Business

Fabric store is a source of island creativity

Island Fabrics Etc. owner Judy Martin serves customers in the shop when she is not busy buying fabric and accessories or teaching sewing classes.  - Patricia Duff
Island Fabrics Etc. owner Judy Martin serves customers in the shop when she is not busy buying fabric and accessories or teaching sewing classes.
— image credit: Patricia Duff

FREELAND — There is a craze that has swept the country and it’s keeping people in stitches.

Sewing has become fashionable again and is no longer associated with fuddy-duddy old ladies or the tortuous home-ec classes of long ago.

Judy Martin, owner of Island Fabrics Etc. in Freeland, said that the trend is reflected here on Whidbey Island.

“There is a return to home sewing,” said Martin. “Not for savings but for individuality and the ability to make things fit.”

Martin linked the trend to the personality of her South End clientele. There are a lot of artists here, she said, and they are creative people who wish to dress creatively and express themselves through their clothing as well as their art. Sewing their own clothes gives them that freedom.

“Sewing, too, is an art form,” she said.

Indeed, Island Fabrics Etc. has a healthy selection of fabrics for all manner of self-expression, including separate sections for home decorating, quilting and sewing.

Martin started the store in Ken’s Korner 26 years ago, moving to the Freeland shopping center next to Payless in 1997. She started with only 1,200 square feet of space, which housed about 800 bolts of fabric. Martin now carries more than 3,000 bolts in the 4,000-square-foot shop.

“Now I have a whole room just for trims,” said Martin.

The flourishing craft of sewing has attracted a younger, hipper population to its ranks and is no longer thought of as the staid hobby reserved for the realm of the domestic lady.

It is now a creative outlet for career-minded young women in addition to an older, sophisticated set and even some men; tailoring enthusiasts who are joining chic urban sewing circles or exchanging tips on the Internet. According to a Time Magazine article in May 2006, the Home Sewing Association estimates there are 35 million sewing hobbyists in the country — a jump of 5 million from six years earlier. And annual sales of Singer machines have doubled to 3 million since 1999.

Here on the island, sewing circles are extending the trend to include social events.

Island Fabrics Etc. recently hosted its second annual Mother’s Day Tea and Fashion Show in May. With sponsorship and donations from community businesses including Ace Home Center, Flowers By The Bay, Island Tea Company, Linds Jewelry, Payless Foods, Whidbey Coffee and Island Fabrics Etc., the show was a success with 60 fashionistas attending.

The 52 garments modeled were designed and sewn by employees, teachers and students of Island Fabrics Etc., which runs a year-round, in-shop sewing school, and by local clothing-designer

L.J. Designs.

Following the success of the fashion show, the non-profit Friends of Friends have tapped the talented sewing clan to host a fashion show for them for its annual fundraising luncheon at Useless Bay Country Club this fall.

The success story of Island Fabrics Etc. can be traced to Martin’s natural business savvy. It’s kept her on top of the sewing wave from the beginning.

Martin said that when most fabric stores were selling only quilting fabrics, she knew she would need to diversify.

“I always said there was room for everything,” she said.

She kept buying fabrics for clothing makers when the bigger chain stores were paring down their inventory. Martin supplied quilters as well, but went a step further and built an addition to create the home decorating section long before other fabric stores caught on. Her business has been expanding ever since.

Island Fabrics Etc. has become a hub for crafty, creative people on the South End and offers a full set of classes for sewers of all ages and experience levels.

Classes include everything from “FUNdamentals of Sewing for Kids and Teens” and “Whidbey Landscape Quilting,” to “Light Upholstery” and “Embellished Grandmother’s Rose Fan.”

“We live on an island and we do things a little differently than the rest of the country,” Martin said.

While Martin has seen a few changes during the growth of Island Fabrics Etc., one thing hasn’t changed.

Velcro still costs the same since she opened in 1981.

“It’s still $1 a foot,” she said.

To learn more about classes visit www.islandfabrics.com or call the store at 331-4435.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduff@southwhidbey

record.com.

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