Marilyn Garcia of Champlin started sewing in the 1950s, back when patterns cost 25 cents and quality fabric ran around a dollar a yard. In sixth grade, she made a blouse and, although it wasn’t perfect, she wore it proudly. She was hooked on sewing.
As a longtime member of the Minneapolis/St. Paul chapter of the American Sewing Guild (ASG), Garcia is part of a growing effort to keep the craft vibrant.
ASG, a group for sewers of all interests and abilities, hosts workshops, lectures, trunk shows and other events throughout the year. Some ASG members will staff a booth at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 27-28 in the Creative Activities building.
Though the chapter’s membership is down from 700-plus in the 1990s to around 400 today, many sewing enthusiasts say the old-fashioned skill is seeing something of a resurgence.
The national guild is working to attract a new generation. A couple of years ago, it started a junior program for people ages 17 to 21.
The Twin Cities chapter originated in 1979. It has 16 “neighborhood groups” today, including a couple that are just starting up this fall. They draw anywhere from five to 30 people to monthly meetings where members show their work, talk techniques and socialize. Garcia belongs to several small groups in Anoka and Fridley and is also a co-leader of the Pattern Testers, which is dedicated to garment sewing.
Garcia held a couple of sewing jobs over the years. Now she sews mainly to unwind. It’s helped to network with other sewers, in part because “it keeps us up-to-date on what is new and en vogue.”
The Minneapolis/St. Paul Chapter president is Mary Anderson, a Cottage Grove resident who has a home-based sewing business. She got connected with the guild through an acquaintance and says that finding a community “where everyone spoke my language was refreshing,” she said.
Anderson says sewing appears to be regaining momentum, something she said may be driven by people’s “desire to have an individual style.”
TV shows like “Project Runway” and do-it-yourself websites like Pinterest and Etsy feed into that, she said. Last year, the chapter hosted a well-attended program featuring Christopher Straub, a Minnesota designer who appeared on “Project Runway’s” sixth season.
One of the ASG chapter’s youngest members, Ellen Monzo, 19, is enthusiastic about couture. Her favorite sewing project was a dress inspired by a painting by the 19th and early 20th-century British artist John William Waterhouse.
Monzo, who made doll clothes as a child, has always loved period attire. Now, she sews costumes for the theater productions at the College of St. Benedict.
Whatever she’s making, Monzo said, “I like being able to make exactly what I want to wear.”
ASG wants to tap into that kind of energy. “We like to perpetuate the art of sewing and the love of sewing,” Anderson said. It’s a valuable skill, she said, not only for attaching a button or fixing a hem. “You can make something truly unique that fits you instead of having to go to the store and take what’s there.”
Hardly a dying art
What trends has Anderson noticed? Simplified designs “that are quick and easy to do,” decorative details such as twisted necklines, flounces and ruffles, and vintage and couture fashions. At the guild, “There’s somebody who can help you do” whatever that is, Anderson said.
Handmade bags, quilting and machine embroidery are also popular, says Donella Petro, an original chapter member. “Upcycling” — recycling items such as thrift store finds — is big, too. “It’s a fun thing to see young people doing and going to stores like that,” said Petro, who runs a tailoring business out of her Ramsey home.
Often, people ask Petro, ‘Isn’t sewing a dying art?’ I say, ‘Not in my world.’ ”
Golden Valley resident Ellie Meenan said the Girl Scout troops she leads show “a real interest in making items.” Her children also love sewing, and they’ve taken classes at a local craft store.
Last year, with the guild’s help, Meenan organized a charitable sewing event for the Girl Scouts. Together, they made more than 1,800 pillowcases for the Children’s Hospital in memory of a young boy who died of cancer.
The guild helped bring that effort to fruition, she said.
Cheaper than therapy
Emily Schroeder Orvik of Minneapolis joined the guild 20 years ago, mainly for the discounts. About eight years ago, she led a “mending clinic” that pulled her into other guild activities. Her 9-year-old daughter has participated in fashion shows, modeling Orvik’s handiwork, and she’s learning to sew, too.
Orvik comes from a long line of sewers. As a teenager, she remembers seeing outfits at the county fair that she thought were “cool” and trying to reproduce them at home. Now, her sewing room is “my creative haven. I love to go down there,” she said.
As for the guild, it’s above all about the camaraderie, says Orvik. When the members get together, they tease one another about “UFOs” or unfinished objects. They praise each other’s works, too. “There’s that sisterhood,” she said, adding, “It’s cheaper than therapy.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.