Such inspiration is not easily available in San Diego. The fabric stock at chains like Joann, she says, are often cheesy and cheap-looking.
"The reason we sew clothing for ourselves is to make a quality project you can't get in stores," Backes said.
This sentiment is shared among many new sewists, said Bernadette Banner, a fashion YouTuber who specializes in making historic costumes and "historically inspired" modern clothing. Banner saw a huge spike in her online following over the past two years after she made a series of viral videos criticizing the lack of quality in fast fashion.
In 2018, Banner only had 1,000 subscribers. Little more than a year later, she's amassed over 550,000 subscribers. Her video comparing her handmade clothes to a fast fashion knock-off has been viewed over 3.3 million times.
"I think people are inspired by the craftsmanship, quality and thought that used to go into clothing back in the day," Banner said. "Especially now, when we are saturated with overconsumption. There's something charming in seeing something that has taken time to be crafted beautifully. It's novel nowadays."
In the comments on Banner's videos, her fans marvel over the detail, sturdiness and quality of her hand-stitched clothing. Turned inside out, Banner's clothing is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the exterior.
Hand-felled seams hide all raw edges, and acute attention to detail leaves no thread out of place.
But creative craftsmanship isn't necessarily why older generations would sew their clothes at home. Before the days of fast fashion and cheap, synthetic materials, it was expensive to buy clothes. It wasn't that long ago when sewing was the most economical choice, and price was the priority of home sewers.
"My mother-in-law had nine children, and she would sew all their clothes because it was the most cost-effective way to do it," Backes said.
Today, home sewists often spend far more money constructing a custom dress at home than they would spend buying an off-the-rack item at Forever 21. Backes forked over $100 for the quality fabrics she used to create her camel hair coat. Granted, it was probably less than she'd spend on a new designer coat, but it also wasn't a thrifty project.
An opportunity in the fabric industry Stores like Yardage Town, Joann, or Walmart, with their discount fabrics and affordable synthetics, are behind. They aren't targeting a generation that values craft and quality.
This is why Backes and her small group of sewing classmates travel up to Los Angeles to buy their materials from Mood Fabrics. Founded in 1991 in the New York City fashion district, Mood specializes in designer brands and premium fashion fabrics. It also has a massive online presence, which shores up its brick-and-mortar spots in Los Angeles and New York. (Yes, it's the same Mood Fabrics from Bravo's TV series Project Runway).
Like all retail these days, fabric stores likely can't survive without an online presence. Giants like Amazon-owned Fabric.com dominate the Internet scene, but independent sellers are getting into the game, too. And with fabric stores dying off, the Internet is where most young sewers are buying their material.
According to Banner, that's a travesty.
"One of the most common questions I get is where to shop online for fabric," Banner said. "But online is not the way to go for fabric shopping. There's no way to see how fabric behaves, you need to touch it; see how it moves. If you're a beginner, you'll learn a lot slower by shopping online." Edwards, who gets commissions to make dresses for clients, said it takes the spontaneity out of sewing.
"As a dressmaker, I can't do anything on a short timeline anymore," Edwards said. "I have to order swatches online first, and then the whole process is weeks added to the time of making the garment."
For Backes, she thinks the death of old-fashioned fabric stores, and the surge in creative sewing, creates an opening in the market for a new player to be successful.
"Maybe within five years or so a high-quality fabric store will open in San Diego," Backes said. "I think it would do quite well. Sewing used to be a dying art. But it's not dying anymore." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.