-- What's New?

From left, Delia Trimble, Alexa Mendez, Jessica Goldstone, Nora Langer, Kelsey Oen (front) and Maya Blurton model their newly sewed berets.
From left, Delia Trimble, Alexa Mendez, Jessica Goldstone, Nora Langer, Kelsey Oen (front) and Maya Blurton model their newly sewed berets. (Photos By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post; "Sew" Illustration By Steve Mccracken For The Washington Post)
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thirteen-year-old Jessica Goldstone of Bethesda wants to be a fashion designer when she finishes school. A fan of the popular "Project Runway" TV show, she thinks her designs "would just be edgier" than regular store-bought clothes.

But until this month, Jessica had never touched a sewing machine.

After her first class, though, Jessica and six other girls ages 9 to 13 declared that sewing was "fun," "cool" and "great" -- although, as Alexa Mendez, 12, of Rockville put it: "It was challenging, too, but not too much."

The enthusiastic reactions of these students at G Street Fabrics' Sew Fun class in Rockville reflect a revival of interest in machine sewing in recent years, said Donna Smith, the company's director of education. Sewing hasn't been required in schools for years, she noted, so kids -- and parents who think that sewing offers positive experiences -- are looking for private classes.

"We've seen a lot of teens getting excited about sewing," Smith said. "Some of it comes from when they saw the 'Project Runway' series," a nail-biting weekly competition to create and make a design that professional fashion judges find unique. (Fail to deliver and you're out of the competition.)

Younger students, Smith said, enjoy the classes because "sewing lets you be so creative."

Enrollment in G Street's summer camps jumped 10 percent this year, and fall classes filled fast.

Sally Hile, director of education for Hancock Fabrics' 14 stores in Maryland and Virginia, said there are more private lessons for kids these days.

That's good news for manufacturers of sewing machines and publishers of sewing magazines. Singer, a major maker of sewing items, sold nearly 3 million machines in the United States last year, about twice as many as in 1999. Before then, sales hadn't grown much for a while, the company said.

Sewing machines, which have been around for more than 150 years, might seem old-fashioned but have changed a lot since your grandmother was a girl. Today's models are programmed to remember which stitches to do when. And they can produce different patterns such as initials and embroidery.

G Street students use Bernina machines that cost about $1,000 and have computer buttons for 50 types of stitches, including zigzag and buttonhole patterns.

Spencer Carmel of Bethesda, who signed up for lessons after getting a sewing machine for her 11th birthday, said the class "was cool." Spencer has sewn a lot by hand, but "the stitches weren't tight enough" for the more complicated projects she wants to try.

Spencer's mom, Debi, confessed that not only can't she sew, "I can't figure out how to get the bobbin case open" to put in the thread. But she had confidence that Spencer, who is "really into crafts," would figure it out.

Spencer's class spent a recent Saturday making berets. Kelsey Oen, 9, of Darnestown needed time to get used to her machine's presser foot (which holds down the material near the needle), but soon got the hang of it. By the end of class, Kelsey was all smiles, wearing her new beret.

-- Sandra Fleishman

© 2006 The Washington Post Company