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Sew revved up


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POSTED: Thursday, August 20, 2009

Optimists would have people believing economic recovery is just around the corner, but rather than wait around, more people are taking matters into their own hands. That is, learning the techniques to create clothing and some basic household goods, whether as a source of entertainment or extra source of income to keep them self-reliant in a pinch.

Yvonne Izumi started her sewing school, Izumi Arts, six years ago, and enrollment has been climbing year after year.

“;I definitely feel there is a revival for these arts,”; she said. “;People want to learn for various reasons. Some want to learn a skill so they can do things on their own, some see it as therapeutic, for reducing stress.”;

For Izumi, seeing the number of teens begging their moms for sewing lessons is exhilarating. She started her school because she saw small sewing schools disappearing, and nothing to take their place.

“;Before, there were a lot of older Japanese women who taught sewing. Now, there are only a few and I kept thinking of the next generation. Who was going to teach them to sew?

“;I think sewing skipped a generation. I kept getting similar calls from mothers who said they never learned to sew and wanted their daughters to have the opportunity, or from grandmothers who said their daughters never learned so they wanted their granddaughters to learn.”;

Sewing's decline came in the 1970s, according to the American Sewing Guild, when sewing and other homemaking skills, taught since the 1950s, were dropped from school curriculums. The women's liberation movement and steady march of women into office cubicles left little time or inclination to cook or sew, with a prevailing view that “;women's work”; was also demeaning work.

The guild was born in 1978 to keep the sewing arts alive, and Izumi said she believes the mix of economic uncertainty and feeling of being overwhelmed by technology has people pulling back toward old ways and more self-sufficient lifestyles.

“;People are going back to handwriting letters, going back to things that have a hand touch,”; she said. “;People don't necessarily save money by sewing. It's time-consuming, fabric is expensive and you can always get things cheaper at Target or other national retailers, but you get what you pay for in proper fit and by having something unique, that no one else has.”;

TV programs like “;Project Runway”; and “;The Fashion Show”; have helped spur interest in fashion design as a career, but Izumi said students are so removed from hand arts that they expect overnight success.

“;They think they can learn instantly,”; she said. “;I interview them before they enroll because they need to understand that they need to be able to follow instructions and they need to be careful. Some of them start off sewing too fast. They think they're pros and just want to go. After the first project, they realize they're not going to get instant gratification, but the end result is a sense of accomplishment as they watch their project come alive.”;

OVER AT Honolulu Community College, the hum of sewing machines fills the portable building that is home to an Employment Training Center classroom. Sitting behind the machines are young men who signed up for auto body classes through Windward Community College, but who stay on to learn sewing and quilting skills through Donald Frost's Body & Sew program.

“;I'm teaching them something new they can always take with them, no matter how hard life gets,”; Frost said. “;It relates to one of life's lessons: Never be afraid to try something new.”;

Frost has embraced that philosophy. The instructor and auto technician started quilting a few years ago after his wife Melissa dragged him to a class. “;If I didn't try, I'd never know if I could do it,”; he said.

He found the process relaxing and the end result gratifying. Years of painting and customizing cars gave him an affinity for color and design that he applied to creating complicated patterns with mere fabric scraps.

When he showed some of his students his completed quilts, they asked him to make quilts for them, but he decided to teach them to create their own work, which has expanded from quilts to pillows, surf shorts, even handbags for girlfriends and relatives.

After the auto classes, all the students are welcome to leave, but they all stay for the opportunity to be productive — sewing for the community or themselves — rather than idle.

Jace Howes said if someone had told him a year ago that he would have been sewing, “;I would have told them 'no way.' It made me feel more comfortable that guys my age were sewing, so I didn't feel like an oddball.”;

He said it's helped him save money on new clothes by learning to mend those he already has, including his shop uniform.

Their sewing sessions turned into an after-class club, and Frost relies on fabric and notion donations from the community to provide materials for the quilts. In return, the students give back to the community by donating quilts to hospitals, care homes and the Ronald McDonald House. A quilt will be donated and auctioned at the Windward Ho'olaule'a coming up Sept. 26.

“;When the machines break, I teach them how to do repairs so they also learn how to fix their mom's or grandma's machines.”;

Frost believes self-sufficiency is vital. He's watched as American jobs have been shipped overseas, and believes it's tied to the fact that very little is made in America anymore.

“;A lot of these arts are going away, but I try to tell these boys they have to think out of the box. I tell them they cannot think they're only going to be working on cars; they have to think about the future. They may be working on computers, or they may be working in outer space.

“;People are going back to basics, learning trades, learning skills; they're gonna have to.”;

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Izumi Arts is at 1144 10th Ave. Call 734-2610. Information on Body & Sew can be found at www.bodyandsew.com.