Candice Hodgin received a sewing machine from a relative and said she's "just itching to use it." She wants to make fashionable skirts, tailor her jeans, mend clothes and churn out curtains, pillows and other home decor. "I have these fantasies," she said, beaming.

Candice Hodgin received a sewing machine from a relative and said she's "just itching to use it." She wants to make fashionable skirts, tailor her jeans, mend clothes and churn out curtains, pillows and other home decor. "I have these fantasies," she said, beaming.


Hodgin, 30, was one of seven women paying close attention at Shappley Sewing and Vacuum Co. in Memphis, Tenn., as sewing teacher Linda Johnson held up a pattern and explained basic terms including "dart" and "seam allowance."


Like other teachers, Johnson has seen a surge in students over the past three years who want to learn basic sewing construction.


Deana Tierney May, editor of Threads Magazine and SewStylish Magazine, said sewing classes all over the country are filling quickly. Traffic at threadsmagazine.com was up 37 percent in October over last year. Such interest has prompted the magazine to create a beginner DVD series, "Teach Yourself to Sew," which has been extremely successful, May said, in addition to an encyclopedic new hardback "Threads Sewing Guide. "


Those in the sewing industry say economic hard times, creative energy and concerns for the environment are fueling the interest.


The No. 1 reason is for creative expression, said May.


"There is great satisfaction that comes from making something yourself, and it's a nice antidote to the virtual world we live in.


"There's also the "Project Runway effect," May said of the TV reality show, in which designers quickly produce innovative and sometimes fabulous clothes.


Sewing blogs number in the thousands. They include: sewchic.blogspot.com, in which mother and daughter share sewing projects; sew-hip.livejournal.com, an interactive community of sewers; and thesewingdivas.wordpress.com, who aren't afraid of any project.


Global Industry Analysts, a leading market research firm, pins the interest to the sour economy. While sales of industrial sewing machines are down in recent years, sales of home sewing machines are slowly but steadily advancing. Consumers have "vigorously" adopted a sew-it-yourself approach, it stated in a report earlier this year, "opting to prepare, repair or customize their own clothes in an effort to save money."


Sewing embodies both environmental and political activism at Sewing Rebellion, a group created by Carole Lung-Bazile, a former textile worker from Los Angeles who bills herself as Frau Fiber. She seeks to sow rebellion against the global garment industry by teaching folks to mend their old clothes so they buy fewer new ones. Sew Rebellion has chapters in several cities.


Many folks simply want to enjoy a hobby with others. Meetup.com, the online network of local groups, lists 295 sewing groups. They range from Silver Spring (Md.) Sewing Sisters with 151 members to the Sew Modern Dallas Chicks with 39 members.


Jo Nemeth, a sewing and quilting teacher in Memphis, said classes are bulging because so few people learn sewing in school. People don't know how to sew on a button or put in a hem.


Kim Wamble, 32, is taking classes to replicate new fashions for herself and to repair treasures she finds in vintage shops.


Christy Keaton has all sorts of reasons. "I want to show my husband he doesn't need to spend $20 to get his pants hemmed," she said.


Keaton wants to sew for her 7-month-old daughter. And she wants to help the environment. In June she bought a sewing machine and began making cloth diapers and other household and personal items to avoid disposable products. "It adds up in the landfill," she said. "So I thought, 'Could I use something else?' "


Sustainable stitching, also falling under the heading of e-couture, is promoted by Betz White, author of "Sewing Green: 25 Projects Made With Repurposed or Organic Materials," (STC Craft: $16.47) and by blogs such as refashionco-op.blogspot.com and sewgreen.blogspot.com, which is encouraging folks to make reusable gift bags in holiday fabric instead of using wrapping paper.


Barbara Bradley is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn.