Sewing machines have come a long way from the treadle machines powered by foot motion used by our ancestors. Today many sewing tasks can be done with the touch of a button, from sewing to quilting to embroidery.
Witnessing the past thirty years of this evolution of sewing machines is Kala Murphy, owner of The Fabric Garden in Madison, Maine. This May marks their 30th year as a Janome Sewing Machine Dealer, and 36th year in business. Janome was the first company to offer a computerized sewing machine for home use (the Memory 7, in 1979), the first to offer professional style embroidery to the home market (the Memory Craft 8000, in 1990) and the first to offer a long-arm quilting machine for home use (the Memory Craft 6500P, in 2003).
The changes in sewing machines over recent years have been astounding. Those coming back to sewing or quilting after many years are usually amazed at how effortless today’s sewing machines have made the tasks of “the old days”. Today’s machines do most things automatically, from cutting the thread to embroidering intricate designs using multiple thread colors. This transition to ease-of-use machines has allowed sewists and quilters to be more creative, as they are less encumbered with the functionality of machines, and more focused on simply having fun.
When The Fabric Garden opened in 1978, most customers were sewing their own clothes out of necessity, and the fabrics offered in the store were geared towards apparel sewing. As everyday garments became more readily available, the trend moved from sewing to quilting and The Fabric Garden switched gears to become a quilt shop in the 1980’s. They began offering sewing machines in 1984.
Murphy remembers the early days in contrast to today. “When we opened the doors in 1978, The Fabric Garden had less than 1,000 bolts of fabric”, says Murphy. “We didn’t yet offer sewing machines, and we only had three employees – me, my late aunt and co-founder, Marie Priebe, and my sister Beth (Swain). Today we have nine employees, over 10,000 bolts of fabric, and a full line of Janome sewing machines Back then, people were buying machines out of necessity; to sew items to wear or to decorate their home”, Murphy remembers. “Today the shift is towards a more inspirational, enjoyable process. Many people sew and quilt for the sheer joy of it. The sewing machines are easier to use than ones in the past, taking the burden off the user. People are busy, their time is precious, and they appreciate being able to sit down and just be artistic.”
Murphy is pleased with the changes in technology over the years. “One reason why I’m very happy being a Janome dealer is their innovations in technology and the quality of their products”, says Murphy. “They redefined sewing and quilting, and continue to be on the forefront in that aspect. Janome’s most recent machine, the Horizon Memory Craft 15000, communicates over wireless network to a laptop/PC or iPad, so you can be in one room creating embroidery designs then send it over your wireless network to the machine in another room. Things have come a long way from the mechanical machines we offered in the 80’s.”
Although the technology is innovative, it need not be daunting. Murphy recently met with an 85-year old customer who purchased a computerized embroidery machine, so she could integrate embroidery designs into her quilting and sewing projects. Years ago people would embroider strictly by hand, but now there is the option to just put the fabric in the hoop, press a button and let the machine stitch the design.
Yet even with all these innovations, the human element remains at the forefront. At the core, these modern sewing machines help facilitate an individual’s means of expressing themselves through design. And even though there is a changing landscape in regard to both technology and retail, Murphy believes that personalized service is at the heart of her longevity as a Janome dealer and as a retailer. “The most satisfying and rewarding part of this business is meeting with people, sharing their enthusiasm, and learning what they wish to create. Helping them choose the right machine transforms their ideas into a reality. They know that we’re here seven days a week to help them. And it’s still fun to sit down with a customer one-on-one to teach them their new machine and hear them amaze at how much sewing machines have changed, for the better.”
The Fabric Garden is having a “Janome Appreciation Day” on Saturday May 17, as a way to say thanks to their customers, and to welcome new Janome enthusiasts. All attendees will receive a free Janome gift.