The rise of the ready-to-wear garment industry nearly killed home sewing. Although this is probably the most oft-cited reason, it isn’t the only one. Ready-to-wear sales didn’t overtake fabric sales until the 1920’s, and it was the middle and upper class that drove these sales. As these store bought dresses became more standard, and only the poor truly had to sew their own clothing, and homemade dresses became a mark of poverty (Gordon).
Unless you told someone, how would they know you still had to sew your clothing at home? While some dressmakers had skills to rival the best tailors, most did not, and the homemade look was perceptible. Stripes that don’t match, hems that bulged and puckered, wrinkles and pulling, incorrect fabric choices – all these point the finger at the home sewer.
Sometimes I go to the thrift store and I know without even looking at the interior seams that something was made at home. Does this sound elitist? Maybe. But it is part of the culture we swim in. Consumerism dictates that store bought is better, and never mind the substandard frock that your mother made. Sewing had a bad rep.
Hardly anyone makes their own anything anymore. So why didn’t sewing die as well? Store bought clothing has never been cheaper or more prolific, and in spite of this, home sewing is making a come-back.
So why do I still sew? For the same reasons women still sewed after they could afford ready-to-wear (and the same reasons that many people sew today). Sarah Gordon writes “For many women, sewing served as a tool for self-definition – they used it to seek some control over their appearance, to make some money, and to express creativity as well as ethnic or class identity.” While so many people define themselves in terms of their jobs, I prefer to define myself as a person who likes to make things. I express my creativity through sewing – because it is and always has been a creative exercise.