ST. ALBANS TOWN –– Not only is Julie Cowles the only sewing machine dealer in Franklin County, she is the only New England dealer of the Holy Grail of equipment for quilters: the long-arm machine.
It’s a big niche to fill, she said.
The large, metal-framed floor machines range from $7,000 to $32,000 in price, and while that seems pricy to the average non-quilter, the serious quilter feels it is a worthy investment, said Cowles, who owns Cowles Quilting in the Highgate Commons Shopping Center.
“It’s really a big sewing machine,” said Cowles, 53, of Alburgh. “And you move the machine over the fabric,” instead of the other way around, in the traditional style of quilting.
Fifty percent of Cowles’ long-arm machine sales are to people who work on and finish quilts as a fee-based service. Why would a quilter pay another quilter to finish a piece with a long-arm machine?
According to one of Cowles’ two employees, Beverly Cook – the other is Cowles’ husband, Brian – the long-arm quilting machine can do in four or five hours what might take a few months when hand quilting. (Ken Gamill produced the first long-arm quilting machines in the 1960s.)
For that reason, customers from all over New England, Quebec, and New York travel to Cowles Quilting Machines. Or, Alan delivers the long-arms to customers in a 10-hour radius. His farthest trip to date: Kiln, Miss., home of NFL great Brett Favre.
Cowles Quilting offers quilting classes for all levels – beginners to experts – during daytime business hours and in the evening. Cowles Quilting also rents shop space to people that want to work on their pieces.
Additionally, Cowles Quilting sells supplies, tabletop sewing and embroidery machines as well as specialty fabric. They are the only authorized Gammill dealer in Vermont. Cowles said it was no accident that she chose a vacant storefront beside Joann Fabric when she opened in Highgate Commons in 2007.
Cowles Quilting predates its current owner. Julie’s father, Edward, worked for Singer sewing machines and continued to repair them privately, after he left the company. Her mother, Marjorie, was always “quilty and crafty,” she said.
The elder Cowleses opened Cowles Quilting in Hatfield, Mass., in the late 1990s and moved to Randolph in 2000. Julie, living in Brookfield at the time, started to get involved. She was enjoying life as an insurance underwriter at the time.
Julie Cowles actually graduated from cosmetology school in 1979 and worked in the field for 15 years, primarily in the Barre area.
She said her parents made it easy for her to buy Cowles Quilting and work in the business.
“It all just happened,” she said.
Cowles had her home in Brookfield and Brian had a home in Alburgh when they decided to wed.
“This area seemed to offer a lot more than the other one,” she said.
Cowles has no business plan at the moment. For now, she is busy and content watching traditional quilters “fall in love” with the long-arm quilting machines she offers at her shop.
“We’re not going anywhere,” she said.