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DOWNERS GROVE – On an early Tuesday morning, Ellyn Nicodem's phone wouldn't stop ringing. She had already received calls from four customers, who were in need of her help. They were having trouble with their sewing machines, and Nicodem was their only hope.
To them, she's known as the "little angel" from Friendly Stitches Sew and Vac, a mom-and-pop in Downers Grove that specializes in sewing machine and vacuum repairs. Because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the demand for face masks has steadily increased, and many people have resorted to making their own, said Nicodem, the co-owner of Friendly Stitches, located at 2135 W. 63rd St.
"Somebody else called me their 'goddess,'" Nicodem said, laughing, "because I help them over the phone with their machine."
For many small business owners and entrepreneurs, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a whirlwind of anxiety and uncertainty. They've had to rethink, restructure and rework their platforms and products in order to keep and grow their customer base.
But, for Nicodem and her pastor-turned-business partner, Jon Hoekema, it seems their eight-year-old brick-and-mortar has hit a new stride.
"We're closed for sales but open for repairs," said Hoekema, who serves as the pastor at Horizon Community Church, which is located next door to Friendly Stitches. "It's been busier than we've had – ever. We had more machines come in the last two days than we probably had any two days, you know, in a week before."
"I was taking in the repairs and doing all this stuff," Hoekema added. "Ellyn was on the phone all day with people asking and calling and saying, 'this isn't working,' and giving them advice over the phone. It's been crazy. It's been a lot. We didn't expect it to be this busy, but it's been really busy for us."
Nicodem even joked how she doesn't believe "people are cleaning their houses," because she, Hoekema and the rest of their team have had more requests to fix sewing machines than vacuum cleaners. But, the recent stay-at-home order has been extended.
"So, you never know," Nicodem said, adding she and staff at Friendly Stitches are on standby.
Nicodem spoke further about the culture behind home sewing. Cross stitching, crocheting, quilting, knitting – these are skills, or rather an art form, passed down like an oral tradition between mothers and daughter or taught through former home economic classes. Some have called sewing a "dying talent," and "well, it is kind of," Nicodem said.
"However, I have found through this pandemic that there are more people than I knew that are sewing, and I applaud that," she said.
Sewers, both new and experienced, young and old, men and women, have come out from the woodwork to embark on their DIY projects.
"It's not a dying talent," Nicodem said.
There's this sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment with every completed project. Aside from mechanical repairs and tune-ups for sewing machines, Friendly Stitches also sells various sewing accessories, notions and designs. The store also became a makeshift gathering space for community sewers. Classes were often held to teach sewing enthusiasts how to make bags and other personal items.
"I want to help teach other people how rewarding it is it make things, to put something on your bed and say, 'I made that, and they're one of a kind,'" Nicodem said.
From Nicodem and Hoekema's perspective, the revival of sewing has, in some ways, held up the mission behind Friendly Stitches Sew and Vac.
"It reinforces what we want to do and what we want to be," Nicodem said. "We want to be a force in the community – to help people with their hobby of sewing, their passion for making things. It just reinforces everything that we want to promote."