Sew Wrong

A new generation struggles with an ancient chore.

today’s young people are enviably adept at all things electronic, digital natives whose deft management of transformative technologies will undoubtedly lead us toward a happier, healthier and more harmonious future.

But can they sew on a button?

Not likely, says Pamela Norum, a professor of textile and apparel management at MU. In fact, Norum found in a recent study, the so-called Millennial Generation are woefully deficient in a wide range of clothing repair and maintenance skills. It’s a state of affairs that generates mountains of discarded garments each year, a situation curiously at odds with these same young people’s professed enthusiasm for all things environmental.

“In 2012, Americans created more than 14.3 million tons of textile waste,” Norum said. “Much of this waste is due to clothes being discarded due to minor tears or stains–easily repairable damages if the owners have the skills and knowledge to fix them. If we, as a nation, want to move toward more sustainable practices in all aspects, we need to evaluate not only how we take care of our clothes, but how we educate younger generations to do so as well.”

Norum’s study, published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, surveyed more than 500 American consumers, including baby boomers and millennials, about their clothing consumption practices. It confirmed her suspicion that baby boomers would have much more knowledge of clothing repair and laundry than their younger counterparts. But the research did contain a kernel of hope for clothing-conservation-challenged youth: Millennials who said they had taken sewing classes, or had been taught to sew by a family member, reported more overall clothing repair skills than those who hadn’t.

Norum says this indicates the need for parents and schools to do more to help today’s young people acquire the varieties of clothing-maintenance abilities that were once commonplace.

“Traditionally, these skills were learned in the home or in secondary school,” Norum said. “With the increase of women in the labor force and the decrease in funding for family and consumer sciences programs, the opportunity to acquire such skills has diminished for young Americans. Tech savvy Millenials may want to use online platforms — videos, Pinterest, blogs — to fill in the gaps in their clothing maintenance knowledge.”

Texas Longhorn

Household Hi-tech, Circa 1875
As sewing skills fade, textile wastes pile up. Last year alone some 14.3 tons of discarded clothing was dumped in the nation’s landfills.

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