I’ve been sewing since junior high school (a very long time ago). Back in those days you could go to any fabric store and actually find nothing but fabric, patterns and sewing notions. The stores were staffed by old ladies who would take your pattern pieces out of the envelope and lay them on top of your fabric to make sure you didn’t accidently buy 1/8th of a yard too much. Pattern prices were in the range of 65¢ for your average McCalls or Simplicity pattern to $1.85 or $2.25 for the really high end Vogue couture fashions. (You had to be a genius to sew those Vogue patterns.) Wow, have things ever changed!
Patterns are now $16 or $18 for McCalls, Simplicity and Butterick. You have to get a loan to buy a Vogue pattern. One curious similarity is the styles. As I glance through the pattern books today I feel like I’m back in 1964, but the old ladies are mostly gone, replaced by cashiers who don’t know much about sewing. I don’t know much about sewing clothes any more either. I stopped making clothes years ago when it became clear that I could buy them at half the cost.
The character of the stores themselves has changed tremendously. They’re still called fabric stores, but most actually contain very little fabric compared to the aisles and aisles of “crafting” supplies. Martha Stuart has her own special line of crafting supplies and projects, all in perfectly tinted pastels. You can make your own candles, soap, jewelry, greeting cards, floral baskets, wood furniture or Christmas ornaments by merely buying a kit of pre-cut, pre-mixed, pre-scented stuff and following the assembly instructions. Scrapbooking, formerly a free or at least affordable pastime, is now a multi-million dollar industry. In order to scrapbook you must buy the right stuff.
The last bastion of the true fabric store can still be found at most quilting shops. But even quilting is big business. The average woman who sews today is involved in some aspect of quilting. Most quilt shops also sell a variety of expensive quilting machines. My basic Janome machine was “only” about $1,200. It does simple stitches and embroidery, plus free motion quilting, but not computer graphic generated embroidery. Those machines range from $3,000 to $7,000. Today’s quilter buys an average of three machines during her lifetime, so you can understand the motivation for selling this product in the stores.