Indiana Sewing Machine Repair Shop Thrives During Pandemic | Indiana News
By LAURA LANE, The Herald-Times
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Carolyn Jolley was sewing when her Brother embroidery machine malfunctioned a few weeks ago. She was customizing a baby blanket for a newborn great-niece when she caved.
His attempt to repair the machine failed; she ended up with pieces in her hand. “I couldn’t find any place to get it repaired in Columbus. Then I called here yesterday,” Jolley said.
Her friend Kathy Brown drove her and the broken embroidery machine to Bloomington early one Wednesday morning.
It was the only day this month that the Klaiber sewing center collects sewing machines for repair. Customers drag them to the store before 9 a.m. and line up outside. Klaiber’s takes the top 30.
“We don’t serve the Berninas,” employee Jeanette Foreman informs those gathered.
Among the first in line was Stevie Sargent, with her 18-month-old son Bruce in a stroller and his mother’s old Kenmore Dual Duty machine sitting on the floor in its worn brown case. The hinges are rusted, and a peek inside reveals a mid-1980s sewing machine with black electrical tape wrapped around the cord.
It’s the sewing machine of his childhood, the one his mom used to make her Halloween costumes. “She gave it to me about five years ago,” said Sargent, who isn’t really a seamstress. “I sew intermittently, usually patches. And I’ve already sewn curtains.
His mother offered to cover the cost of setting up the machine. Sargent brought it from Ellettsville early to make sure she got a spot. “She said, ‘Be there at 8:30 and get your machine online,’ so that’s what I did.”
Francisco Ormaza recently moved to Bloomington and bought a Brother sewing machine on Craigslist for $45. “All functions are broken except for the straight stitch,” he said as he stood outside the store.
When the 26-year-old artist discovered there was a sewing machine repair shop in town, he inquired and found out about drop-off day. He was on the front line. Ormaza intends to use the machine to create fabric sculptures. But first he said: a cover for a bicycle trailer.
Once inside the store, he posted a $30 bond and asked to be called with an estimate of the cost of the repair.
Jolley left the store with claim check #36432 and good news: her embroidery machine could be fixed for around $100 and could be finished in a week.
In a room that serves as a sewing machine repair shop, as the line progressed, Glen Hilderbrand had already taken Sargent’s Kenmore out of its case. The well-used machine just needed some maintenance.
The same goes for many other sewing machines from south central Indiana and beyond that have found their way to Klaiber’s. Interest in sewing has skyrocketed during the pandemic, sparked by widespread interest in making cloth masks after the CDC’s advice in April that mask-wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19.
Glen Hilderbrand has repaired 400 sewing machines since the store reopened May 15 after being closed for more than two months when Indiana went into lockdown last spring.
His wife, Rose Hilderbrand, is an avid quilter who runs the store with the help of two employees. She said the past year has been busier than she could have ever imagined. They can barely keep up.
In addition to repairing sewing machines, Klaiber’s sells them, along with thread and other quilting supplies.
There are 2,000 rolls of cotton fabric on display, and the store sells a lot of them. Klaiber’s is taking orders on its website: fabric from the store has been shipped, one yard at a time, across the country.
A few years before retiring from teaching consumer science and simple sewing mechanics in 2007, the Hilderbrands purchased the sewing center at 617 W. 17th St. from the Klaiber family, who had started the business in Spencer 58 years ago.
There has been a steady stream of customers and troubleshooting calls from people having problems with their machines over the years. But never something like that, because people try to find a company of which there are not many.
Sewing machine repairers have never been more in demand as people pull them out of storage. They need to be lubricated and cleaned, and the tension often needs to be adjusted.
Glen Hilderbrand keeps about 2,000 old sewing machines in a warehouse at their home in Lawrence County, where he sources hard-to-find parts. “If he needs a part, he goes to the building,” said his wife, where the machines are organized by brand.
“From our reopening in May until July, we had 120 machines brought here to be repaired,” said Rose Hilderbrand. “We had no place to put them. It was overwhelming how they were all lined up and stacked up here. People were pulling out machines they hadn’t used in years.
Klaiber’s can hardly keep new machines in stock, when it can get them from backorders. A day earlier this month, the store had two new machines and both sold out over the phone within hours.
Last fall, a CNN business story said the pandemic had led to the biggest spike in demand for sewing machines ever.
Rose Hilderbrand said her clientele ranged from older women like herself to a growing number of young people like Sargent and Ormaza.
Back when she learned to sew from her grandmother and 4-H, Hilderbrand made clothes such as blouses, skirts and coats. She even made her own wedding dress in 1967. It was figure-hugging, with a long lace train and tapered point sleeves.
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 is crumpled on a back table next to a novelty 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.”
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.