Our History

The story of Sew Biz involves a bit of personal history. I’ll try to be brief. There is the genetic factor to consider. The love of beautiful fabrics is partly an inherited thing, don’t you agree?

On my mother’s side, the branch of the family I am most familiar with, there is a long tradition of skilled needlework, fine sewing, and quilting, passed through the generations in the European manner. The American progenitors of this part of the family tree immigrated to Louisiana from France, arriving at the port of New Orleans in the 1800s, and settling in French-speaking Avoylles Parish, in the center of the state. One set of my mother’s grandparents owned a country store. Today, proudly displayed in our dining room, is a primitive quilt made by a child of the family, who patchworked and featherstitched the wool fabric samples that my great-grandparents used to order fabrics for customers at their general store.

Some of my own early sewing experiences involved my eagerness to try everything. I remember the sample of knitting that widened and widened as it got longer and longer. I was, of course, picking up stitches that weren’t supposed to be. That piece, almost triangular in shape, became a cape for a doll; I remember it well.

As a pre-teen, I was always wanting more clothes to wear. Formal sewing instruction at our local Singer dealer was a way to learn to make the things I wanted. Recently I came upon the sales receipt for that excellent series of sewing lessons–the total cost was $1.00! Oh me, I won’t say what year that was!

Probably the story of my experiences in designing and sewing my high school graduation gown is representative of the enthusiasm and frenzy that often accompany my sewing projects…even today! For some now-forgotten reason, it was the tradition at my high school (University High School on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge) for the girls to wear long white evening gowns and carry big bouquets of red roses. The boys wore tuxedos. My gown design was a dropped waist bodice with a full gathered skirt accented with several rows of wide tucks and a deep hem. Now those were the days of ante-bellum style gowns with crinolines and hoops to hold out the skirts. Mine was yards and yards of sheer Swiss cotton organdy. With the rush of activities during graduation week, I had saved the last couple of steps to finish up on the afternoon of graduation…sewing the bodice to the skirt and pressing all of that enormous skirt.

Well, wouldn’t you know…the edge of a small hurricane breezed through that very afternoon and caused the electricity to go out all over town! It was expected to be restored in time for the actual graduation, but there I was with the bodice not yet attached to the skirt and the pressing of the gown to do. My mother came to the rescue! She had several old flatirons that had been used when she was a child before electricity came to the farm. In those days they were heated on a woodstove, but in this crisis we had a gas stove that worked! While she heated the irons on the gas burners, I cranked the handwheel of the old sewing machine by hand, stitch by stitch, until the seam was complete. We got it finished and pressed just in time!

It was inevitable that I would continue with my education involving fabrics and design. After a B.A. degree from a small liberal arts college in Ohio, Lake Erie College, I went to graduate school at Louisiana State University majoring in clothing and textiles. After that I had many fine experiences teaching in those fields, first at a state college in Louisiana, then at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and later at Virginia Tech. After our second child was born, daughter Katie, I had the chance to catch my breath and decide what it was I really wanted to do. It had to be creative, people oriented, and build upon my experience and my love of fabrics. A fabric shop was the obvious direction for me!

Fabric wall in a fabric storeIn October 1981, after an intensive year of research and planning, Sew Biz opened its doors in downtown Radford. It was a modest storefront, about 800 square feet, in the center of the business district, near the main post office. In a couple of years, it became possible to expand into an adjacent office space which gave us room for more fabrics and a somewhat better classroom. After 10 years at the Norwood Street location, a space in the remodeled Central Depot building became available. This is an historic structure, built in 1890 as a hotel to serve railroad passengers primarily. In the 1980s, total renovation of the building preserved the original chestnut and oak woodwork, three massive Palladian windows, and the two-story front porch. Wisely, the Victorian mood of the structure was retained by the local owners, who employed the skills of Radford architect Larry Martin for the renovation.

An added mezzanine level allowed us to develop niches and nooks for different types of fabrics and related items. On the upper floor we have over 2,000 bolts of quilting fabrics, heirloom sewing supplies, evening and bridal fabrics, knitting, crochet, and tatting supplies, and counted cross stitch books, fabrics, and floss. On the main level we display daytime fabrics, patterns and pattern catalogs, an extensive offering of threads and notions, and BERNINA and Elna sewing machines and accessories. Our office space and workroom include machine repair benches and parts storage. The original separate kitchen building for the old hotel has now been joined to the main building and has become our spacious teaching studio.

The retail space that we occupy in the Central Depot building was planned to be a tea room, specialty foods shop, and art gallery in the 1980s renovation. We have fit into those surroundings rather neatly. A unique consequence of the restaurant plans is that Sew Biz is perhaps the only fabric store in the world with both a wine cellar and an herb garden (we use the wine cellar for box storage)!

Visit us at Sew Biz and wander through our two floors of fabrics, books, patterns, and notions. See the latest in high tech computer sewing machines and sergers from Elna and BERNINA, a dramatic contrast set in antique surroundings. Join us for an all-day workshop and take a relaxing lunch break on our brick patio overlooking the courtyard and herb garden. Chat with our knowledgeable staff and our friendly customers. Enjoy the feel of nice fabric. Let yourself experience the joy of color and texture. Dream and plan your next creative project at Sew Biz. Welcome!

~Marianne Beeson