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Niche Market | Sewing Machines

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

(Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market will take a peek inside a different specialty store and showcase the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Sew Right
223-20 Union Turnpike
Bayside, NY 11364

Carried in hefty travel bags dragging behind them, a group of women wheel their sewing machines into Sew Right and eagerly set up shop. All morning, the whirring sound of their needles piercing fabric flits through the air, interspersed with updates on grandchildren, spouses, color choices and a good deal of self-deprecating laughter. These seamstresses aren't working for hire; the ladies in the "Block of the Month Club" are all about play.

Taking a break from their machinery, the ten retired women in the quilting club, who range from former software engineers to deli counter workers, huddled around a large work table, paying rapt attention to their instructor, Elaine Jansen, who was holding court on how to piece triangles together.

Most of the machines the women rolled in through the door had been rolled out many years ago with a receipt and a handshake from Harvey Federman, owner of this sewing machine shop, which also doubles as a sewing classroom and de facto community center. Federman, who began his career in the business working for the Singer sewing machine company, opened Sew Right Sewing Machines in 1983 in a quiet section of eastern Queens. It’s become a destination for sewing and embroidery enthusiasts looking for high-end machines that range from $140-$10,000.

Marguerite Woods, a member of the quilting club, bought three machines at the shop—a sewing machine with embroidery attachments, a quilting machine and a serger machine for seams. "I have my machines in my basement and almost every morning I go down and sew for at least two hours. I make quilts or I make baby clothes or whatever someone needs," she said. "And they know Aunt Marge made that quilt, so they don't forget me!"

The majority of Sew Right customers sew as a hobby. "It's always nice to create something,” said Connie Acquaotta, of East Meadow. She’s been coming to the shop for machines and classes over 20 years. “I have 10 grandchildren, so I'm trying to make a quilt for each of them, an afghan for each of them and some baby things to put aside for, if and when, I have great-grandchildren," Acquaotta said. "Keeps me out of mischief, keeps the brain flowing."

After the initial purchase of a machine, it’s the classes that bring the customers back. Laurel Quainoo, a retired elementary school teacher, wasn't making her quilt for anyone in particular, she was just doing it for her love of quilting. "I love doing puzzles and my love of puzzles and my love of fabric, putting them both together,” Quainoo, who came from Cambria Heights, explained. “I'm hooked now, I really enjoy it."

Sew Right only sells three brands of machines: Husqvarna Viking, Baby Lock and Bernina. They're a far cry from the old foot pedal machinery. The machines can be complicated, so when a customer makes a purchase, Sew Right provides free lessons on how to use it. The fancier machines are computerized, can lay out fifty different stitches with the push of a button and even be connected to a sketch pad in order to output custom embroidery patterns.

Federman was crystal clear on one point — his shop is specialized in sewing machines, not in sewing. "Hand here is a four letter word. That's how we think of it," he said.

"Everything that you would do by hand, you can do on the machine without worrying about it. It's got templates and discs that you can put in, just punch it in and go about your business," said Margo Dodson, who bought her machine at Sew Right, and recently brought it back for repair.

Federman calls the sewing (machine) classes the “heart and soul” of his business, because they transform the store into a second home for sewers. For the tight-knit group of women in the Block of the Month Club who rolled their machines out of the store together for a group lunch date, it was clear the communal patchwork had come together nicely.

(Photo: Harvey Federman says the new machines are a far cry from the old foot petal machines./Sarah Kate Kramer for WNYC)

Interview with Harvey Federman, owner of Sew Right

Who are your customers?

Our customers range from 10 years old, because we do have sewing classes for kids, but they tend to be a wide range ,starting with some men — some older men who are retired who used to be engineers or that kind of thing and love the quilting and putting blocks together and matching designs up. But our core customer is the sewing enthusiast who is educated, loves the idea of creating things with a machine and with fabric. So they tend to be people who love to sew, first and foremost, and lot of them came to it later in life, could be retired with more time on their hands, but a lot of them have some kind of creative background.

But the core customer for any sewing machine store that deals in 'better machines' is usually, statistically, people that are active sewers, tend to be a little bit higher income and a lot of college educated, which is pretty much opposite from what the general public thinks. They tend to think you sew for a need, or you sew for practical purposes, which a lot of people do. But the hobbyist is a totally different person. The hobbyist is the same person who spends money on expensive golf clubs and may not even be able to play golf well, or a big screen TV, or a great sound system. Most of them are not in any type of money making business from this, they spend a lot of time with their hobby and they spend a lot of time with their machine and when you're spending a lot of time with something, it's much more pleasurable using a quality product than something you have to struggle with all the time.

What does a computerized machine do?

A simple, computerized machine is far simpler to operate than a mechanical sewing machine, because everything is automatic. You want to do a stitch you dial to it, and it sets everything and it does it. So usually when people come in and they're scared of a computer — first of all they have to understand it's not a computer, it's computerized, it's not like your Mac or PC at home—the learning curve is very quick. But I usually tell people no matter what computerized machine they buy, in about 10 or 15 minutes we can teach them to use the machine and it will do what the machine they've been using for 30 years has been doing for them. So in 15 minutes they can get started and do what they've always done, and then they can learn the rest. So it's not an overwhelming thing that I have to learn everything to use the machine, because today you turn the machine on, it comes on to a straight stitch and you're ready to go. You want to do a zigzag, you touch it and it does a zigzag. It's not rocket science. It's designed to make things much simpler.

Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Connie Acquaotta with her block.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Harvey Federman, owner of Sewright.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Variable stitches on a Sewright sewing machine.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Harvey Federman teaching a woman how to use a machine.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Laurel Quainoo with bolts of fabric.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
The Block of the Month Club.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Taking pictures of a quilt pattern.
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC
An embroidery machine.

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Comments [18]

Paccana

I have always wanted a computerized sewing machine. Even more I would love access to a store like Sew Right in Canada

Aug. 17 2013 04:40 PM
Veronica Cares from Troy, Idaho

I am a 51 year old women with a 10yr old child and I am dying of end stage cardiac disease. The doctors are giving me one maybe 2 years. Is anyone out there willing to loan me their high end machine for 1 to 2 years to use before I die? I am looking to borrow a Brother DreamMaker or a Brother Quattro 2. It would be a dream come true for a dying women.

Thanks a million,

Veronica Cares

Feb. 11 2013 12:47 PM
Iris

Love going to Sew Right. Best people. Always feel welcome. Can''t waittogo back.

May. 28 2012 10:09 PM
Madelaine

I'vev been going to Sew Right for about 8 years now and couodn't be happier with the quality of service I've received for my machines. The friendly, knowledgeable help Harvey and his staff provide and the excellence of the classes offered and the superior quality of the teachers, both his staff teachers and the outside teachers. Keep up the good work, Harvey and Co.!

May. 16 2012 05:44 PM
Geraldine Thorsten

Bravo for all of YOU! You deserve the praise and attention -- just don't get so crowded, I can't squeeze in. :)) Best Wishes! Geraldine

May. 14 2012 06:42 PM
Dolly Norman from Plainview, Long Island

I have bought 2 sewing machines and a serger at Sew Right. The quality of the products and the helpfulness of the staff are second to none. I once called the store for a consult on a threading problem for the serger I had bought a full 8 years before. I was treated as though the ink on the receipt was still wet. But while this kind of service might seem like the most important thing a sewing store could offer, Sew Right and Harvey taught me to appreciate them in whole new ways. Harvey brings expert instructors to the shop who offer courses in couture methods, industrial methods, and creative machine use which take one's sewing to whole new levels. He also keeps you posted on everything new that your machine can do. I cannot imagine sewing without Sew Right.

May. 13 2012 08:24 PM
Roslyn Gardner from NJ

I love going to Sew Right - it brightens my day even when I travel the 50+ miles to get there. Sew Right offers the best sewing machines and service, even when the only problem is that the machine is not threaded properly - they tell you with a smile. The customer is offered the best how-to's in quilting, sewing and embroidery classes. If Harvey would enlarge his store, and put in a coffee machine, we'd be there everyday all day. The ladies at Sew Right are knowledgeable and willing to help in every area. the fabric selection makes you "weak in the knees". Thank God for you Harvey. may He continue to Bless you.

May. 04 2012 01:57 PM
Harvey Federman, Sew Right Sewing machines from Bayside, Queens

I want to thank all of you who left the wonderful comments about myself, my employees and our store. It leaves us speechless to hear such praise....and it's appreciated more than words can express!

May. 04 2012 12:43 PM
Maria Gardner from Levittown, NY

Harvey and his friendly, courteous and totally knowledgable staff have been a mainstay in the quilting field for many years. When you buy your sewing machine from Sew Right, that's never the end of it. They are ALWAYS there to answer all your questions, no matter how trivial or complicated - and believe me, I have posed some beauties to Aarona and Mary Ann and they have always come through for me. I enjoy taking classes from them, as it is always fun to learn something new. Thanks Harvey and the staff.

May. 04 2012 07:37 AM
Bette from Northport, NY

I took up quilting when I retired, using the Singer machine I had purchased with my baby-sitting money back in the 60's. When it came time to upgrade, my quilting teacher recommended a trip to Sew Right. I "test drove" machines in some other stores, but eventually made the trip from Suffolk County into Queens and visited Sew Right. Marianne K. supervised my "test-driving" of a Bernina and a Viking, answered my many questions, then let me play for quite a while at both machines. I bought a Viking Sapphire 870 QE and I love it! I get my machine serviced at the shop every year, have taken some of Marianne's Viking workshops (so informative), and several quilt classes. Last year I bought my Horn sewing cabinet there. If anyone asks me about purchasing a new machine, I always recommend that they go to Sew Right. No one I've sent there has been disappointed. It's a great shop with good old-fashioned service and expertise!

May. 03 2012 10:37 PM
Patti Bach from East Meadow, NY

I wanted to upgrade my sewing machine once I had "caught the quilting bug." I did a tremendous amount of research, for months, and visited several stores. I bought from Sew Right as I just found them to be the most helpful, friendly people. They spent quite a bit of time with me answering my questions, and demoing different machines for me. They are extremely knowledgeable and really seem to care. I lived in East Meadow at the time so it was not easy to get in there, but they always took my calls and answered my questions over the phone when they could. I was sorry to move away and hope that I can find as good a shop in my new location.

May. 03 2012 06:04 PM
Mary Ann Bfrom Bklyn from brooklyn

Sew Right is not only the best store in the United States to buy a sewing machine, the people that worked there are the greatest people in the world. They become part of your family.God should always Bless them and the store.Harvey and Jim are the top on the list.i have been going there for over 20 years and buuy all my machines and other products they have includingfacric.Thank You Sew Right

May. 03 2012 05:50 PM
Judy Knorr from Huntington, NLY

If I'm willing to drive all the way from Suffolk County to Queens to buy my sewing machine and keep it serviced you know Sew Right is doing lots of things "right"!

May. 03 2012 03:31 PM
Cathy from Miller Place, NY

I love Sew Right. When I was looking to buy a new machine, I went there on a recommendation from a friend. In a matter of time, I ended up buying 2 new machines and am thrilled with the ease of use and the wealth of creativity they offer. When it comes to buying and learning your new machines, Harvey and his staff are not only the most knowledgeable people in the business that I've ever met, but the friendliest. You cannot get better pricing and sales anywhere else in this area. No question you may have is lame, they are always ready to help and they offer a wide variety of classes - being not only instructional, but lots of fun to attend. Need a cleaning, repair or a tweak to your machine, old or new? Harvey's repair man is the best in the business. I love to go to Sew Right.

(I see a comment above about Sew Time, their competition across the street - I phoned them once to ask if they had something I was looking for and the woman on the phone was so rude, I would never, ever, go there!) If you have Sew Right, why would you want to go anywhere else?

May. 03 2012 10:23 AM
renee fields from Astoria, NY

They hardly fill a niche market -- their competition is across the intersection and not only friendlier but they do a better job at selling you the right machine for your needs. Shop at SEW TIME, not Sew Right. Barbara and John at SEW TIME can repair ANY machine and are honest and good people. I have three sewing machines that I've inherited over the years and Barbara and John keep them running and perfectly tuned over the years.!!

May. 03 2012 09:38 AM
elaine healy from ny

It all started innocently enough when I accompanied my friend to a class at SEW Right. After that I was hooked ! Harvey has a great supply of machines at all price points. The best thing is they give you instruction and if you ever need to have your machines serviced they have the absolute best technician in New York.
SewRight has endless notions and supplies so if you need something for a project you will find it there.The staff there is like family and that saids a lot for the loyalty to the customers.
Their classes are varied so if its garment sewing to quilting there is a class for you. !

May. 03 2012 09:22 AM
Mush Masters from Point Lookout

I found Sew Right about five years ago when I bought my first embroidery machine. I couldn't have been happier! I have since gotten three more machines and have sent many friends to sew right. They all thank me for letting them know about Sew Right and "Harvey and his girls." The most interesting part is that sew right fixes all brands of sewing machines not just what he sells.
I have also taken classes with their instructors as well as world renound quilt teachers that Harvey invites in for classes.

May. 03 2012 08:57 AM
Maryann McEvoy from Rockaway Beach, NY

Sew Right Sewing machines is one of my favorite stores. I've bought all four of my machines from Harvey. I've taken classes too. The staff is so friendly and knowledgeable,I just keep coming back. I love quilting and I love SewRight too!

May. 02 2012 08:53 AM

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