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October 1, 2014

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The Economy:

In this time of economic struggle, sewing’s back

Image

Steve Marcus

Isabel Baker, left, and Marilen Bushell, center, look over fabric Wednesday with clerk Bea Espinoza at Heddy’s Fabrics on Charleston Boulevard. Like many of the sewing store’s new customers, Bushell was looking to rehab an item from her own closet — a dress she says is too short.

For all the ways the recession has affected our lives, this one is downright nostalgic: The old-fashioned and somewhat forgotten skills of sewing and mending are making a comeback.

Buy a new jacket simply because the zipper is broken on the one from last year? Not in this economy. Donate a barely-worn little black dress just because the hemline is last season’s length? Don’t think so.

“No one is darning socks anymore. We’re way past that,” Heidi Herrington, owner of Heddy’s Fabrics, said.

But with money tight in this tough economy, she said, more people driven by frugality are coming into her store with a desire to make things themselves.

That moment came for Anne Robinson in the summer, when the bank where she worked restructured, cutting hours, pay and benefits, and suddenly the prices at the mall weren’t so reasonable.

“I can’t afford the stores anymore,” she said.

Robinson has owned a sewing machine for five years, but only in the past six months has she done more than dabble with it. Now she takes classes on how to make clothing. Instead of her typical shopping trip this time of year for warm-weather clothes, she’s either sewing her own creations or revamping what she has in her closet, such as taking jeans and turning them into a denim skirt.

“You can make clothes for so much less and get exactly what you want,” she said, adding that rather than buy gifts, she makes embroidered pillow cases and the like at a fraction of what they would cost in stores.

Robinson represents the new customers at Herrington’s store: people who want to match a fabric to something they already own, to add a matching piece to it or to simply change the length or the trim.

“They want to redo a skirt or an outfit to modernize what they have,” she said.

And it’s people like Robinson who, because of the recession, are bringing a wave of new business to fabric stores across the valley, store managers say.

Before hard times hit, dated clothes or ones needing repair would simply be dropped off at Goodwill or another charitable donation center, but now they’re getting revamped, according to Jaunice Gianopoulos, who works at Heddy’s and teaches sewing.

“It gives a little more life to the clothes,” she said.

Herrington chuckles a bit when folks stroll into the store without any sewing skills and think they are going to be able whip up a few outfits for themselves. It’s been a few decades since home-ec classes were widely taught in schools. Even the simple skill of sewing on a button is now lost to many.

One young woman came into Heddy’s complaining the hook to close her jeans was broken and asking if it was possible to get a new one. Turns out the thread was just loose, Herrington said, laughing and shaking her head.

“Hopefully we’re coming back to having those basic skills,” she said.

As people got away from sewing, the big chain stores such as Jo-Ann and Michaels turned more to crafts than fabric. Heddy’s is one of the few places in Las Vegas with a large selection of fabrics, and it survived only because of the show people on the Strip who need fabric to make their outfits. “We’re lucky to be here,” Herrington said. “Other little mom-and-pops around the country went out of business. They weren’t fortunate to have the Strip.”

The renewed interest in sewing is similar to what happened after 9/11, according to Jerilyn Brown, who teaches classes on how to revamp clothes. In these times of economic uncertainty people are seeking solace and security in having a skill such as sewing.

In the past year more people, men included, have come to the store in search of fabric or sewing help for a product they want to manufacture and sell, Herrington said.

“They’re looking to make their own money and find a way out of relying on someone else,” she said, adding that more people have dropped off business cards who want to sew on the side for extra cash.

Still, a majority of the new customers are mostly mending. “This year more than ever I’ve sold more zippers for jackets,” Herrington said.

She’s also seen an increase in people buying remnant pieces, which are less than three yards and either have a minor flaw or come from fabric left on the end of a roll. They sell for a third of the regular price. Or mothers come in search of inexpensive Lycra to make costumes for dance recitals to save the expense of buying an off-the-shelf costume or hiring a seamstress to make one.

“This might be a whole wide opening of people’s eyes to learn a new skill,” Herrington said. “To do things themselves instead of paying someone else to do it all the time.”

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