Business Focus: Fabric Carousel

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Photos by Gina Turner

Doris and Karl Collins 

“The quilting industry has been so good about including everybody.”

Although the town of Huntsville has experienced phenomenal growth in the past several years, the downtown square preserves a rich legacy of long-time storefronts. A quaint little store on the corner of University Avenue and 12th Street carries on this tradition of heritage. Fabric Carousel marries modern-day innovation with the long-standing craft of quilting. In 1984, Karl and Doris Collins purchased this business, which has occupied this location since 1969. While Doris was attending SHSU majoring in Fashion Merchandising, she thought her summer job at this store would be temporary. Little did she know that, over 45 years later, she and her husband would still be helping many in the community satisfy their creative desires. 

Since its inception, this store has sold and repaired BERNINA Sewing Machines. As these machines have evolved from the simple mechanized equipment of 1893 to the highly-computerized machines of today, Karl and Doris have educated themselves so as to meet the needs of their clientele. “These sewing machines have touch and drag screens now. The bigger machines have about six computer boards that control their operations. I have to stay up-to-date with training to be certified to work on the machines. I have been working on BERNINAS for about 30 years,” Karl shared. Although they only sell and service this brand, they have a contract with someone who picks up and services other models. The Collins also proudly shared that BERNINA is the last completely family-owned sewing machine company in the world. “We have been fortunate to earn three incentive trips to Europe; two of those were to the factory in Steckborn, Switzerland. The Swiss are methodical in their manufacturing process. As a product goes down the assembly line, an assembler will check the work of the last assembler before he does his task, so every step is double-checked,” Doris mentioned. “BERNINA still supports ‘major wear’ parts for 35-year-old machines. They are famous for their 20-year warranty on main gears, which is twice as long as a lot of machines on the market.” Recently, a BERNINA owner from south of Houston called crying, saying she could not get her machine fixed. She and her husband came to this store. Karl, even after calling the company and trying all they recommended, was unable to make the repairs himself. They told him to send the two-year-old sewing machine to them. BERNINA paid for shipping both ways; they fixed the machine and did not charge for any labor. “This lady was so appreciative that she wrote a two-page letter to BERNINA and Fabric Carousel for helping her. That is the way we treat our customers. If they walk in with an issue, we can help them,” Karl enthusiastically stated. It is not unusual for customers from Waco, Bryan/College Station, the Houston area, and even as far as Louisiana to bring their BERNINAS to this store to be serviced. 

Fabric Carousel caters to hobbyists who are interested in quilting. “The quilting industry has been so good about including everybody. If you want to make an old-fashioned quilt like your grandmother’s, you can do that. If you want to do a modern quilt, you can do that. You can find patterns to do an art-quilt. There is something for everyone,” Doris commented. “Quilters know where every quilt store is in their area. They plan trips around the quilt stores. During ‘Airing of the Quilts,’ quilt guilds from all over Texas would charter buses to come here,” Karl proudly shared. 

Although Covid-19 halted the classes hosted at this fabric emporium, gatherings of craft-minded individuals have returned. “We love teaching about the BERNINAS or quilting! The groups love getting together to be a community. Whether it is a guild, a retreat, or a class, they love to sew together and share ideas. They love to improve their talents. The big-box stores can’t cater to their clientele with entertainment and community like the smaller boutiques can. These people are not just customers. They are our friends. We want this to be a warm, welcoming place,” Doris and Karl articulated. When Hobby Lobby initially closed at the beginning of the Coronavirus, people were turning to crafting to occupy their time. Walmart could not keep up with the demand for fabric at this time; thus, Fabric Carousel inherited new customers in need of materials to work on projects that had been shelved in the bustle of life. Also, during this chaotic time, many people were seeking repairs on their sewing machines. “The sewing-machine-repair business went berserk! People were pulling machines out that had been sitting on a shelf for many years. As well, ladies were putting a lot more pressure on their machines, as they were finishing projects over what they would normally do because they were at home and couldn’t do anything else. It was their therapy; it kept their sanity. They love sewing, so they found their happy place in their sewing rooms,” Doris and Karl explained. “So many of our customers are mothers and grandmothers who show their love with their quilts. They want to make something special, make it an heirloom item,” Doris added. 

“People have a misconception about quilts.” 

The quilt is your creation. It never goes out of style. You can lay it down for six months and pick it back up, and it is still in style,” Karl added. “There are so many different types of quilts. Let’s say that your dad or granddad was an executive, and he had 100 ties. If you want to remember him, we will show you how to make a tie-quilt. We have seen so many different types of quilts: camouflage quilts, flour-sack quilts, T-shirt quilts… It is not just a quilt to cover yourself up; it is art. It is always something that speaks to you and your family. If you don’t know how to sew, we can help you learn. We also have used machines where we can teach you how to sew.” 

Doris and Karl enjoyed participating in the Wine Down event which has been hosted by the Downtown Business Alliance, an organization of which Doris was not only a catalyst in helping to create, but she served as a former President and Treasurer. Local wineries set up tastings in various shops, and the stores on the square stay open until 9:00 pm. Since the community is important to both of these individuals, Karl, a Sam Houston graduate with a degree in Ag Mechanics, is involved in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Ag Mechanics Committee as well as serving as the Vice President of Walker County Farm Bureau. 

Rounding out the Fabric Carousel team is Jeanette Allen, who is the software and embroidery teacher, and Kristie Munson, who works on the sales side of the business. Hanging in the classroom of the store, you will see two intricate embroidery projects that Jeanette created from a couple of million stitches. 

If you want to stir up your creative juices, look up Fabric Carousel on their website, www.fabriccarousel.com, or keep up with them on their Facebook page where you will find new fabrics, classes, or maybe even show-and-tell of a customer’s completed project. 

Stay Calm and Quilt On! 

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