If home sewing is dead, don't tell Linda Clifton. Her husband had to move a television set into her sewing room to keep from getting lonely in the evenings.
Mrs. Clifton tears herself away from her computerized sewing machine and serger only to do some smocking in the traditional manner - by hand. Her hobby has given er daughter, 5-year-old Ashley, a wardrobe of some 75 hand-smocked dresses.And don't mention the demise of sewing to Dean Ethridge. She just spent 258 hours over eight months hand-sewing a finely detailed gown for her granddaughter's church dedication.
Although fewer American women are making all their clothes or all their family's clothes, many are sewing as a hobby and creative outlet. The drop in those sewing out of necessity is largely due to the growing number of women who are working outside the home and the availability of inexpensive mass-produced garments.
"Women sew for creativity, fit and economy and we think it's in that order," said Carol Gorden, spokeswoman for Vogue/Butterick.
"While the number of women who sew in general is dwindling, the quality of the sewer is rising," Ms. Gorden said. From 1983 to 1985 the number of women with household incomes above $45,000 rose from 15 to 21 percent of the market, she said.
"Sewing has become gourmet," said Dorothy Cope, marketing coordinator for a new magazine, Sew It Seams. "It's like cooking. We still eat and we still cook but we use a microwave. We do gourmet cooking on the weekends."
Akin to microwaves in the kitchen is the serger in the sewing room. With its four spools of thread, it trims and finishes seams as it sews - a boon on today's knit fabrics.
The economies of home sewing are not as evident as they were 20 years ago when teenagers with seamstress mothers were the best dressed kids at school. By shopping at off-price outlets, during sales and in mass-merchandising stores, today it's possible to buy clothes more cheaply than they can be made at home.
"Most are sewing for quality and the desire to produce something that is one of a kind," said Leonard Ennis of the American Home Sewing Association.
But it is possible to save money when using fine fabrics and designer patterns.
"If you are knocking off better clothing, the savings are there. But they aren't if you are duplicating K mart clothes," Ennis said.
Students in Rosemary Rader's classes in smocking and fine French hand sewing at Sea Isle Vocational Technical Center of Memphis, Tenn., find they can make a hand-smocked dress for about $20. Similar dresses cost $65 to $85 in retail stores but it takes about 10 hours to smock the front and back of a dress.
"This generation wants things that are not complicated," said Cathy Reed, a home economist for Hancock Fabrics.
Recently she conducted several seminars in sewing multiples or units, garments that mix and match into numerous outfits.
"Once the garment is cut out, you can sew it in 15 minutes," she said. There are no facings, interfacing, waistbands, buttons, buttonholes or zippers.
But sometimes the bottom line isn't measured in dollars and cents or time.
"It's cheaper than going to a therapist. When I'm at the sewing machine I'm unaware of what's going on in the world," says Mrs. Cope. "Sewing gives you a creative outlet, an individual look and saves your sanity."