With the popularity of “Project Runway,” the handmade goods purveyor Etsy.com, and tutorial YouTube videos, sewing in America is on the rise. 39 million Americans are said to own a sewing machine, 4 million sew at least once a week. And technology is keeping up. Smartphone apps can match thread to fabric and digitize embroidery designs. While the average human hand can sew about 20 stitches a minute, a standard sewing machine today can do about 800. A fancy expensive one with a USB port and hi-res touchscreen can do 1000/minute. The Pentagon is betting that a robot can do more and faster, giving a $1.2 million grant to a company called Softwear Automation to build a computer-controlled sewing machine that will go even faster.
Last year, in the city of Pune, India, a local governing body gave away 9,000 sewing machines to women for self-employment as part of its welfare program. The program received 14,000 applications.