How to Pass Quilting Traditions to Millennials

on July 21 | in Sewing Trends | by | with 12 Comments

Felice from Sew Scatterbrained has lots of ideas for how to introduce sewing to a whole new generation of quilters. As a young quilter herself, Felice jumped in to the sewing world in a big way, writing patterns and sharing her latest sewing via her blog and Instagram. Felice even has a new fabric collection for Windham Fabrics coming out in Spring 2016! Learn more about Felice in her introduction.

We’re interested in your thoughts on introducing the world of quilting to young sewists. Are you new to quilting too? Have you passed your love of quilting on to someone younger? Is your local guild, quilt group and/or fabric shop open and welcoming to all? What are effective and positive ways to invite everyone to share creative expression through sewing?

When I visit quilt shops, I’m used to being the youngest one in the building. At 24 years old, I’m an outlier in the quilting community. It’s no secret that the age of the average quilter is increasing. Fifty years ago sewing was considered a basic life skill, but today there is little need for young adults to touch a sewing machine. Even at my guild, the Houston Modern Quilt Guild, where ages skew younger than the average sixty-four year old quilter, there are only a few of us Millennials. The quilting industry is booming, yet I find myself worrying about what state it will be in when I’m in my sixties. So how do we get more Millennials interested in quilting now? Thanks to a combination of research findings and personal experiences, I have a few ideas.

Don’t wait for the baby quilt.
When I ask women the story behind their first quilt, there is one response that overshadows them all: I made a baby quilt for my first child. Research shows that American women are waiting longer to become mothers than they used to, and increasing numbers are opting to forgo motherhood altogether. As a woman without children, I often joke that selfish sewing is just regular sewing for me. Instead of introducing young women to quilting through the lens of motherhood, we should focus on the would-be quilter herself. A class on making a baby quilt might spark little interest in a single twenty-something woman, but a class on how to make a modern mini quilt to hang on the wall may prove more relevant.

I encourage shop owners to offer classes and project demos that cater to the sewist herself such as modern throw quilts, home decor items, garments, bagss and accessories.

Let them mooch a little.
Quilting is an expensive hobby, and the startup costs for a first time quilter can be a big barrier to entry. As if that weren’t enough, Millennials face more financial hardships than previous generations thanks to student loans, unemployment and lower income levels.

I learned to sew on a hand-me-down machine from my mother, and I eventually persuaded her to let me keep it. When I first started quilting a coworker generously gave me grocery bags stuffed with large designer fabric scraps. My first cutting mat, rotary cutter and ruler were all Christmas gifts. If I had to purchase these things on my own, it’s unlikely that I would have ever made a quilt.

When I upgraded to a new sewing machine, I held onto my old one with the goal of making it a loaner machine for any friends who voiced an interest in learning to sew. I’d encourage other quilters to do the same. Loan a spare machine to a friend who wants to learn to sew, or invite them over and teach them to sew on yours. Sacrifice a charm pack or a jelly roll for their first quilt. You don’t have to be their sugar mama, but subsidizing that first project can open the door for a new quilter. Besides, there is no shortage of free patterns for you both to work on.

It’s not uncommon for shops with classes to offer machine rentals at a fee, but perhaps they could waive the fee for a student’s first class. Gaining a new customer will pay off in the long run.

Introduce them to the world of designer fabrics.
I believe my generation is more visual and design conscious than previous generations, probably due to social media and other image-sharing websites. Discovering the world of designer fabrics ultimately motivated me to make my first quilt. I wanted to play with all the adorable prints!

Marketing research suggests that Millennials expect a large product selection to choose from and value self-expression and creativity highly. Designer fabrics satisfy those desires pretty darn well, and they make it easy to find your style niche. Young ladies who are fans of Anthropologie will find the same air of rustic feminine elegance with Art Gallery Fabrics. The H&M shoppers seeking bright, bold colors will have a great selection with Free Spirit Fabrics. ModCloth devotees will probably recognize prints from Michael Miller and Robert Kaufman used in their quirky novelty dresses.

Let the internet be the teacher.
If you want to introduce a Millennial to quilting, you don’t have to be Mr. Miyagi. The DIY movement exploded as Millennials started using technology alongside their hobbies. Youtube videos, tutorials on blogs, and sites like Sew Mama Sew, Pinterest and Creativebug are all tools that can help make quilting more accessible to young adults. Quilting may be a traditional hobby, but be sure to let Millennials know that quilting has kept up with the times! Curate a selection of online tutorials and resources that they can refer to whenever they need help, and watch them take the reins.

Use social media to get them engaged with the quilting community.
Anyone who’s seen a Millennial has probably noticed our unwavering love for smart phones, tablets and computers. A 2010 report by the Pew Research Center found that 75% of Millennials had at least one social media account. In comparison, almost every single quilter I’ve met under the age of 30 has an Instagram account. (Angela Mitchell does a nice job of explaining the app’s popularity in her article for Craftsy.) Instagram is a great platform for young quilters to connect with one another. The bonus is that your Millennial is probably already addicted to it.

Do you have additional ideas? Let’s hear them in the comments!…

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12 Responses to How to Pass Quilting Traditions to Millennials

  1. Brianna says:

    This is great! I understand where you’re coming from, as a 26 year-old quilter myself. I never understand the term “selfish sewing” – most of what I make is for me – and why not? I agree that DIY blogs, Etsy and designer fabrics are what got me hooked on sewing. I started by making a ruched duvet cover out of sheets following a tutorial, then found some awesome fabric online for a quilt and the rest is history. I think bags are a good gateway project into sewing. A sort of instant-gratification project that you get to use and carry around right away. From there you go to quilted bags and then to quilts! You’ve already learned most of the skills and now you just have to learn the patience part 🙂 I often have friends comment on how they like a bag or quilt and ask if I would sell them one. I offer to teach them instead, but no one’s taken me up on it yet. I was showing some cousins Anna Graham’s new book, Handmade Style, recently, and some non-sewers were interested in trying some projects out.

  2. Jane Drewel says:

    I have taught my 4 children how to sew. None of them feel my passion for sewing. I started quilting in my 40’s. Both my grandmas were accomplish seamstresses and quilters. My mother had no interest. Both my sister and I have seen since 7th grade (thanks home ec).I rush home from work to sit and quilt my stress away.

  3. Anita L says:

    Very interesting read. I like all the market research statistics in here. I am 41 and have trouble finding quilter friends in my personal life though I have hundreds of quilter friends online. I am teaching a couple of ladies who are about 10 years younger than me to quilt. Finding a venue that was free was an issue/barrier to this so I am having them over to my house to teach them. If you can’t find quilter friends you can create some right? 😉

  4. amanda says:

    I’m a mostly self taught quilter thanks to blogs, books from the library and an Alex Anderson quilt tv show that used to be on HGTV like 10 years ago. I think some of the doom and gloom about the future of quilting is probably called for (quilters are getting olders, brick and mortar quilt shops are struggling, etc.), but there is so much opportunity now to learn quilting and connect with other quilters. And when I show people my quilts or give them as gifts, I still see a real respect and reverence for quilting. Yes, it’s fun to make placemats or potholders or pillow cases or whatever, but I think the quilts are where it’s at.

  5. Deborah says:

    I started sewing less than one year ago. And I’m loving it. I’ve never tried quilting before but after seeing a few projects from Felice I’m feeling tempted to try.
    They Are so beautiful.I loved this post! 😀

  6. Rebecca says:

    As a mother of three pre-teen and teenage girls, I have made a consistent effort to teach my girls all of the skills I possess. The girls can sew, quilt, knit, crochet and embroider with varying skill levels.

    One thing I have found is that it requires sacrifice on my part as every time they ‘craft’, I end up not, i.e. the project I am working on gets laid aside so I can help them. These days whenever the sewing machine comes out, they get theirs out too. Sometimes I get frustrated that my own projects are moving so slowly but I am looking at the end goal; children who can create by themselves.

  7. Lee in KS says:

    Not about quilting, but about sewing in general: in the 1950s seventh grade meant girls got home economics (sewing and cooking) and boys got shop class. In 1980 or so at the school my son attended every seventh grade student got a short introduction to cooking, sewing, wood shop and art. at the end of the year each student could cook simple foods, sew basic projects (including reattach buttons) hammer a nail and use a saw (the art class led to skills harder to measure). My daughters learned to sew on buttons in Girl Scouts; by seventh grade they owned sewing machines and made their own skirts so they asked for shop instead of sewing (different district). One of my children mentioned that a college friend asked for help putting a button back on a shirt; I don’t know whether the student had forgotten, wasn’t sure, or never learned the skill. Fortunately we now live in an area with a large and active quilt guild; their annual show is marvelous. I may never quilt, but I am more than willing to help if asked.

  8. Mona says:

    Linda — Could not agree more with your observations.

  9. Linda says:

    Just need to comment that as a 50 something quilter I don’t know a single person my age that sews or quilts. It’s not just a problem with millenials. All the things you comment on are just as appealing to those my age! And baby quilts only appeal to a tiny group. And believe me – having children is both a money and time drain so enjoy your 20’s! One change I have seen that I don’t like is the heavy marketing of fabric lines and the “matchy” quilts that are designed for them. In my opinion it takes away from creativity and makes people think they have to spend a lot of money to make a quilt. And this push to make things fast – another ploy that forces more spending. I would love to see people slow down and relish the process.

  10. Absolutely fantastic article, Felice!!

  11. Jean Etheridge says:

    Take a new quilter to a good quilt store and give them confidence to buy what the like. Then take them out to lunch to celebrate. Go through your old magazines one more time and then give them to your new quilter. Repeat these steps as necessary or desired.

  12. Kittykat says:

    Hey! I am 12 and have been sewing for almost two years. My local sewing shop is my favourite place and everyone else I know who sews have been a real encouragement and super helpful. I am in the middle of my first quilt and am loving it. I think everyone should try sewing and see where it takes them!

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