Thanks to mask-making, extra time for projects and trending self-sufficiency, interest in sewing has surged since the start of the pandemic caused by the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many have discovered a new hobby or rediscovered forgotten skills.

According to a July 1 Washington Post article, it all started with masks.

Heather Grant, executive director of the Strategic Sewing & Quilting Summit, said in the article, “‘The mask thing happened … and people dragged machines out of their closets or went online to buy new ones’ and stores started selling out of sewing machines, dark fabrics and elastic.”

Roben Minutolo, longtime seamstress and owner of Hem ‘N’ Stitch at 130 Oneida St. in Oneonta, said she, too, saw interest spurred early in the pandemic. Minutolo offers sewing and alteration services, lessons and crafts.

“I believe it was the mask frenzy,” she said. “For two months, we couldn’t get elastic … but in March, April and May, I made over 430 masks.”

“(Before the pandemic,) you’d hear people say that nobody sews anymore, but all of a sudden, everybody was sewing masks,” said Melanie White, owner of Sew Creative at 42 Cole Spur Road in Sidney. White offers alterations, garment repairs, embroidery, low-heat and permanent vinyl services and consigned formalwear.

Interest is increasing, sources said, among new and veteran sewers.

“As the stay-at-home weeks wore one,” the Washington Post article noted, “novice and expert sewers found themselves with more time to work on projects.”

“All over the country, people have decided to get back into sewing or to take it up for the first time,” a July 10 San Antonio Express News article echoed.

“I think it’s both (new and veteran),” White said. “It’s probably more (people) that already knew how to do it, but it’s also people getting their feet wet that maybe weren’t seasoned but are now trying to get back into it.”

“People are pulling their sewing machines out of the dust,” Minutolo said.

Beyond mask-making, sources said, reasons for such renewed interest are varied.

“In an era of fast fashion and keep-what-you-like-and-return-the-rest online shopping, (sewing) had mostly fallen out of favor,” the San Antonio Express piece states. “Now, stuck at home with free time, folks are turning to sewing to give them something to do and perhaps save money.”

Marylee Martin of Bainbridge said she’s producing more baby quilts than ever. Martin, a former member of the Tuesday Morning Rippers, a Sidney-area sewing club, said she donates her finished quilts to local agencies supporting battered women.

“I’m (quilting) more than normal,” Martin said. “I have more time and we’re not going here, there and wherever. Everybody’s making masks; I didn’t make any masks, but I’ve been quilting for years, so I have fabric and I’m using everything that I have.

“I like it because I can take all kinds of fabric then figure out how I’m going to make a baby quilt out of it,” Martin continued. “I get out (material) on Monday, then try to have three or four quilts by Friday.”

White said gaps in the supply chain have also caused people to seek out seamstress services or pick up needle and thread.

“I think more people are having to fix things, because you can’t find (items),” she said. “Nobody has any dresses, everything’s been shut down and people don’t want to order online or if they do, they get it and it’s not right or it doesn’t fit. I’ve had a lot of people in lately looking for wedding dresses and formal dresses, so they’re fixing things because they can’t replace them anymore.

“I wish it would stay this way, but I don’t think it will,” White continued. “I’m all about made-here and stopping importing stuff. All the stuff I sell, I make myself, so nothing’s imported and it’s not buy-and-sell.”

An April article from The Atlantic said the emotional benefits of handicrafts have also brought people back to the crafting table.

“Many have turned … to crafts as a form of stress relief, hoping to lose themselves in a simple, repetitive activity or to make the most of their time in quarantine by learning a new skill,” it stated. “Counting the movements of hooks and needles … over the hours or days it takes to complete a project requires patience, focus and persistence. These cognitive skills — to say nothing of the proven mental-health benefits of crafting — are just the ones needed to weather a disaster that’s defined by waiting.”

Rising demand has made sewing machines hard to find.

“Singer, which sells 56 models of sewing machines ranging from $99 to $400, saw an immediate spike,” the Washington Post story stated.

Dean Brindle, chief marketing officer of Singer’s parent company, SVP Worldwide, said in the article, “‘Our business grew quickly during the pandemic, resulting in almost every model being out of stock in early April.’” Singer, the piece noted, “posted mask patterns (and) ways to personalize them with embroidery, upcycling ideas and sewing tutorials to its website and social media.”

“Sewing machines, like bicycles, home exercise equipment and televisions, have become hard-to-find pandemic must-haves,” the Express News states. “Sewing machines were basically sold out nationally during April, May and June … and (because) most sewing machines are manufactured abroad, coronavirus-related kinks in the global supply chain mean there’s little reason to believe the situation will improve soon.”

Given such scarcity, Minutolo offered maintenance tips for machine owners.

“Clean them, that’s the biggest thing,” she said, noting that she uses old toothbrushes. “People don’t realize that underneath the needle, the needle plate, it gets like dust bunnies under your bed. The fibers you’re handling all the time scrape and every time it takes fibers off … those fibers build up under your machine and it can jam your thread and just pull up greasy dirt on your material. So, you always need a good cleaning and oiling, especially if it’s been sitting around.”

White advised patience and machine mastery.

“I’m self-taught, I’ve been doing this for over 25 years and all I can say is, it takes a lot of time and patience,” she said. “It’s a huge learning curve and, if you really are passionate about it and stick with it, it will get easier.

“A lot of it is just mastering the skill,” White continued. “You really have to understand what a sewing machine does and what each thing is for, all of the parts and settings. If your settings are off, it’s not going to sew right, and you have to learn that what settings work for one piece of material are not the same for the next piece of material. It’s mastering the formula of whatever it is you’re sewing and there’s a lot to it.”

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