A stitch in time: hobbyists get smart in fabric shops during the pandemic
EAST LONGMEADOW – This year should be filled with celebrations for Valerie Morton.
May marked the 15th anniversary of the ownership of Quilts & Treasures Inc. But instead of fanfare to celebrate the milestone, COVID-19 Early on on her journey as a small business owner, she brought back memories of a difficult time: the Great Recession.
“Things were really tough when the recession hit,” said Morton. “But I don’t feel like I’m living hand-to-mouth like I was in 2008. I was able to recover a little.”
The global pandemic and subsequent home stay advice dealt Quilts & Treasures a financial blow that Morton says she didn’t even sit down to calculate. Like many other retail stores in the Commonwealth, Quilts & Treasures had to close its doors in March and reopen in early June.
Prior to closing, Morton was scheduled to host a three-day nursing retreat in Rhode Island – one of a series of annual craft outings the store hosts. Eighty people reserved a place for the weekend for $ 250 each. After the event was canceled, some attendees agreed to receive credit, but not all. Lots of people asked for a refund.
“It was really hard,” said Morton. “I went home and sat on the floor of my living room and just cried.”
The retreat, special events, and courses were an integral part of their business. But with the pandemic, all of these social commitments were put on hold.
“Quiling is a really social activity that is really fun to get together,” she said.
During the shutdown, Morton tried to move her business to an online platform – something she had never done before. The service enabled customers to pick up purchases right up to the curb. She even FaceTiming with clients so they can choose fabrics themselves. While she says the platform is admittedly still in the works, the website is receiving online orders on a daily basis.
Mindy Camrye, one of the store clerks, says it has been difficult to keep up with roadside sales at times. Quilts & Treasures has 15 employees, but with several having immunocompromised spouses or children, many have not yet returned to work. However, the company received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, a $ 349 billion emergency loan program launched by the U.S. Small Business Administration through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) in April .
The loans are administered locally by a national network of banks and credit unions and are designed to maintain the viability of small businesses facing financial difficulties during the pandemic.
A tight-knit community
Because the quilting community tends to be very social and active, Morton says that many people meet through video conferencing software like Zoom to meet up to three days a week. Quilts & Treasures has regular customers from Southern Connecticut and Adams. The store was made aware that organizations such as visiting nurses and home care groups needed hundreds of masks and asked for help. Quilts & Treasures donated several materials for the effort.
“Nobody asked anything. It was about keeping people safe, ”Camrye said. “Sometimes they looked like backyard deals when we put a spool or piece of elastic in a ziploc bag that was left on the steps of the houses.”
After closing for three months, Morton said she assumed her business would be busy but had no idea what to expect. Mask making and has brought both the skilled artisan and novice out of woodwork. For the newbie, she has encouraged quilting projects for beginners.
Although limited to having two employees in the business at a time – and since not all of her employees have returned – Morton says she works 12-hour days.
As the initial panic eased with the store reopening, customers began browsing the store’s extensive news department. The store, which holds more than 3,000 balls of fabric, sold out almost immediately in fabrics with prints from Harry Potter, New England sports teams and superheroes. Surprisingly, Morton found, Disney princess stuff wasn’t that popular.
Unlike long-time quilters, beginners tend to look for much smaller amounts of fabric, such as a quarter yard instead of two yards or more of each. However, the shop has no restrictions on purchasing fabrics.
Harder than it seems
Given the higher demand in the industry, both small stores and larger chains are seeing bottlenecks that they have never experienced before.
Since masks are one of the main reasons people go to a fabric store, Quilts & Treasures started selling the 3-in-1 face mask template from Creative Grids. The store has sold more than 100 copies of the template that makes small, medium, or large masks.
Another item that flies off the shelves is elastic. The item is something Morton has never ordered before but sold more than 1,400 yards of it, she said. Some products are still in arrears.
Fabric stabilizers are another unlikely item that has been in high demand. Typically used in shirt collars or in paperbacks, many consumers flock to Quilts & Treasures to purchase fabric stabilizers for the inside of masks.
At some point, consumers even wiped out the store’s inventory of sewing machine needles.
Also, many sewing machines that people had “crazy” in a closet, basement, or attic were pulled out and taken to Quilts & Treasures for repair. In fact, Stephen Power, who repaired sewing machines in the back of the East Longmeadow store, is currently booking appointments through November.
And for those who didn’t want to wait for their older model to be repaired, sales for newer models began to surge so much that there were delays all over the world. Although Quilts & Treasures is an authorized dealer of the Pfaff brand, the sale of sewing machines has been suspended for the time being.
“Nobody could foresee such a demand,” said Morton. “And nobody did it. Not Jo-Anns, not Walmart … nobody. “
Jo-Ann Stores Inc. – headquartered in Hudson, Ohio and operates more than 800 Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts stores across the country – offered online ordering and roadside pickup while advising Governor Charlie Baker at home. Companies close their doors. The chain also opened classrooms set up exclusively for mask making with sewing machines, instructions, and materials to help make face masks and covers, gowns, and other items that are sent to hospitals in the United States
Shauntina Lilly, a company spokeswoman, said the sewing community had made more than 230,790,000 masks through the chain’s mask sets, fabric donations and support from their partners by the end of July.
SVP Worldwide, which includes the Singer, Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking sewing brands, has increased production at its Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking plants, said Dean Brindle, the company’s chief marketing officer. Though he didn’t want to reveal specific numbers, Brindle said the company had seen 20-30% growth across all three brands.
This growth extends to the spectrum of price points. Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking products start at $ 300 to $ 400 and cap the manufacturer’s suggested retail price at around $ 16,000 to $ 17,000.
In late March and April, Singer outperformed the other two brands largely due to its existing online presence, he added.
As one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sewing needles, SVP Worldwide has its own factory in Brazil, according to Brindle, and has increased its production to meet growing global demands.
And while the demand for sewing machines remains on the rise, that demand is not just geographically concentrated in North America. Brindle says it can be felt worldwide.
“Our demand at SVP Worldwide could fill virtually any consumer sewing facility in the world for the remainder of the year,” he said. “We assume that the supply bottlenecks will continue throughout 2020, believe it or not.”