There is, says sewing teacher Danielle Downs, ‘a missed generation’ in the craft of sewing.
“The older generation learned how to sew, but their kids didn’t, so couldn’t pass those skills on. Young professionals don’t have the skills to pass on themselves, so they’re sending their kids here.”
Danielle’s two ‘stitch club’ classes, for eight to 12-year-olds and 13 to 17-year-olds, are now fully booked for the year with waiting lists, such is contemporary enthusiasm for needle and thread.
Over 60 young people have taken part since the classes began in Handsworth two years ago, more recently moving to the Nichols Building in Shalesmoor, where the growth of interest led Danielle to open her shop and workshop space, The Sewing Lounge.
The spur for the young stitchers has often been their grandparents.
“My nan was keen on sewing, and taught me different things that I might do before I came here,” said Leah Higton, aged 10.
“I like it because it’s fun and creative, and you do something different every week,” said Morgan Marsters, also 10, who’s been learning sewing for two years and has so far created slippers, toys, a needle case and more, most of which are now on display at home.
“In the past they didn’t have so many things they could use, like fancy sewing machines. My family are proud of what I’ve done,” she added, before consulting with Leah on the next stage of the design process.
The classes teach life skills, said Danielle, including motor skills and socialising with children from other schools, but also simply how to repair a blouse or replace a button.
“We do classes for adults too, and I’ve had people saying: ‘In the past, if my husband’s shirt lost a button I’d just throw it in the bin.’ But now they’re mending and doing their own alterations to their clothes.”
The financial imperative is a spur to adult sewing enthusiasts, said Danielle, but new adult sewers tend to use the phrase upcycling, rather than make do and mend, which is more familiar to their grandparents.
And Danielle admits, it is mostly - but not exclusively - girls and women taking part, although she has held very popular boy’s parties, making wallets for example. Her eight year old son, George, was happily taking part on Saturday, although he was constructing an ‘evil frog’ rather than a clutch bag.
Young stitchers take home their finished product, and usually receive a certificate in the guise of a sewing machine drivers license. The younger club members tend to see sewing as a hobby, but many of the older participants are looking into careers in fashion or design or working on portfolios for college.
Kisty Allsopp and associated TV coverage have helped inspire the boom in sewing, said Danielle, as well as the realisation that such skills are worth learning. She runs 25 different adult classes during the year, covering everything from dressmaking and embroidery to lampshade, garter or bra-making workshops.
Stitch club member Jessica Jewitt, 10, was in no doubt about her aims.
“Since I was a little girl I’ve always wanted to study sewing and fashion in college,” she said.
“My nanan bought me a sewing kit when I was seven. She loves sewing and she inspired me. She said when she was at school, boys did more active things and girls learned how to sew. Now for me doing sewing might make my dream come true of becoming a famous fashion designer.”
Visit www.sewinthecity.co.uk for more information.