hashtags let followers find and share their sewn up versions of the latest patterns. Sewing bloggers offer tips on how to change a neckline or add a different sleeve, and feature the latest trends. Some bloggers are just enthusiastic home sewers who want to share what they’ve made.

“It’s fun to show off projects and be inspired by the creations of others,” said Alison Polish, president of the fabric company Spoonflower in Durham, whose start was inspired by a home sewer. Polish credits social media for helping the company build its business. Through sewing bloggers and social media networks, Spoonflower has shared its innovative design-your-own-fabric, printed patterns, and its expansion into other areas of the sewing business. The nature of social media engagement, Polish said, “has definitely had an impact on why sewing has become more popular. It’s easier than ever to take part in an international community of sewing and be passionate about it.”

This isn’t your grandmother’s sewing experience.

Today’s sewing machines are simpler to use. Automatic threaders, drop-in bobbins and machines that can sew a button hole with a touch of a button have eliminated many of the frustrations sewers once encountered.

How people buy fabric has changed as well. One of the country’s largest fabric stores, Hancock Fabrics, recently announced they were going out of business, in part because more people are buying fabric online from retailers like fabric.com, girlcharlee.com and moodfabrics.com.

While traditional tissue patterns are still popular, many companies now offer PDF versions that can be downloaded, printed at home and taped together. YouTube tutorials walk sewers through virtually every sewing technique. And, online platforms like Craftsy.com offer interactive video lessons.

Online classes: Craftsy.com, sewing.patternreview.com and creativebug.com.

Free patterns and tutorials: Try Collette and Grainline Studio.

Free instructional videos: On YouTube from Sewing with Nancy and Professor Pincushion.

Sewing bloggers: Find inspiration from bloggers including Sew Mama Sew, So-Sew-Easy.com and Charlotte-based Thesewingloftblog.com.

Michelle Hunt of Garner said monitoring sewing blogs is part of her daily routine. “It’s how I get my sewing social fix every day,” Hunt said. “It’s part of my morning ritual to drink my coffee and catch up on blog posts and forum chatter. This is also how I pick up new techniques or equipment ideas.”

Hunt credits social media for kick-starting her renewed interest in sewing her own clothes. The 39-year-old IT specialist learned to sew from her mom, but returned to the hobby in earnest a few years ago when she couldn’t find dresses that fit her well in department stores. “When I first started sewing again I was blown away by how active the online sewing community was and how encouraging it was to me,” she said. “I’m not sure if I would have started sewing again if I hadn’t been inspired by folks on the internet posting their sewing successes and failures. It really inspired me and gave me the courage to buy myself a sewing machine and just do it.”

Online sewing resources:

Learn to sew through online classes at Craftsy.com, sewing.patternreview.com and creativebug.com.

For free patterns and tutorials, try Collette and Grainline Studio.

Free instructional videos on YouTube from Sewing with Nancy and Professor Pincushion.

Find inspiration from bloggers including Sew Mama Sew, So-Sew-Easy.com and Thesewingloftblog.com.

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