The magazine illustration posted on the refrigerator gives warning: another sewing project is about to begin at the David and Becky Burbidge home.
"I start with a picture, something I think all the girls will like," explains Becky Burbidge, who is the mother of five daughters, ages 14 through 3.Holly, 14, adds, "We look at the picture, talk about it, think about fabrics, and then we usually decide on the dress as a family. We spend a lot of time fabric hunting."
And Becky Burbidge spends a lot of time sewing.
"I see it as a good outlet," her husband says. "Some women go bowling; Becky sews. And she really gets involved in the sewing projects. I've found her at 3 a.m., still working at her machine. She'll look up and say, `Is the news over yet?' "
Sewing for Becky Burbidge is a creative endeavor, as well as a money-saving investment.
"Do you know how much it costs to buy five Christmas or Easter dresses?" David Burbidge asks. "Becky can make the dresses that look like the ones in the store for less
than half the cost."
Though most home-sewing projects prove economical, businesswoman Jolyn Goldade cautions home seamstresses to select fabrics and patterns with care.
"Often we decide to make something to save money, and don't have the skills to produce a quality garment. Patterns have simplified in the past few years, instructions are clarified, and it is much easier to follow guide sheets to a satisfying project."
Goldade suggests that those who sew at home keep projects within their ability levels.
"That's the real secret of sewing. Make something that you are proud of, something that fits you and the techniques of sewing you understand."
Jane Davis, a former high school sewing teacher, further explains the dilemma encountered by many sewing students: "We need to provide quick success for students learning to sew. Acquiring a few basic skills enables a student to progress to a more involved project, but required perfection of those skills discourages a beginner."
Davis relates the story of a student making a wool plaid jumper with 13 bound buttonholes and curved princess seams.
"By the time she finished all the details to the degree of perfection required by the teacher, she was finished with sewing. That was years ago and she still hasn't touched a sewing machine," Davis says.
A single negative experience has turned off more than one would-be seamstress. Dwindling enrollment in secondary school sewing classes attracted the attention of the state supervisor of consumer and home economics, Mary Monroe.
"Sewing skills and interests vary widely throughout the state of Utah. Some communities and some teachers have booming programs; other areas struggle to fill classes," Monroe says.
Today's school sewing curricula reflect contemporary student needs.
"We've adjusted courses to include basic skills of mending or repairs, costs and care of clothing, as well as wardrobe planning," Monroe says. "When we master basic skills and move into sewing, we suggest a hands-on project that students complete with ease. We start with jogging pants, shorts or a T-shirt, something simple yet with the serger, comparable to ready-to-wear quality."
Emphasis on new fabrics and speed sewing techniques caught some sewing teachers off-guard. Teachers in the Granite District recently completed in-service training in updated methods of quick sewing and simplified techniques, methods they hope will increase student enrollments.
According to Monroe, the in-service update, taught by Pauline Richards, will be offered throughout the state.
Besides secondary school offerings, private sewing classes are taught by individuals and businesses. Davis, for example, teaches students of all ages from her Avenues home.
"I use speed techniques that enable students to be immediately successful. I have a lot of students who admit they hated sewing but have learned to like it with the new techniques."
Despite discouraging moments for individual seamstresses, the overall market for home sewing in Utah is thriving.Greg Proctor, manager of the Brickyard Cloth World store, says his employer selected Utah as an expansion site due to the strength of the market here.
Though the market remains strong, its direction has altered in the 25 years Norm Nuttall has sold fabrics in Salt Lake and Ogden.
"While people used to sew of necessity, they now sew as a hobby. The overall savings isn't as significant as it used to be," Nuttall acknowledges. "Fashions have changed as well. The lines are cleaner, less tailored. The result is a garment quality that's clearly acceptable without hours of unpicking." Nuttall also suggests the impact of the serger, an industrial machine adapted to home sewing use.
"The serger cuts hours off clothing construction time. It's a real boon to our business; in fact, we sell as many sergers as we do sewing machines."
Craft work is another angle adopted by fabric stores to maintain high business volumes. Pat Butler, assistant manager of the House of Fabrics in Murray, notes an increase in hobby sewing in the past six months.
"We see lots of little projects, but hundreds of quilters. I couldn't keep batting on the shelf this fall. I think everyone in the valley got a new quilt for Christmas."
"We see a strong trend in craft-type sewing, but full garment construction, activewear, children's clothing and home-decorating fabrics are all big sellers. We simply don't have a weak category in our Utah market."
Discouraging weaknesses in sewing skills are quickly resolved by new fabrics, simplified instructions and time-saving methods.
And, Monroe says, "It's not practical in our contemporary lifestyle to expect everyone to tailor a wool jacket. Some things aren't worth the time it takes to make. But we do need to teach practical skills as well as simplified construction proj-ects that are economical in use of both time and money. When sewing skills are developed within these definitions, sewing becomes a valuable commodity for today's consumer."