The working woman and her sewing machine, separated during the Dress for Success era, are reunited with the return of the dress.
"As most home sewers are also professional career women, acceptance of the dress as appropriate business attire benefits them in both roles," says Pamela Hastings, consumer education director for Singer Sewing Co. in Edison, N.J. "Dressing for business becomes less demanding, and sewing the business wardrobe suddenly becomes much easier."Many in the sewing specialty fields - sewing machines, patterns, fabrics - agree that after a lull during the popularity of the business suit for women, home sewing is enjoying a resurgence.
Women adopted the business suit to assert their equality with men in the workplace, says Herman Phynes, fashion merchandising director for Vogue-Butterick Patterns in New York. "Now there's nothing left to prove, and it's acceptable to look softer and more feminine in the workplace."
Hastings adds that the heavily structured, two-piece suit, almost a required uniform for professional women in recent years, simply became too troublesome for the home sewer. "Creating a business suit at home could be a bit daunting, if only for the amount of time required to match and sew all the different parts. Making a dress is at the other extreme - it's basically an easy project and it doesn't take much time. And making a dress is fun."
The basic suit jacket, for example, might require as many as two dozen separate pieces - front, back, upper and lower sleeves, upper and under collars, lapel facings, interfacings, pockets, cuffs, vents, and of course, shoulder pads and other findings. Then there would be an additional half-dozen parts for matching or coordinated skirts or trousers. The dress, in contrast, typically calls for less than half that many parts and doesn't require the structural building.
"The dress is basically a front and back," Hastings explains. "With the return of the dress, we see the chemise leading the fashion parade again. This style of dress, which was popular about 20 years ago, is great news for home sewing. It might have a neck or sleeves, but it probably will not have cuffs or a collar, or buttonholes."
The new dresses and sportswear share an unfitted, "easy" look using lighter materials, says Phynes. "We'll see more fabrics that are light and easy to handle, such as wool crepes and light, feather-soft linens, rather than gabardines. And they're trans-seasonal. With air conditioning and central heating, a wool crepe dress is perfectly suitable year-round."
The dress is a good first project for the novice sewer, says Caryl Svendsen of the Sewing Fashion Council, an industry group in New York. "Easy to make, a dress is an excellent way to put your personal stamp on clothing, and it can be completed quickly, giving an economical lift to many items already in one's wardrobe."
For a long time, sewing was the province of those who couldn't afford ready-made clothing, but Hastings says that now sewing appeals to women who are likely to be college educated and following a professional career. "Sewing at home provides advantages in quality, selection and individual fit, as well as the satisfaction of creating a garment that would be quite expensive in a store."
If you've been away from sewing for a while, you may be surprised at the sophistication of new sewing machines. Many machines now handle many of the drudge chores - threading, buttonholing, hemming, etc. - automatically. Hastings cites her company's top-of-the-line electronic model, the Quantum XL-1, which even snips the thread at the end of the seam. Versatile machines also come from Pfaff, Viking, Brother, and other manufacturers. Even the less expensive models may have a reasonably good range of features, but Hastings advises consumers to buy the best machine they can afford. "If you use it, no matter how basic or how sophisticated the model, you'll find it an excellent investment."
And besides building a uniquely individual wardrobe of high quality, she cites another advantage:
"Working a sewing machine helps pull you, emotionally and psychologically, through the last weeks of winter. When you finish the neck on a sleeveless dress, you know it can't be long until spring."
If you haven't sewn before, where do you start?
Your local fabric store, YWCA, Cooperative Extension Office, or high school home economics instructors are good resources. Or call the Sewing Fashion Council, an industry group in New York, at 1 (800)-U-SEW-NOW, to get information on where you can take classes in your area.
The council also offers a booklet, "Signature Styling," with design and styling tips for home sewers. It's $2.00 from the council at P.O. Box 431M, Madison Square Station, New York, NY 10010.