Grant House Sewing Machines thrives on community.
Typically, the store hosts classes and events, participates in quilt shows and is constantly plugged into the vast sewing community in Santa Barbara County, as well as Ventura and San Luis Obispo.
“When we’re doing that kind of stuff our business is solvent and really awesome. When we don’t have that it’s really hard. We can be really really busy but we don’t make much,” said owner Grant House.
At first, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, that community engagement went away.
Like so many sewing shops and private contractors, even industrial operations, Mr. House realized that his entire business plan for the year had been completely upended.
Then came the incredible need for masks, here and around the country, and CDC guidelines on how to sew them. The Santa Barbara sewing community sprung into action.
“One way people can be receiving this is oh this is awful. It’s just awful. It’s the most terrible thing ever. It is, but in a way the people that are sewing are receiving a chance to really contribute to use their talents and their skills in a meaningful way in the community,” said Mr. House.
“It’s just amazing. There’s a real resurgence in interest in sewing. It’s practical, it’s making a difference for families and groups that have people sewing and making these masks, learning how to do it. For us, it means we are a very important resource for those people.”
In the time since the public has learned about the need for masks and how to help make them, Grant House Sewing Machines went from being dead in the water to a hub for the tri-county region’s mask sewing efforts.
Now, Mr. House sees everyone from life-long professionals to beginners and industrial manufacturers to contractors working out of their homes coming to his store for fabric and elastic, small and industrial machines, and more.
“We’re kind of the only company in a very large area that is set up the way we are selling industrial and home sewing machines, and we have fabric and a lot of know how, so people are really coming to us for support and help and machines,” said Mr. House.
“The other stores around, the fabric stores down in Ventura and Camarillo, they’ve closed. The other factory stores in the region are out. They’re closed and not letting people get stuff.”
In addition to providing much needed supplies to the community, Grant House Sewing Machines has become an indispensable resource for advice and coordination for those looking to use their sewing talents to provide protection to first responders, doctors and nurses, grocery store clerks, the elderly, and seemingly everyone else.
With all the questions about how to help coming in, Mr. House has begun referring interested customers to long-time customer Laurie Gross-Shaeffer.
“By referring many many people to her, it became a kind of clearinghouse for a lot of people that were interested and it was helpful to guiding their interests, whether it would be in helping to coordinate the effort or take on more work or whatever,” said Mr. House.
Grant House Sewing Machines is supporting other independent sewing groups around the county, like the neighborhood mask making effort mobilized by Pat Beals in Carpinteria, and Judy Weisbart in her mask making coordination with the Santa Barbara Foundation.
“There’s lots of different groups that are now doing stuff, and we get to see it all,” said Mr. House. “I mean, it’s just amazing.”
With just two employees to lend a hand, Mr. House has been incredibly busy helping with those volunteer efforts, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle, he told the News-Press.
“There are so many people laid off from their sewing jobs, and there’s dress makers that aren’t getting the work anymore, so they’re turning their skills this way,” said Mr. House
Fortunately, after the sewing industry took a hit, professionals found that mask making can actually be profitable.
“They’re making and selling really high quality masks or they’re doing work for contractors. My job has been to help keep their industrial machines running and also to provide them with more machines or more modern machines to help them,” said Mr. House.
Mr. House said while it’s fantastic that people are volunteering and donating masks, he’s hopeful that people don’t see someone making high quality masks and charging 10 or 15 dollars for them as a bad thing.
“These people are providing food for their families, they’re keeping businesses alive, and are producing a product at a higher volume and a better quality than you could probably find elsewhere. I’m really hoping that as we move forward we respect and appreciate the people that are putting themselves at service to the community that way,” said Mr. House.
“It’s making a difference to them and their families to make sure they are supported in this really essential and important work.”
Mr. House said the most amazing part of the whole situation is the joy and the heart that people are putting into the effort.
“I am seeing such incredible heart. Whole families. Today I had this mom and dad and their two little kids came all the way down from Pismo Beach to buy an industrial sewing machine for mom to be able to meet the demands for masks that she’s getting. She’s a sewer and she sews for a living in her little studio. She doesn’t make that much money, but it helps to support the family. She’s overwhelmed with work, and here’s a whole family fully engaged in supporting her to do that,” said Mr. House.
“It’s really wonderful, and so there is a very joyful incredibly uplifting component to this thing that my staff and I are frontline witnesses of.”
While certain supplies like elastic and stabilizer are difficult to find, Grant House Sewing Machines has resources on the industrial of sewing that allows them to get what they need. Mr. House has shipments of elastic on the way, hundreds of bolts of fabric on order, and more beginner, professional and industrial machines coming in. Luckily, he’s been able to secure a series of orders that will be delivered over the next few weeks and into June.
“Our job is kind of to investigate what people are needing for sewing, and then just be crazy at trying to get it. Everyone’s been very patient, but they’ve all been incredibly appreciative. The gratitude is mutual,” said Mr. House. “The gratitude is freakin off the charts.”