Across the country, maybe it's the fashion reality show, "Project Runway," or chalk it up to the bleak economy, but whatever the reason, more and more people are buying home sewing machines, say industry analysts.
But closer to home, the jump in sales has not caught on yet, say local sewing machine retailers.
Global Industry Analysts, which researches the markets for hundreds of products and appliances, announced in a report last April that U.S. sewing machine sales have "come back with a vengeance" after they'd "hit a trough" in previous years. The report said of the 4.6 million sewing machines sold in America last year, 64 percent were for home use.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Ione Hammaker of Martinsburg changes the thread on her Bernina quilting and sewing machine.
But while the huge increase isn't apparent locally, area retailers said business has been steady.
"Altoona is always a little late catching up on these things," said Bob Frye, who has operated Frye's Sweeper and Sewing Center in Altoona for 43 years. "Mainly, it's the quilting industry that is really seeing the increase.''
Newer sewing machines have made the craft much easier for enthusiasts, such as providing automatic threaders and easing the making of buttonholes from multiple moves to just one step, said Frye. He and his wife, Linda, both work in the business that sells new sewing machines and also offers a machine repair service.
Like other retailers in the area, Frye's offers a range of sewing classes. Their classes for children are for ages 8 to 12. Children younger than 8 must be accompanied by an adult.
Specialty sewing machines, that are very different from ones Mom might have used, can now do all kinds of fancy extras like embroidery work and other embellishments. One model even has computerized software that allows the users to sketch their own designs that the sewing machine will then sew for them.
That sewing machine is made by Baby Lock and is sold locally at Sewing Solutions in Bedford. The business is owned by Lowell Martin, who started selling sewing machines when dairy farming took a downward turn for him and his family, he said.
"The average person doesn't realize what a sewing machine can do these days," said Martin, whose sewing machines vary in price from the low to the high end.
The computerized sewing machines also contain hundreds of preprogrammed designs that users may choose from to put on quilts or other items that they can personalize to their own specifications, Martin said. Even if people are a little intimidated at first by the machines, Martin and his daughter, Michelle, who also works in the shop, make sure the customers know how to operate the sewing machines before they leave.
"We don't just hand them a box and say, 'Good luck,'" Martin said.
Another local sewing machine retailer said his customers have a wide variety of interests when it comes to sewing, but they all want a reliable sewing machine capable of many types of tasks.
John Zimmerman of New Enterprise agreed with Frye that customers who like to make quilts is a big part of his business. But he said several of the people who come to his shop are also interested in embellishments for garments and purses.
He opened Zimmerman's Bernina Sewing Shop in New Enterprise three years ago with his wife and two daughters. Zimmerman began offering the line of Bernina sewing machines at the suggestion of a Lancaster County company, which he had started supplying with sewing cabinets 17 years ago.
He hired Bonna Kirkpatrick of Altoona to teach sewing classes on topics such as embroidery and applique work. Kirkpatrick has taught sewing locally for several years.
The business has attracted all kinds of people, from retirees looking for something to do with newly found time to younger people wanting to stretch their budgets and make homemade gifts and to others interested in the social aspects of taking a class, Zimmerman said.
"So far, I haven't regretted it," he said.