Put aside those rusty notions of fabric stores as dowdy calico kingdoms ruled by crabby quilters. Banish the painful Home-Ec memories of that crooked potholder not even your mother loved.
The next generation of stitch witchery is here, and it's wearing Diesel.
Take the launch of age-old Singer's new Izek machine. The Izek (whose name is a cutesy mangling of company's founder Isaac Merritt Singer's name) is sleek as a Saab and styled in the transparent blues brought to us by iMac. Not just the chassis is futuristic and designy--the computerized, digitized machine contains Game Boy technology. It allows sewers to program elaborate stitching patterns from a handheld PDA-like device. But this flashy, youth-oriented gizmo is just the tip of the sewing iceberg. Bernina makes a top-of-the-line computerized machine (it retails for around $5,000) that can go on the Web to download complex stitching and embroidery software.
Clearly, this is not your grandma's pedal steel.
To get perspective on the "new" sewing, I talked with Julie Beeler, co-founder of Second Story Interactive Studios, a local multimedia firm that produces award-winning Web experiences for a wide range of clients such as National Geographic and Janet Jackson.
You wouldn't think a high-powered professional who plugs in daily to the bleeding edge of technological innovation would be...well, a quilter! I asked her whether a clunky old skill like sewing and the slick New World of technology could ever be friends.
Beeler says, "I find lots of similarities between making my quilts and creating interactive experiences. A lot of what we do in multimedia is break something apart and piece it back together.... That is exactly what I do when I am making a quilt."
So Yahoo.com owes a little something to Uncle Isaac.
Sewing gained a bad reputation somewhere between the industrial revolution and the sexual revolution. Sewing machines evolved among the billion other "labor-saving devices" that burdened housewives for most of the 20th century. They took on a vibe of depressing domesticity that made the "it girl" in all of us want to run away shrieking. Still, sewing has long been the way fashionable folks of moderate means approximated the styles of haute couture.
Beeler calls for a redefinition of that sewing persona. "Not all people who sew or quilt are little old ladies, making Sunbonnet Sue quilts with pink, green and yellow pastels," she says. "Combining sewing with technology is great! You can make 'real' stuff, the same way Apple has the commercials of the kid mixing a video based on pictures of his friends and music from his favorite band."
Sewing, then, allows people to construct garments right from their own imagination. Add to that the rush that you can wear your creation and not just email it.
If you're ready to throw down for a bitchin' machine with some serious horsepower and a sprinkling of artificial intelligence, take yourself to one of the Montavilla Sewing Centers. Family owned and operated by the Moore family since 1949 (passing "seamlessly" to the next generation, says their website--awww), Montavilla offers the grandest selection of sewing machines in the Northwest. If there's a disused relic somewhere in your mother's basement, hand it to Montavilla's seven-day-a-week service department for CPR. As a test, I brought a rogue Singer 6610 (a handoff from an ex-landlord) for a diagnosis. I mumbled, "I think the tension knob...," and within 4.3 seconds, my surgeon pronounced the problem. $16 and half an hour later, my little death star was fully operational.
It's only right that sewing should shine again as a hot technology. Isaac Singer himself was quite a pistol. A failed actor and fabulous con man, he not only built one of the country's first multinational corporations, but kept five wives (at the same time) and sired somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 children. It was he who realized that Samuel Colt's mass-produced handgun-manufacturing techniques could be used in the manufacturing of sewing machines. With his unrelenting self-promotion and icy willingness to dupe and cheat his partners, Singer rose to household-name fame.
Now that is the spicy reputation sewing should ride on!
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Even Prisoners Get the Blues Support the denim revival by purchasing Prison Blues, inmate-made clothing from the Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility. The new online store for this state-mandated work program makes the jeans, jackets and shirts available to a global market. www.prisonblues.com .
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Need Some Style Schooling? The Art Institute of Portland offers BS and AA degrees in apparel design, as well as a broad range of patternmaking and sewing construction courses. A.I. Portland, 2000 SW 5th Ave., 228-6528.