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Home Made : The latest patterns and fabrics are keeping millions of cost-conscious sewers in stitches. It's never been easier to make everything from draperies to designer dresses.

May 07, 1993|CINDY LAFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Remember home sewing? Those made-at-home-with-loving-hands jumpers and shirts that Mom stitched at the beginning of the school year? The mother-daughter dresses with rickrack trim? The brocade vests for Dad?

They're history.

It used to be that many women sewed for themselves and their families simply because it was cheaper than buying new outfits. But as women started to move into the workplace in the 1970s, sewing fell on hard times. Faced with limited free time and the need for a working-world wardrobe, many women took the easy way out. They shopped--sometimes for designer labels, if money allowed. In addition, discount and off-price stores provided competition--why sew when you can buy a garment for the same price . . . or less?

"It's true that more people sewed in the '70s than they do now," says Caryl Svendsen of the Sewing Fashion Council, a New York City trade organization.

But a funny thing happened on our way out of the opulent '80s. Call it cocooning. Recession shock. Boomer nostalgia. Whatever, sewing is coming back into vogue--with some new twists. These days, a talented home sewer can create outfits on a par with designer fare. In fact, they can make designer outfits. (See accompanying story, E3.)

What's more, a not-so-talented home sewer can redecorate his or her home for a fraction of the cost of hiring a decorator. In fact, the Sewing Fashion Council says home decorating and crafts are the biggest growth areas in the industry.

You want Metropolitan Home? Do it yourself.

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Svendsen says sewing has yet to rebound to its pre-'70s glory. On the other hand, the Sewing Fashion Council estimates that more than 30 million American women now sew, (the organization doesn't keep tabs on men). The Singer Sewing Co. reports a 15% increase in machine sales over the past two years, and the industry as a whole is growing about 6% annually, says Louis R. Morris, chief executive officer of Simplicity Patterns, where, by the way, home-decorating and craft items account for 25% of all pattern sales.

Jerry Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and editor-publisher of Trends Journal, estimates the current growth of home-decorative sewing at about "3% to 4%." Although that is down from 8% about two years ago, Celente is quick to note even that seemingly meager percentage represents fairly healthy growth, especially in light of the recession.

"It's \o7 much \f7 easier to sew things for the house (than to make clothes)," says Thadine Haner, design director for Guilford Mills/Gilbert Frank, a Fortune 500 textile corporation.

Haner, who lives in Whittier, says she would \o7 never \f7 sew clothes. She does, however, make pillows, slipcovers, cushions, draperies. Fitting boxy furniture, she allows, is far less complex than fitting human curves. Another plus: Home-decor patterns have few, if any, of the intricate pieces that are common in clothing patterns.

But the real motivation behind devoting her treasured spare time to home sewing, Haner says, is saving money. "There aren't many places to get discount (decorating) stuff, and you can't get the custom look you want" in a store.

Home and hearth guru Martha Stewart understands the economics of home sewing. "We can't afford what we want," she says.

But there's more at work than saving money, according to Stewart, who's been sewing since childhood: "We \o7 like \f7 doing it and we get some gratification," even if the results aren't perfect. "The whole point is, you did it yourself and isn't it great?"

Her latest sewing gratification is courtesy of a new serger. (Sergers, the "microwave ovens of sewing," seam and trim fabric in one motion, cutting production time in half.) "We just made 120 pale-green linen napkins for a dinner party with a new serger," Stewart says brightly. It took her about three minutes to make a perfect napkin.

Other sewing projects on Stewart's full plate include "beautiful decorative pillows" (she buys discounted leftover silk fabrics and trims, and sews the covers on a computerized sewing machine) and a slipcover pattern she designed to be featured in the next issue of Martha Stewart's Living. "I'm like the highest paid tester in the world," she says, laughing.

Stewart's bimonthly magazine offers more proof of the home-decorating craze. When Martha Stewart's Living, a publication devoted to do-it-yourselfers, debuted in October, 1990, it had a circulation of 200,000; now it's 750,000.

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Although Terise Parnes of Long Beach sewed a lot as a girl, she rarely makes clothing anymore. She's too busy redecorating her bedrooms.

When she was pregnant with her son Jordan, now 2, Parnes took advantage of an early maternity leave and spent four months creating an entire nursery: a 6-foot palm tree with stuffed fronds, a balloon shade, rocking chair pad, changing-table pad, two quilts, dust ruffle, crib bumpers and decorative pillows. The materials cost about $400, one-third the price of store-bought items, she estimates.

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