A stitch in tea-time!

Thanks to the growing make-do-and-mend trend, the sewing café arrives in Britain

By Kate Youde
Sunday 27 February 2011 01:00

Sewing cafés are opening across the country fuelled by a growing trend for people to "make do and mend". The opening last spring of Sweat Shop, near Paris's trendy Canal St Martin area, caused a buzz among sewers on both sides of the Channel and the concept is, increasingly, being translated into businesses here.

Sewing cafés operate in a similar way to internet cafés by offering customers the chance to hire sewing machines – instead of computers – by the hour while they tuck into coffee and cake, as well as providing craft workshops. Kiri Lewin, who has run Café Crema with her partner Chris Boddington in London's New Cross since 2004, decided the Parisian concept sounded "really romantic". She introduced two free-to-use sewing machines to her cafe in January after receiving £3,000 funding from the Capital Community Foundation charity to cover the costs of equipment and workshops. "The tills haven't been ringing wildly since we have got the sewing machines," Ms Lewin admitted. "It's more it's a nice thing to do and to see people in the window making something."

However, Nicola Barron claimed the sewing café she runs three times a week at her craft salon Homemade London, which opened in the city's West End in September, was "a great marketing tool" as people often subsequently book on to workshops. Customers pay £10 an hour, including tea and cake, to use one of 12 sewing machines or six overlockers.

The majority are women in their 20s and 30s."People who haven't met before, you hear them talking about office affairs and giving each other life advice," Mrs Barron said.

While sewing cafés benefit people who cannot afford to buy a machine and give novices the chance to try it out, it is the social aspect that most appeals to Nadia Kamil. The 26-year-old comedy writer and performer started using Homemade London because she did not own a machine, but still visits even though she now has her own.

Kate Smith hopes to launch her second sewing café in her shop, the Makery Emporium, Bath, which opened three months ago. Customers of her first drop-in sewing café, which has run once a week in the city at her craft business since December 2009, share ideas and inspiration.

"It's just a really fun, friendly, positive thing to do," she explained. "A lot of people have made proper friends from coming because we are all quite similarly-minded people."

The business is thriving despite the economic downturn, which has helped to fuel a "make do and mend" culture. "January was the busiest month we have ever had, which is a really good sign for this year," Mrs Smith said.

Other sewing cafés are run at the Cornwall Yarn Shop in Launceston and the Make Lounge in London's Islington. Since Ashley Holdsworth opened Make It Glasgow in September in the city, which is also home to the Yarn Cake knitting café, she has received inquiries from all over the world.

Golnaz Alibagi, news and features editor at Craft Business magazine, said sewing cafés are a growing trend. She added: "Before, if you did a workshop it made you stand out; now it doesn't, so I think it's about doing something a bit different and it appeals to the younger market as well."

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