Although most young ladies entering high school today will never have the opportunity to make a skirt or a blouse in a home economics class, the art of sewing is still alive and well in the Mahoning Valley.
Any one of the 10 neighborhood sewing groups of the Niles chapter of the American Sewing Guild meet regularly from Boardman to Southington and many communities in between to share ideas, work on projects, plan trips and programs and communicate with other sewing enthusiasts. The groups also meet as a whole a few times a year to hold fashion shows, host professional sewers for local programs and plan trips and sewing retreats. It is because of these groups that sewing is still alive and well in spite of the demise of school home economics classes.
''We haven't had it for two years,'' said Sherry Steiner, family and consumer sciences teacher at Lordstown High School. ''There may be other schools that offer it, but it is an elective or after school program,'' Steiner said.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Kathleen Evanoff
Susan Layshock, center, shows off a jacket she sewed during a recent Garment Group meeting, while Priscilla Alfonsi, left, and Jennie Roberts, look on. Layshock told the group the jacket was a project from the American Quilting and Sewing Expo held in Cleveland last March.
Because of changes to the Ohio Department of Education's family and consumer science curriculum, sewing is no longer part of the program that was once primarily dominated by young women. In the 1980s, schools began incorporating boys into the home economics programs just as girls began taking woodshop and engineering drawing classes. Now that those subjects are not state requirements, schools have been dropping them altogether.
''I would like to have seen it stay because I love to teach it,'' Steiner said, ''but I understand our focus has to be on the standards; they have to come first.''
Now, rather than teach garment construction and alterations, Steiner said, sewing in high school amounts to teaching how to sew on a button or repair a split seam as part of a financial management lesson.
Niles Chapter of the American Sewing Guild Neighborhood Group Connections
Austintown Stitch and Share meets at 10 a.m. the third Thursday of each month at Humility House, 755 Ohltown Road, Austintown.
ASG at Joann Etc. meets at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the education room at JoAnn Etc., 7386 Market St., Boardman.
Evening Cut Ups meet at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at Grace Church of the Nazarene, 5253 W. Webb Road, Austintown.
Fancy Cutters meets at 10 a.m. the second Monday of each month at Lake Vista, 303 N. Mecca St., Cortland.
Howland Happy Stitchers meets at 10 a.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Living Lord Lutheran Church, 851 Niles Cortland Road, Warren.
Garment Group meets at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month. This is a newly formed group and a permanent meeting location is being researched.
Material Girls meets at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 490 N. High St., Cortland.
Niles Silver Thimbles meets at 10 a.m. the first Thursday of each month at Viking Sewing Center, 40 Youngstown Warren Road, Niles.
Southington So Sews meets at 9:30 a.m. the fourth Monday of each month at Southington Christian Church, state Route 534, Southington.
Designing Women meets at 10 a.m. the second Friday of each month at Domestic Sewing Center, 2011 Youngstown Road S.E., Warren.
Yet sewing of all types, including garment making and home decor projects, are still alive thanks to neighborhood groups that still encourage the art and science behind sewing.
According to Barbara Rosier-Tryon, president of the Niles chapter of the American Sewing Guild, there are currently 125 members of the guild making up the 10 neighborhood groups, not including guests who attend meetings to become potential members.
The newest gathering, the Garment Group, dedicated to garment makers and led by Diane Wittik, recently met at the Howland Library Branch to discuss ongoing projects, host a show-and-tell and discuss the science of color.
''I took Home Ec (economics) at Harding, but then I started quilting as an adult and got away from garments,'' said member Ellen Saker. ''I'm excited to see this group.''
Another member, Violet Linger, said she is a longtime garment maker and even made her son a tuxedo when he was in high school.
''I love coming here and sharing ideas,'' Linger said.
The discussion for the evening meeting focused on color, with members explaining the differences between cool and warm colors and how garments of these color schemes work with a person's complexion. According to lectures many members have attended by Nancy Nix-Rice, image consultant and color analyst, a person can find their most flattering undertone by using silver and gold fabric against their face. If gold is flattering, you have a warm undertone and if silver is flattering, the undertone is cool, Nix-Rice instructed.
At the next scheduled meeting in January, members will bring garments that don't fit and discuss how to make alterations.
Prior to the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe in 1845, garments were sewn by hand, but it was Isaac Singer who invented the up-and-down motion mechanism and Allen Wilson who created the rotary hook shuttle, that resulted in sewing machines being manufactured for home use. Today's sewing machines use computer technology to create decorative and regular stitching, although even with computerized machines, Singer's and Wilson's inventions are still part of the home sewing machine.