As pressure on household finances continues more people are making do and mending. Nicky Solloway reports on the growing number of sewing groups starting up.
The mechanical thrum of half a dozen sewing machines drifts through the double doors of a church hall in Heeley, Sheffield.
Inside, a small group of eight women are hunched over their machines, intent on sewing a straight envelope opening on their first ever cushion cover.
The beginners’ sewing machine class at Sheffield’s Running with Scissors, is just one of dozens of sewing workshops cropping up all over the region.
Sewing classes are popping up in cafes, community centres and schools across Yorkshire.
“There’s a huge interest in craft and learning to sew again. People just want to be able to make things themselves,” says Emma Kent, who set up Sheffield craft lounge, Running with Scissors, two years ago.
The recession has given rise to the rebirth of a “make do and mend” culture, while television programmes such as Kirstie Allsopp’s Handmade Britain have spawned a surge in the number of people taking up sewing.
Thrifty is fashionable once more and making your own curtains and soft furnishings is the craftiest way to save money.
“The recession has had a big impact. People are looking at ways of saving money and learning how to do key skills themselves. You can save quite a bit of money by making your own clothes and curtains and you can make things to suit your own taste,” says Emma.
“If you learn the basic sewing machine skills, you can adapt and mend things. With straight stitch and zig-zag stitch you can do 90 per cent of projects that are out there. You can make your own furnishings and buy the fabric that you like, it’s really versatile.”
The need to cut spending, coupled with a concern over our throw-away culture have led to more people taking up SIY – sew-it-yourself.
Retailers have reported soaring sales of sewing machines since the start of the recession. Sales of Singer sewing machines have doubled in the last two years while John Lewis declared a ‘significant increase’ in sewing machine sales last December.
“A lot of people are asking for classes in making alterations,” says Emma. “People don’t want to just go out and buy another pair of trousers.
“Maybe they have a pair they like but just need to know how to turn up the hem. There’s a lot of demand for that.
“It’s all about experimenting and having fun and maybe doing things you wouldn’t normally do, pushing your boundaries a little bit, just enjoying yourself.
“We run courses in how to make a skirt and how to make a dress in a day.”
Tansy Dyer, who runs Cheeky Sew and Sew, a sewing café that opened in Todmorden last summer, says her beginner sewing machine courses are in demand.
“The most popular workshop is the basic learn how to use a sewing machine one,” she says.
“I’m getting a lot of people coming in who say they haven’t sewn since they were at school and also people who have bought a sewing machine and then discover they have no clue how to use it. I run a course on make do and mend which is quite a popular one and I’m doing one specifically on vintage clothes and alterations as well.
“I think there is definitely more interest in sewing and knitting. A lot of the people that are coming onto the courses want absolute beginner’s stuff because they haven’t done it for years.
“There’s a definite feeling that people are moving away from the disposable/buy a new one every month attitude.
“We really encourage people to recycle fabrics because you get a lot of stuff from charity shops that is worn in places or it’s really nice fabric but it’s out of date and there’s no reason why that’s the end of its life. You can recycle an awful lot of things.”
Tansy, who makes bags and ball gowns out of recycled material, plus 1950s-style halter neck dresses out of men’s ties, says her courses are mainly attended by women, but she would like to encourage more men to come along.
“I’m thinking about doing a ‘sew manly’ course to teach survival sewing skills to men such as how to put a button on, how to fix a zip, how to take your trousers up etc,” she says.
Meanwhile in Leeds, Dawn Wood has been running sewing and craft classes at Fabrication in Leeds since 2008 and says she has noticed a definite surge of interest in sewing and knitting recently.
“We now run four times the number of classes we did in the first year,” she said a few weeks ago.
“Last year we put on 105 classes. This time of year is particularly busy as the New Year resolutions kick in and people resolve to learn how to use the sewing machine they were given for Christmas. The busiest classes at the moment are sewing, patchwork, crotchet, leatherwork and metal work.”
Fabrication, which is run as a social enterprise, also teaches craft classes to adults with learning difficulties and to other disadvantaged groups.
“Because we started as the recession kicked in, we can’t compare the numbers before and after, but I certainly think there is a resurgence in craft. There are only so many clothes you want to wear from the high street that you see everybody else wearing.
“We want more individuality.
“Making your own clothes is not cheaper now there are shops like Primark, but it is about self expression and turning away from the high street to a more local economy,” says Dawn.
Fabrication, which has just moved into new premises in the Merrion Centre in Leeds, offers classes in everything from glass painting to corsage and leather belt making, but dress-making skills are always in demand.
The enterprise even offers a class in making your own wedding dress.
“Over the last couple of years we have had people come in who want to learn how to make a bridal gown.
“If they are organising their own wedding and don’t want to spend thousands of pounds on a dress, we can show them how to do it, though you do need more advanced dress-making skills,” adds Dawn.
Back at the Running with Scissors workshop, the women are learning to sew a decorative ribbon on their cushion covers.
Smiling over the top of her brand new Singer sewing machine, Cath O’Connor, from Sheffield, says: “I couldn’t even thread my sewing machine before I came here. I’d like to come back to another class to learn how to do zips and buttons next.
“I eventually want to re-upholster the settee, so I thought I’d better start somewhere.”
Spanish teacher, Jennifer Foster, from Sheffield, says she decided to join a class because although she bought her sewing machine two years ago, she had never taken it out of the case.
“I’d really like to be able to alter clothes, I thought it would be a nice thing to do and it would save money.
“I like to buy vintage things and I’d eventually like to be able to alter them to fit.
“The class gives me motivation and it’s great fun as well.”
For more information, go to Running with Scissors, www.rwssheffield.co.uk; Cheeky Sew and Sew craft cafe, www.cheeky-sew-and-sew.co.uk and Fabrication, www.fabric-ation.co.uk.
Fascinating hen party alternatives
HEN parties are ditching the stripogram and heading to craft lounges where friends of the bride can choose anything from making a fascinator, a string of bunting or painting a t-shirt. Fabrication in Leeds offers hen parties for up to 12 guests who can make everything from beaded jewellery and scarves to handbags made to match the wedding outfit. Running with Scissors offers hen parties to make beauty products or bunting. “Each person at the hen party can sew an individual flag to create the bunting. If the bride wishes she can display it at the wedding or reception,” explains Emma Kent.