Sewing News

More Good Sewing News…Teens in Iowa love sewing!

From SW Iowa News

Interest in sewing classes surges: Students in stitches

Michaela Saunders
Midlands News Service
Maria Rodriguez loves to sketch dresses and tops. Classmate Briena Pocevicius thought about opening a dress shop filled with her own creations.

By the end of their advanced sewing class, Maria, 15, and Briena, 17, will have made hand-tailored outfits. As Fashion Week in New York wraps up today, the Omaha Bryan High School students represent the surge in popularity of sewing classes in the Midlands — and the expanding need for fashion design courses. At Bryan, for example, enrollment in sewing and fashion design classes has more than quadrupled since the 2002-03 school year. Throughout the Omaha Public Schools, enrollment in such classes has more than doubled, increasing from 536 students in 2002 to 1,174 this year.

That’s a major change from two or three decades ago, when sewing classes were so last season to many teens. There are many reasons why more students are picking up scissors and heading to the sewing machine. There’s the pop culture prevalence of fashion-forward TV shows like “What Not to Wear” and “Project Runway,” where aspiring designers face weekly challenges. And there’s a resurgence of crafting and do-it-yourself projects among all ages.

Locally, changes in state law made the school districts, not the students, responsible for purchasing required supplies in all sorts of classes starting in the year 2000. State and local educators also have better linked the courses to careers. The state has outlined dozens of “programs of study” that school districts can offer in areas ranging from business to health care. Among them are two course sequences related to fashion: design and marketing.

Next year, Maria, a sophomore, is hoping to take a computerized fashion design class. Briena, a junior, already has taken it — and gives it rave reviews. She got to see how the clothes come together using computer- aided drafting skills (as you would to design a machine part or house blueprint). While sewing classes in OPS are booming, not all districts have seen an increase in enrollment. Some Omaha metro districts don’t offer sewing at all in favor of programs in culinary arts or other careers. And some small Nebraska school districts have cut their offerings for lack of resources. Some are turning to distance learning to fill the gap.

Kathleen Mitchell, a family and consumer science teacher for 35 years, teaches students in Wakefield, Neb., and in two other districts via distance education. In Wakefield, near Wayne, students fashion their sewing skills into profits. The studentrun “T-N-T” (Trojans and Teamwork) embroiders shirts for local teams and organizations and even does mending for community residents. The entrepreneurs used their profits to buy more embroidery machines.

Mitchell and several other sewing teachers said that today’s students are less interested in making clothes than they are in making things like purses, quilts, even beanbag chairs.

Krystal Kolb, family and consumer science teacher at Bryan, said she has seen growing interest in sewing for several years — and feels it in her full class schedule. “If we could have more sewing classes, they would take them,” Kolb said. “The last two years have been crazy.”

In 2002, 56 Bryan students took two courses — one in sewing, one in design. This year, 251 students are enrolled in four — three sewing and one design. Omaha Benson offers three courses in fashion design and two in sewing.

College programs are seeing enrollment increases, too. The University of NebraskaLincoln’s textiles, clothing and design program has watched its number of majors increase more than 22 percent from January 2000 to August 2007. The department is graduating more students than in years past — and placing them with firms including Martha Stewart and Kohl’s. Michael James, department chairman, said pop culture may play a role, but he speculated that the influence of “Project Runway” is no greater than that of “CSI” to forensics programs. “Why do they watch that show in the first place? Because they’re already interested in fashion and clothing,” James said.

Susan Carlson, family and consumer science teacher at Lincoln Lutheran High School, has tapped into the show by twice staging her own version. The school’s team competition takes a good portion of a Sunday afternoon in the gym. Each team gets $5 and 30 minutes at the fabric store, and they can raid a bin of old clothes for other materials. The students get a few hours to put their outfit together, with a team member serving as the model.

Midway through, Carlson checks up on students, encouraging them as the show’s mentor Tim Gunn does, to “make it work.” The contest includes judges and audience participation. While Carlson said the prizes aren’t anything like seeing your own line showcased at Fashion Week, students “compete, they’ve had fun and they’ve used their skills.”