Success? It's curtains for mother-daughter business

May 05, 1994|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Sun Staff Writer

From the pages of a national magazine to the windows in personal sitting rooms, Sandra J. Hughes and Suzanne E. Greene are making Sew Business big business.

This New Windsor-based mother-daughter sewing team has viewed success through the eye of a needle, creating custom looks for windows that are sought from Ohio to New Jersey, from Virginia to Florida.

Some of their handiwork is featured in the current edition of Woman's Day magazine's Weekend Decorating Projects.

"It's a cottage industry, a completely family-operated business. It's taken over my house," said Ms. Hughes, as she sat at a table outside the sewing workroom of her Wakefield Valley Road home. "If I want to get away from it, I have to get on a plane."

But there is no way for Ms. Hughes, 56, or her daughter, 29, to get away from the business that has become so much a part of them. From its beginnings as a fabric and sewing equipment store on Main Street in Westminster, Sew Business has always been a family affair.

In 1983, Ms. Hughes left the selling business and went into design, taking with her Ms. Greene and Joanne Holbrook, who also worked in the store. Along the way, they picked up Ms. Holbrook's sister, Carla Wilhelm. The four women each bring something different to the business.

"Joanne is the main seamstress," said Ms. Hughes, pointing to the hard-at-work Ms. Holbrook, who ventured a short wave at a visitor before returning to work.

"Carla helps out with the cutting, helps keeps things running," Ms. Greene said, speaking in tandem with her mother, gesturing in the workroom to Ms. Wilhelm behind a cutting table.

"I work out the patterns from the sketches and pictures, and handle the paperwork," Ms. Hughes said. "[Suzy] handles the workroom and is the main installation woman."

Ms. Greene put it a little differently: "I keep the high energy level going through that room. I'll go through 200 yards of material in a day and won't even think about it."

Ms. Hughes and Ms. Greene started their sewing careers as youngsters. They credit their active participation in the county's 4-H program with nurturing their sewing talent. Mother and daughter have won various honors for their handiwork, which caused Ms. Greene some discomfort as she was growing up.

"I was forced to sit in front of a sewing machine," said Ms. Greene. "Because she [Ms. Hughes] was in the business, I was criticized. They'd say, 'Her mother made that.' "

Ms. Greene went beyond the ribbing and on to the ribbons, earning Grand Champion honors at the Maryland State Fair when she was 11 and again when she was 12.

For the past five years, Ms. Hughes and Ms. Greene have been studying interior design at the Maryland Institute of Art part time.

"We're not interior decorators. The homeowner is the interior decorator," Ms. Hughes said. "We are designers. We learned that in class."

They have learned a lot of things since they began working together 11 years ago, when their business was little more than mother and daughter, Ms. Holbrook, their skills, some fabric and a hardwood floor.

Their current workroom has several cutting tables, sewing machines and irons. One wall holds finished drapes and other pieces ready for delivery.

Sew Business contracts its services to designers such as M. S. Interior Designs in Laurel and Joanne Kinn Interiors in Ellicott City. It also solicits clients by creating window displays for Eckard's Wallpaper and Paint in Westminster.

Aside from two appearances in the Woman's Day projects edition, Sew Business creations have appeared in the Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen and Bath edition and Baltimore's Style magazine.

Ms. Hughes and Ms. Greene spend so much time designing for other people's homes, one might assume that their homes must look like cover shots for Better Homes and Gardens.

While various beautiful draperies and curtains decorate the windows in all but one room of Ms. Hughes' home, only one room in her daughter's home has any drapes at all.

"I just haven't had a chance to do anything," Ms. Greene shrugs, describing the simplicity of her Frederick home. "You know what they say: It's the shoemaker's children who have no shoes."

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