Sewing up a storm

Is sewing nerdy? Not anymore. The exploding sewing machine sales figures are proof: 40% growth for the Singer brand over the last eight months  and continual sales growth over the last four years at the Brussels Bernina store. Is it an effect of the economic crisis? To save on clothing, the trend is to hem, alter and mend. The new generation of seamstresses doesn’t stop there though, as seen in the new trend of sewing cafés.

Sewing: a lost art

What’s a sewing café? A place where you can enjoy a cup of coffee while chatting and altering clothes? Yes, but it’s more than that. The sewing café Les Midinettes in Brussels has been in existence a little more than a year. It was started by two young women, Isabelle Collignon and Mathilde Liégeois. They wanted to provide a space to rent a sewing machine, make alterations and attend designer workshops. There is also a fashion boutique. “The concept worked very quickly. We didn’t have to go looking for customers,” Isabelle Collignon explains, while ironing fabric in preparation for a sewing class. “We’re following the hand-made, re-use trend. More and more, people want to make things themselves. Women who knew how to sew, back in our grandmothers’ day, are slowly disappearing. There are no more seamstresses in families. Instead of paying a lot for someone to make an alteration, people are taking classes to learn to do it themselves.” One by one, her students arrive. All thirty are young women. They have come to learn the basics of sewing. The evening’s program is to create a small handbag. They have to learn to construct the pattern, cut the fabric, and sew on the machine – three hours of manual work and relaxation.

Wearing your own creation

Mathilde Liégeois tends the store while her assistant teaches sewing classes. “It’s mostly young women, between 25 and 55 years old, who take the courses. They come to learn basic sewing techniques, but also to create their own clothes. Sewing is back in style, because, as well as being useful, it can be a very creative activity. We have many young women who are really motivated to make their clothing themselves with beautiful fabrics. It’s a pleasure to be able to wear what you’ve made with your own hands.”

After the basic course, it’s common to see newbies start to create their own clothes and décor items – either for themselves or to give as an original and personalized gift.

Younger people are also part of this keen interest in sewing. Johanne Lauwer opened Belgium’s first sewing café in Genval, Sew & So. “Sewing has really skipped a generation. Today’s teens are very interested in sewing and taking classes because their mothers don’t know how to sew any more. What’s really cute is to see those mothers knocking on my door. They’ve seen their daughters’ creations and now they want to learn.”

Sewing has left haute couture, and it has come home. It’s been rediscovered as a true form of artistic expression.


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