Farmhouse Fabrics – Beech Island, South Carolina
When your journey leads you to South Carolina, a stop at Farmhouse Fabrics is a must. Searching for the perfect fabric, trims, and notions is a pleasure in this amazing shop.
Sally Whinghter grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan and learned about the value of hard work. Her mother was very accomplished in sewing and taught Sally how to sew, alter patterns, use every scrap of fabric, and fall in love with sewing. Sally had no idea that this would be the foundation of a very successful business later in life.
After graduating from Eastern Michigan University in 1973, Sally joined the Army to fulfill her internship in occupational therapy. She was stationed at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where she met her soon-to-be-husband, Joe. After marrying in 1974 following their tour of duty, they decided to stay in the Augusta area because they loved their church.
Sally’s life shifted with the birth of their first son, and she began seeking ways to work from their home. Sally remembers, “I’ll never forget a friend saying to me, ‘Why don’t you take in sewing?’” She replied in astonishment, “People pay you to do that?” That was the best news she had heard and set about to sew for anyone who asked. She learned about smocking, heirloom sewing, and specialty sewing for children and found a new passion.
“I was living in the South, the home of exquisite fabrics, fine laces, and gorgeous Swiss embroideries, and once finding them, there was no turning back!” Sally shares. After continuing her custom-sewing business of 17 years, she had accumulated many supplies due to her “love of finding.” Yard sales, estate sales, and trips to the Northeast with her sister had given her a collection of products to add to her customers’ personal garments. Her customers would have been surprised to learn that Sally had been climbing in the rafters of barns in New York and in the basements of old warehouses in downtown Philadelphia to find parts and pieces for their garments!
To improve her husband’s commute, they found a lovely old farmhouse in Beech Island, South Carolina, with acreage and an old barn that became the perfect place to raise five boys. The time had come to open a retail business. Sally was still tending to her boys’ schedules and activities, giving only limited time for the shop to be open. Her custom sewing paid for her inventory: “sew a dress, then buy some lace!” she says.
From the start, Sally loved the fabric business. It was her sons that lead her to an online business. Two of them analyzed her business for a high school marketing class project and made the suggestion, “Mom you need to learn how to turn on the computer!” Her shop was out of town and not in a heavily populated area, but Sally believed that if she had great merchandise, they would come. And they did.
Today, Farmhouse Fabrics, which outgrew its original location, has a separate building on their farm property and is mainly an online business. This enables them to offer unique scheduling for sharp young moms and college students to work there part-time. Sally explains, “We love our customers, and when people take time to place an order, we are appreciative and strive to provide one-on-one customer service through the Internet. Each order is processed individually with special attention paid to fabrics and trim selections with an effort to coordinate and match customer projects.” When asked about special memories, Sally tells this delightful story.
Years ago, I purchased a “large quantity” of mixed mother-of-pearl buttons. On a hot South Carolina summer day, they were delivered by a Roadway truck. There were 6,000 pounds of mother-of-pearl buttons in 30-pound boxes. The driver disconnected the cab of his truck and told me to give him a call when I had emptied his truck. My family of men had to help with the job. Where do you put 3 tons of buttons? Our family garage has never again been used for a vehicle. My sons asked me once, “Mom, when will you get the buttons out of my closet?”
Another son had a big surprise when Sally came home from out of town. When she arrived to take a ride in his old Camaro being “restored,” Sally looked up to see that he had covered the roof in her silk velvet. He said he liked the way it felt. He had walked through the shop touching the fabrics until he found one that would work. He didn’t care about the costs.
Sally recalls with great fondness the people who have mentored and encouraged her throughout the process of building a business and is very sentimental and grateful. While some are not still alive, she insists their spirit lives on through her business. Her company has evolved, and only time will tell what the future holds. “I am a finder, which is a better way to say that I like to shop,” Sally explains. She started her business going to estate sales, yard sales, and auctions. That led her to a shopping trip in the Philadelphia industrial district with her sister, going down into a scary basement of an old factory because Sally caught the whiff of a room full of vintage buttons that she just couldn’t pass up. From there she found herself climbing into the rafters of old barns outside New York and digging through boxes of ribbons and trim that had been stored for at least 40 years! Because she loves the beauty and quality of vintage sewing supplies, she delights in finding a stash.
When asked about the secret of her success, Sally knows it’s partly that she loves what she does. And while she is only open the first Friday of every month to the public, she delights in groups coming for a special visit. She especially loves it when sewing friends drop by on their way through the area. Sally Whinghter is a friend to the sewing world, and with her special touch for finding the perfect fabric, trim, or notions, she has created a legacy of friendship and service. From her humble beginnings in the barn to today, she remains one of the great resources for inspiration for sewists.
Farmhouse Fabrics has a retail website: www.farmhousefabrics.com and a wholesale website: www.wholesale.farmhousefabrics.com.
Find this article and more in our Spring 2016 issue!