The sewing machine may soon be as common a household tool as the computer
This year has left some industries thirsty for customers, but for others, the pandemic has triggered a surge in demand. And we’re not just talking about hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes.
Sewing machine sales are at an all-time high. Homebound families looking for hobbies is one major driver of the up tick in people tapping into what used to be thought of as their mother’s or grandmother’s craft. But the other factor is the pandemic-driven need for face masks.
“The sewing fervor really erupted in April, almost immediately after the CDC said everyone should wear face masks,” Jeff Fuller, vice president of marketing for Tacony Corporation, told CNN. “It was a Friday when the new guidelines were announced. By Monday, we saw the largest spike in sewing machine demand we’ve ever seen.”
Tacony, based in St. Louis, Missouri, sells affordable to high-end machines. Fuller said the company saw its sales spike five to eight times in April.
‘It’s been crazy’
This year has certainly delivered some unexpected twists and turns to sewing machine manufacturers, but also to mom-and-pop sellers. Finch Knitting + Sewing Studio, a hip little sewing studio in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, has worked to keep up with a sudden shift in their customers’ demand, from classes to sewing machines.
The shop is housed in a quaint, historic building in downtown Leesburg, and usually bustling with activity, as crafters young and old take in-person classes in one room and others browse knitting and sewing supplies in another. But when COVID-19 shut-downs were mandated in mid-March, Finch’s shop and classroom space went dark.
Then, a few weeks later, the studio began to get calls — a lot of calls — for sewing machines. Those new to the craft and those who wanted to get back into it added their names to the waiting list for machines. By the end of the first quarter of this year, Finch’s sewing machine sales were up 300 percent over the previous year.
“It’s been crazy,” Morgenthau said. “In the summer, sales tapered off a little. That’s pretty typical for the summer. But our sales are still more than double what they were last year.”
Finch sells Swiss sewing machines BERNINA, and the BERNINA sister model, called Bernette. The prices can range from $699 to $14,000, depending on the model. In July, Finch posted a photo of two pallets stacked high with Bernette sewing machines. They towered over Morgenthau’s head, as she showcased them in front of the shop.
“A fat stack of bernettes freshly delivered,” Morgenthau posted. “These are 100% spoken for, and we have more coming in a few weeks. It’s amazing to see the increased interest right now!!”
A changing tide
Since Morgenthau first opened the doors of Finch Knitting + Sewing Studio, she and her staff have focused on offering a variety of classes and retreats. Their class list includes lessons on knitting, quilting, and sewing — everything from funky dresses to clean-cut ties for Dad. Pre-pandemic, Finch also hosted “sip and sew” events that were as much about creating community around the shop as they were about crafting.
“I’ve always wanted to be a place where people come and not just buy something, but where they can learn how to create something,” Morgenthau said.
Since the pandemic, Finch has had to cancel its classes. Instead, Morgenthau and her staff are posting more mini-lessons in the form of videos on social media, in an effort to continue to connect with customers.
“There’s a certain level of service that our customers have come to expect, and I really want to try to maintain that,” she said.
While the shop took a financial hit not being able to offer classes, the sewing machine sales and other materials have made up for it. In recent years, more young people — including men — have been drawn to sewing, quilting, knitting, and other crafts. Morgenthau predicts this year’s surge in 2020 will make it so that sewing machines are as common a household tool as a computer.
“It’s becoming a necessary thing to have, just from a convenience standpoint,” she said. “With more people working from home, it’s a different culture now.”
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Journalist and author Danielle Nadler grew up in South Dakota, where a patient writing teacher fostered in her a love for stories told well. She's worked for newspapers in the Midwest, on the West Coast and the East Coast, and recently launched a storytelling company called Tales and Ales.