ON Pins...And Needles Sew-it-yourselfers find it only fitting that it's so much fun

April 22, 1993|By Jean Patteson | Jean Patteson,Orlando Sentinel

Think of the caterpillar, that dowdy little critter dressed in tweedy brown.

Now think of the butterfly that emerges from the caterpillar's cocoon -- elegant and unique, its velvety body and gauzy wings sequined with vibrant color.

Over the past decade the image of home sewing has undergone a similar metamorphosis. From frumpy to fashionable, from homespun to work of art, from low-cost to high-style.

There are more than 30 million women in the United States who sew. Surveys indicate that the woman who sews probably is 25 to 45 years old, college-educated, works part time, often has a child at home and has a household income of more than $35,000, said Beth Mauro, education director for the American Home Sewing Association in New York.

Real estate appraiser Suzanne Hays, 30, is typical of this new sew-it-yourselfer. "I sew because I love it. It's my hobby -- what I do for me. It also means I can have designer fashions that fit just me."

She admitted that it is an expensive hobby, because she has an affinity for costly fabrics. "But the same outfit would always cost more if I bought it ready-made."

Today's woman who sews also attends sewing workshops and even has sewing celebrities to emulate.

Sandra Betzina, a vibrant, chatty redhead, is one of those celebrities. Author of a syndicated column for 22 years, Ms. Betzina, 50, also has written three books ("Power Sewing," "More Power Sewing," "Fear of Sewing"), made several videos and is an international lecturer.

At one of her recent seminars Ms. Betzina fleshed out Ms. Mauro's portrait of women who sew. Yes, most people who sew at home still are women, Ms. Betzina said, but the reasons they sew have changed.

"Saving money isn't the key anymore. Of course, it's great to spend $100 making a designer jacket that sells for $700. But these women spend a lot of money too. They buy the best of everything, from fabrics to equipment."

Rather, the new seamstresses sew for relaxation, Ms. Betzina said. They also sew to express themselves, to get a custom fit and the colors they like, to get top quality fabrics and workmanship, and to save time. "Most women can sew an outfit in the time it would take to shop all over town for it," Ms. Betzina said.

"They enjoy the sense of satisfaction it gives them. So many people feel like they don't accomplish much on the job. With sewing, they can hold up their work and see tangible results for their efforts.

"But most of all, they love the process. And the compliments."

Time is the biggest enemy of sewing, Ms. Betzina said. "The people who accomplish the most are the ones who sew a little every day."

You can also save time by having a professional make the most time-consuming part of an outfit, such as the jacket. "Then you can embellish the jacket and sew the skirt or pants yourself."

While there are plenty of women who sew clothes for their children and grandchildren, or make curtains and slipcovers for their homes, the emphasis is shifting toward sewing fashion, Ms. Betzina said.

There are several reasons. Not only are women getting fed up withthe rising prices and deteriorating quality of store-bought clothes, they also are able to get the latest patterns faster than ever before -- often within six weeks of the time that a style becomes popular.

"No more waiting six months for the pattern to come out. Now you can sew it while it's still the height of fashion," Ms. Betzina said.

Indeed, patterns for the new long, slim skirts were available in fabric stores before the ready-to-wear versions showed up in area department stores.

In addition, a growing number of top designers are making their designs available to the pattern houses, including Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene, Giorgio Armani and Issey Miyake. Some -- including Karan, Armani, Escada, Calvin Klein and Ellen Tracy -- are even offering their leftover fabrics for sale in fabric stores.

And experts like Ms. Betzina, who has entree to the workshops of many leading designers, are starting to share the secrets of professional cutting rooms and sewing studios with home sewers.

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