If Maslow is to be believed, (and all conventional wisdom suggests that he is), then three of our most basic human needs are to feed, house and clothe ourselves. No-one could argue that British TV has it pretty much covered when it comes to food and property. Anyone you stop on the street would have no problem reeling off a list of TV chefs; Nigella, Jamie, Gordon, Marco Pierre, Delia, Ainsley, et al are just the tip of a very large iceberg (notable is the fact that no surnames are even necessary to know exactly who I am referring to!) The inevitable surge of cookery books on the shelves of WH Smith in time for Christmas is further evidence of this. Much the same can be said of property and DIY related programming. The public are on first name terms with Phil and Kirstie. They are awed by Sarah Beany’s ability to simultaneously renovate a dilapidated mansion AND rescue hapless homeowners from property disaster, ALL whilst apparently being permanently pregnant. Such is the eternal popularity of DIY and home makeover shows, that they have made household names not just of the presenters, but even the minor players and sidekicks have become celebrities in their own right. (Charlie Dimmock and Handy Andy anyone?). Crikey, DIY SOS even has us covertly sobbing into our sofa cushions in case anyone should catch us crying at an interior design programme! (That’s not just me is it?)
Surely at the heart of the eternal popularity of such shows is their universal appeal. They tap into two of our most basic needs. Everybody needs to eat, right? Everybody needs a place to lay their head at night, right? Over the years British TV has catered admirably for our needs in these two areas. TV programmes have taught us how to cook everything from a basic omelette to catering for a 5 course gourmet dinner party. TV has shown us that food can be sexy (Nigella?), cool (Jamie?), traditional (Delia?) and has inspired us to go back to basics and encouraged us to grow our own (River Cottage anyone?).
We’ve learnt from TV, how we can turn a semi in Birmingham into boutique hotel with just a few sheets of MDF, some paint and a staple gun. Programmes like Grand Designs have inspired us even further, not just to Do It Yourself but to Build it Yourself too. Over the years TV has showed us that “doing it” ourselves, is not rocket science. All it takes is a little know how and the will to try. It’s inspired us to have a go. Helped us rediscover skills that, a generation ago, were commonplace. But in a culture of fast fix consumerism, had been in danger of being lost altogether. As a nation we are slowly rediscovering the satisfaction we can get from saying “I made that” as opposed to the emotionally bereft alternative of “I bought that”. We are re-engaging with our ability to meet our own needs, rather than paying someone to meet them for us.
So what then of the overlooked middle child? Our ability to clothe ourselves? Whilst we can all name TV chefs and property types in abundance; can you name me one TV stitcher? One person who has taught and inspired us that when it comes to clothing ourselves, we CAN do it ourselves? In TV’s crusade to inspire, inform and equip us with the skills we need to do it ourselves, sewing is screamingly conspicuous in it’s virtual absence from our programming schedules. Whilst a huge, dynamic and vibrant online sewing community has emerged in the past few years, TV chiefs seem to remain blissfully unaware of it’s existence. So the question is, are they missing a trick by failing to cater for such a diverse and growing market?
In the real world of course, it’s numbers that matter; and central to any programming decision must be viewing figures. So what kind of appetite is there for sewing related programming in the UK today? This is a difficult one to answer since to date, TV has not produced a sewing related show to illustrate through hard figures, what we in the online sewing community already know. That sewing is indeed, more popular and thriving than it has been for generations.
Let’s talk numbers…
So what proof is there that the UK has a sewing revival on it’s hands and is it just a flash in the pan? Back in 2009 when the recession had hit, talk was widespread that this would create a resurgence in the “make do and mend” mentality. This article from the Mail Online sums up nicely what was happening back in 2009. To quote:
“Sewing machines make a comeback as sales soar 500%”
“If more proof were needed that we are living in a brave new world since the recession, consider the success of the humble sewing machine. For years, sales to grandmothers and home economics teachers were steady, but unspectacular. Cue the credit crunch and the sewing machine has become a must-have accessory.
Tesco reported a 198% increase in sales since this time last year – selling two every minute. Sales of Argos’ cheapest model, at £69.99, have risen by 500%, while Singer and Brother models are up by 50%.”
So what happened? Were they right? Has the UK experienced a sewing and handmade revival in the past few years or are all those newly purchased sewing machines gathering dust in a cupboard?? Fast forward to the beginning of last year and it seems sales in sewing machines show no sign of abating. Market analyst GIA Inc, released the results of a comprehensive study into the global sewing machine market with some headline worthy results. To quote:
“Global Sewing Machines Market to Reach 25.8 Million Units by 2015”
However, it seems the reverse is true of home sewing machines:
“consumer behavioral patterns such as, rise in self-mending of clothes, and do-it-yourself craft work, have helped counterbalance partially the lull in the business environment. Hypothetically, tight budgetary conditions and a call for careful purchase decisions, ironically presents a favorable scenario for increased adoption of home sewing machines, as people vigorously adopt a Sew-it-Yourself (SIY) approach, opting to prepare, repair or customize their own clothes in an effort to save money.”
So is this set to last? Well this particular report seems to think it will; and I for one can’t disagree with what they have to say here:
“A recessionary backlash is additionally expected with consumers who have switched to value shopping, due to the current economic situation, most likely to persist with the newly acquired frugality for a long time into the foreseeable future. Reduced acceptance of throwaway convenience, and fast fashion will continue to characterize the consumer even into the post recession marking the emergence of the most important change in retail spending. Changing perceptions of luxury, waning popularity of high-street fashion and a new found fondness for hand-made clothes augur well for the home sewing machines market.”
Considering a good sewing machine can last a lifetime, would it then be fair to assume that all those of us who were sewing already were not the ones buying these machines? Would it be fair to assume then, that a significant proportion of this surge in sewing machine sales, can be attributed to people who didn’t already own one? Dare I say it…..newbies to the sewing world? Sounds suspiciously like a sewing revival to me!
Another sign of the growing interest in sewing, is the constant flow of new sewing titles springing up all over the place. Not all are “available in your local newsagents” and anyone not acquainted with the online sewing community may never even get to know of the existence of some titles….but the sheer fact that publishers have seen fit to increase their output of sewing related titles so dramatically over the past few years (the number of available titles has doubled in the past 5 years alone) is recognition of the public appetite for sewing related publications….
Perhaps the reason this resurgence in sewing/handmade (and I mean proper sewing/handmade. Not Kirstie, bless her socks, cross stitching an initial on a handkerchief) is going largely unnoticed by TV execs, is that until TV gets involved and engages with what’s already going on online, this “movement” is largely an underground one. The thing about the internet is, it’s great for finding what you’re looking for; but unless you’re actually looking for it, you’re unlikely to find it. Whereas TV sticks it to you, right under your nose, while you’re supping your cocoa.
Right now it feels as though we are this huge underground community, that can’t quite believe that mainstream media hasn’t yet tripped right over us. We’re like a huge mound underneath a rug; and instead of lifting the rug and finding out what’s under there, TV execs just keep stepping around us on their way out the door to a meeting about another cooking or DIY offering.
The fact is, millions of people either already sew, want to learn how to sew, or could be inspired to sew given the right kind of inspiration.
Sewing is almost entirely unexplored when it comes to TV programmimg. It’s brand new territory that handled well, will make for brand new and original programming that will inspire, inform, and equip a whole new generation of sewers. As well as catering for thousands upon thousands of those of us who already sew; and are just waiting for some programming that reflects our interests. In an increasingly competitive market, with budgets squeezed, and any number of production companies fighting for a finite number of prime time slots, surely it’s going to take something a little different to turn the heads of programme commissioners. Something that’s never been done before. Surely, a brand new, but ready made market, is a TV execs dream?
What say you? Would you like to see sewing better represented in TV programming schedules here in the UK? (Is it better represented elsewhere in the world? I’d love to know!) If so, what would you like to see a show format include?
I’d really love to know your thoughts on this, and indeed get as much feedback as possible! I may have the opportunity soon to put this argument and your thoughts to people that could actually make this happen. So re-blog- facebook and tweet this post. Do whatever you think will spread the word, and let’s find out what this sewing community of ours thinks! It can’t just be me that thinks this is a no brainer, surely?!