SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — Sarah Taylor’s family-owned commercial upholstery business has been going strong and growing since she re-covered a worn-out church nursery rocking chair nearly 30 years ago.
The Sioux City woman moved on from the rocking chair to kitchen chairs and beyond.
Sarah’s Stitches is currently recovering 576 seats and backs for the city-owned IBP Ice Center and working on upholstery projects for 77 Applebee’s locations. Sarah, who owns the business with her husband, Jack, recently purchased a $100,000 computerized fabric cutter.
“I was a seamstress, so I knew this was something I could do,” said Sarah, who began upholstering in effort to provide her family with a second income. At the time, her sons were young, so she wanted a job that gave her the ability to work from home. “I bought my first sewing machine and paid it off with the jobs I was doing. It kind of went from there.”
Sarah’s Stitches’ growth was so rapid in the mid-’90s that Jack quit his job at a manufacturing company in order to fully dedicate his time to upholstering. He was Sarah’s first employee.
“She couldn’t do it by herself, so we were working late nights and weekends. We just decided, we’re going to take a chance on this thing,” Jack told the Sioux City Journal. “The amount of work was just astronomical, and it was just word of mouth.”
Today, Sarah’s Stitches has five employees, who work out of a two-car garage behind the Taylors’ Morningside home. They upholster barstools, booth seats and chairs for casinos, restaurants, bars, hospitals and more.
“In ’99, we did Castle On the Hill’s auditorium. We re-did everything in there,” Jack said. “We tore all the seats apart, re-stained the backs repainted the metal bases and reupholstered the seats. There was a little over eleven hundred seats there.”
Before the pandemic, Jack said many restaurant chains would throw out most of their booths during a remodel and purchase new ones. Now, he said the trend is to re-upholster restaurant furniture in a bid to save money.
“We’re doing Applebee’s in the whole state of Iowa, right now. When we’re done with that, we’re moving to Nebraska, and we’ll do all of Nebraska,” he said. “When we’re done with that, we’ll go to Missouri and, then, over to Kansas.”
Jack said about 177 Applebee’s restaurants are located in those four states. He said Sarah’s Stitches has already completed 14 Applebee’s, which took roughly three months.
“When we go do a restaurant, we leave on a Sunday, and we’re usually back by either Tuesday night or Wednesday. Then, that restaurant will be completely done,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges the Taylors said they are facing currently is obtaining materials. Sarah said many plants shut down amid the pandemic and shipping delays are only compounding the problem.
It took 20 rolls of fabric, containing approximately 35 yards of fabric on each roll, to recover the seats and backs for the IBP Ice Center. Orange fabric is being replaced with green, black and tan.
“I think it’s going to look really nice in there,” Sarah said, as she worked on the seats on a Friday afternoon in mid-August, alongside daughter-in-law Marinda Golden.
The CNC fabric cutter allows the crew at Sarah’s Stitches to work more efficiently on large jobs, such as the IBP Ice Center project. Sarah said the cutting alone for that project would take her nearly a month to do by hand and strain her arms, back and shoulders. She said it took the machine, which the couple saved up for for years, just two days to cut the same amount.
“We’re like, ‘What is this magic?’” she said with a chuckle.
The machine doesn’t just save time, it also eliminates human error. Before obtaining it, Sarah said she would lay a pattern on top of a piece of fabric and cut it out by hand.
“Say somebody comes in and they’re talking to me and my pattern slips and I wouldn’t notice it and I would finish cutting it out. Then, it’s wasted. It goes in the trash,” she said. “Well, now, we have this. Once the pattern’s loaded and the pattern’s correct, it cuts out the same pattern every time.”
And the machine doesn’t just cut fabric -- it also cuts leather and foam.
“It’s cutting everything we need it to cut. We’re extremely happy with it,” Sarah said.