PITTSBURGH - Home sewing got kicked to the curb sometime in the 1980s or '90s.
Once, every schoolgirl learned to cook and sew, with rows of sewing machines filling "home ec" classrooms. But teens are no longer required to learn to sew in school, "fast fashion" made home-sewn clothing more expensive than store-bought apparel, and more women working outside the home left less time to do crafts for pleasure.
In Pittsburgh, only one store now sells dress fabric exclusively, and several sell mostly craft fabrics. Nationwide, the crafting chain Joann Fabrics and big-box store Walmart are among some 75,000 retail outlets that sell sewing supplies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything.
"Right now, everybody's looking for someone's (sewing machine) because everybody's sewing," said Tami Sampson, owner of The Fabric Place in Mt. Lebanon.
Suddenly, sewing machines are in short supply - no longer candidates to be abandoned at Goodwill or set out on the curb for trash pickup.
"People are clamoring for them," said Bruce A. Altomari of Altomari Sewing Machine Repair in Scott. "I got to the point where I was not taking machines in. I was swamped."
Some had been neglected so long, they won't be coming back.
"At least half of the machines that came in were not repairable," he said, describing many as being rusted shut and others with missing parts.
Altomari, who has been repairing sewing machines for about 16 years, has never seen a surge of interest like this among non-sewers.