Sewing used to have a very different image, noted Tim Shields, owner of Shields Sewing Center.
“Sewing used to be a hobby that was associated with older people, but that has changed a lot in recent years,” he said. “Popular shows like ‘Project Runway’ have given the sewing market a little boost — it’s become kind of trendy for people to make their own clothing.”
Shields Sewing Center has been operating since 1980 at its flagship location in the Quad Cities, and has been in business in Iowa City since 2001. Shields offers a variety of Brother sewing and embroidery machines, software, threads, bobbins, and even sewing furniture.
Shields’s father started the business in 1980 after working for Singer for a number of years. Two decades later, Tim opened and ran the Iowa City store, and eventually became the owner of the entire business.
He splits his time between locations, and employs three full- and part-time staff members in Iowa City, as well as two trained technicians at the Rock Island location.
As with many retail businesses, Shields said he typically sees a spike in business around the holidays. The months between September and April are usually the busiest times of the year.
“Summer sales tend to taper off a bit because so many people are getting outdoors more. But with embroidery picking up in popularity, the peak season has been extended,” Shields said.
He’s seen embroidery become more in demand as more people are interested in making their own clothes and gifts. The technique also is good for personalizing team sporting uniforms.
With many repeat customers coming back and eventually upgrading their machines, Shields also has added classes in which customers can continue to develop their skills.
Another important facet of the Shields business is repair.
“The repair work can be pretty intricate — especially in older models,” Shields said. “Newer models have more electronic settings, so it’s important to specialize in both types.”
Life of the machine
West Side Sewing in Cedar Rapids aims to cater to customers of all skill levels — from entry-level, all the way up to proficient sewers — and therefore sells all models of Viking machines as well as other makes.
“We offer advanced training classes for the life of the machine. It’s this private, one-on-one training that really sets us apart from other dealerships. With personalized teaching, customers are able to grow with their sewing machine,” owner Shelley Cervantes said.
West Side has been in business for 86 years, and employs eight full- and part-time staff members.
Cervantes has worked for the family-owned store for the past 14 years.
The staff at West Side finalizes each machine’s settings before a customer ever uses it.
“We open every single brand-new machine that is purchased here and fine-tune the settings. Doing this doubles the performance of the machine,” Cervantes explained.
For machines that are older or in need of restoration, West Side also offers expertise. Certified technicians on staff means that “we’re able to handle all kinds of repairs on not just the models we sell, but all kinds of machines,” Cervantes said.