BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – Carolyn Jolley was sewing away when her Brother embroidery machine malfunctioned a few weeks ago. She was personalizing a baby blanket for a newborn great-niece when it gave out.

Her attempt to fix the machine failed; she ended up with pieces in her hand. “I couldn’t find any place to get it fixed in Columbus. Then I called over here yesterday,” Jolley said.

Friend Kathy Brown drove her, and the broken embroidery machine, to Bloomington early on a recent Wednesday morning.

It was the one day this month that Klaiber’s Sewing Center takes in sewing machines for repair. Customers lug them to the store before 9 a.m. and line up outside. Klaiber’s takes the first 30.

“We do not service Berninas,” employee Jeanette Foreman informs those assembled.

Among the first in line was Stevie Sargent, with her 18-month-old son Bruce in a stroller and her mom’s old Kenmore Dual Duty machine sitting on the ground in its worn brown case. The hinges are rusty, and a look inside reveals a mid-1980s sewing machine with black electrical tape wrapped around the cord.

This is the sewing machine of her childhood, the one her mom used to make her Halloween costumes. “She gave it to me about five years ago,” said Sargent, who’s not much of a seamstress. “I sew intermittently, usually patch jobs. And I’ve sewn curtains before.”

Her mom offered to cover the cost of having the machine tuned up. Sargent brought it over from Ellettsville early to make sure she got a spot. “She said, ‘Be there by 8:30 and put your machine in line,’ so that’s what I did.”

Francisco Ormaza recently moved to Bloomington and bought a Brother sewing machine on Craigslist for $45. “All of the functions are broken except for the straight stitch,” he said while standing outside the store.

When the 26-year-old artist found out there was a sewing machine repair shop in town, he inquired and found out about drop-off day. He was first in line. Ormaza intends to use the machine to create fabric sculptures. But first, he said: a cover for a bike trailer.

Once inside the store, he put down a $30 deposit and asked to be called with an estimate of the repair cost.

Jolley exited the store with claim check No. 36432 and good news: Her embroidery machine could be fixed for about $100, and might be done in a week.

In a room that serves as a sewing machine repair shop, as the line moved forward, Glen Hilderbrand had already removed Sargent’s Kenmore from its case. The well-used machine just needed some tending to.

So have a lot of other sewing machines from around south-central Indiana and beyond that have found their way to Klaiber’s. Interest in sewing has skyrocketed during the pandemic, initiated by widespread interest in making cloth face masks after the CDC’s April notice that mask wearing reduces COVID-19 spread.

Glen Hilderbrand has repaired 400 sewing machines since the store reopened May 15 after being closed more than two months when Indiana went into lockdown last spring.

His wife, Rose Hilderbrand, is an avid quilter who runs the store with help from two employees. She said the past year has been busier than she ever could have imagined. They can hardly keep up.

In addition to repairing sewing machines, Klaiber’s sells them, as well as thread and other quilting supplies.

There are 2,000 bolts of cotton fabric on display, and the store sells a lot of it. Klaiber’s takes orders on its website: Fabric from the store has been shipped, one yard at a time, around the country.

A few years before she retired from teaching consumer science and the mechanics of simple sewing in 2007, the Hilderbrands bought the sewing center at 617 W. 17th St. from the Klaiber family, who had started the business in Spencer 58 years ago.

There’s been a steady flow of customers and trouble-shooting calls from people having issues with their machines over the years. But never anything like this, as people try to find a business of which there aren’t many.

Sewing machine fixers have never been so sought after as people bring them out from storage. They need to be lubricated and cleaned and the tension often needs adjusting.

Glen Hilderbrand keeps about 2,000 old sewing machines in a storage building at their Lawrence County home where he mines difficult-to-find parts. “If he needs a part, he goes out to the building,” his wife said, where machines are organized by brand.

“From when we opened back up in May through July, we had 120 machines brought in here to fix,” Rose Hilderbrand said. “We didn’t have a place to put them. It was overwhelming how they were all lined up and stacked in here. People were pulling out machines they haven’t used for years.”

Klaiber’s can hardly keep new machines in stock, when they can get them from back orders. One day earlier this month, the store had two new machines and both sold by phone within a few hours.

A CNN business story last fall said the pandemic has brought the biggest spike in sewing machine demand ever seen.

Rose Hilderbrand said her customers range from older women like her to a growing number of younger people like Sargent and Ormaza.

Back when she learned to sew, from her grandmother and through 4-H, Hilderbrand made garments such as blouses, skirts and coats. She even made her wedding dress in 1967. It was form fitting, with a long lace train and sleeves that tapered to a point.

These days, her interest lies in quilting. She is working on several, including one for her 18-year-old granddaughter who selected five pink-and-purple cotton prints at the store for what will become a family heirloom.

The partially constructed quilt lies crumpled on a table in the back next to a fancy Baby Lock sewing machine. Rose Hilderbrand works on it sporadically throughout the day.

“To tell you the truth,” she said, “I don’t have much time to sew.”

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Source: The Herald-Times

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