Making dreams, not making do

fashion design by Kelledy Francis
Got it made: Asheville is home to increasingly well-known designers, including Kelledy Francis (work shown above).

Wearing something handmade to school used to mean social suicide. And while teens may still be label-obsessed, in the past 20 years, the idea of DIY has gone from the unhip ministrations of unicorn-themed latch-hook to the tasty trimmings of raw-seamed formal wear.

“I think my class was one of the last that took Home Ec,” MakeMe! Fabrics owner Lisa Shoemaker mused in a recent interview. Her former teacher would be proud: Long before Shoemaker became the fabric maven of Lexington Avenue, she was a proponent of stylish self-reliance. On her Web site, she reminisces about the years she lived “up in the woods in a solar-powered cabin,” growing her own food, making her own clothes and running a backpack company, Blue Planet. When Shoemaker was invited to trawl through an old textile warehouse for unused bolts of fabric, though, she realized she needed to start a new business to accommodate all of her finds.

She built it, and they came

Once MakeMe! opened its doors, Lexington Avenue was suddenly crawling with sewing enthusiasts. “You know you’re doing something right when you see it explode in front of you,” says Shoemaker.

But Asheville isn’t the only place where crafty types are creeping out of their closets. Groups like the Church of Craft (started by two Universal Life Church ministers) hold regular meetings in nine cities from New York to Stockholm. Its youngish-hipster members gather to hang out and work on projects together — sort of like darts night, but in the end you have a new hat to wear. Some groups hold classes (jewelry, bookbinding and textile surfaces are a few examples), while others are social outlets for previously antisocial activities like crochet.

Enter Stitch ‘n Bitch. Maybe it’s because knitting needles and crochet hooks are more portable than, say, a sewing machine, but Stitch ‘n Bitch groups have popped up in almost every reasonably-sized city. Want to talk trash, drink beer and make a scarf while in Anchorage? There’s a group.

One local chapter meets on Wednesdays at Westville Pub. “It started because a couple girls who were knitting wanted to get together with their friends,” explains member Stacey Budge. “The pub was the perfect place because it’s smoke-free. You don’t want smoke in your yarn.

“For a lot of women, it’s the night to get away from the family,” she continues. “Of course, they’re still doing something domestic while drinking a beer and hanging out with the girls.”

Not that all crafting groups are women-only; nor are they for Martha Stewart wannabes. “There seems to be a surge of craft shows on TV,” Budge notes — though they’re not necessarily of the how-to-repot-geraniums ilk: “Crafter Corner Deathmatch is a new show on Style Network,” she reports.

Budge attributes the DIY movement to the popularity of such programs — and to stores like Home Depot that she says “make you think you can do anything.”

Which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you choose the DIY route, “there’s some satisfaction in getting exactly what you want,” says Budge. “I’m always seeing something [store-bought] and saying, ‘I could make that.'”

Thank the gutter punks

So DIY is making a comeback, but here’s one big change: It’s no longer a money-saver. “People start out knitting because they think it’ll be cheaper,” Budge says — and laughs. “They find out it’s not, but by then they’re hooked.” So to speak.

Shoemaker agrees. “That whole thinking you were going to save money making your own clothes isn’t true,” she admits. Rising costs put most of the favorite pre-1990s sewing stores out of business — not to mention the North Carolina textile industry.

“There are two levels of DIY,” the MakeMe! owner explains. “There’s the Martha Stewart group who want to bring a nostalgic, homey feel. Then there’s the group who doesn’t have a lot of extra money … I think the whole do-it-yourself movement was fueled by the gutter punks.”

As in redesigning a thrift-shop find, or fashioning a garment without a pattern. “Don’t worry if you don’t know how to sew,” Shoemaker insists. And that goes for her upcoming fashion show, too.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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