Sew it Goes
Wednesday, January 08, 2014 10:00 AM
Many people look forward to taking a break after they reach retirement age, but at 76, Helen Hounshell doesn't mind going to work each morning.
Helen Hounshell demonstrates one of her computer-aided long-arm quilting machines during an interview at her store Cardinal Quilts in Vevay. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchieemail@example.com)
The Switzerland County native and mother of seven has worked as a dairy farmer, carpenter, grocery store owner, clerk and seamstress during her lifetime.
And that isn't all.
"I've retrained myself so many times," Hounshell said.
She retired about seven years ago from working as a registered nurse. She soon found she was used to staying busy, and just sitting around didn't really suit her.
So Hounshell set out on yet another career. More than half way through her seventh decade, she opened a new business - a quilt and fabric store on Vevay's Main Street.
"I've always sewed and made clothes," she said.
Hounshell learned her sewing skills in 4-H as a young girl.
"I was always in 4-H," she said. "I started at 9 (years old)."
Hounshell continued the craft over the years, even after she finished 4-H. She would make clothes for her children and family while living on a dairy farm in Switzerland County, but she also used her skills to work as a seamstress.
After a move to Florida during the 1970s, Hounshell worked at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando making costumes. She made the first costume prototype for the country-themed pavilion of Mexico.
She also took classes to learn carpentry work and helped to build parts of Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park.
"I've always excelled with math and numbers," she said.
After moving back to Indiana, she continued to use her carpentry skills to help renovate a nursing facility across the river in Owenton, Ky.
Then she decided to make another career change. She began taking classes to become a nurse. Hounshell worked as a licensed practical nurse before taking more classes to become a registered nurse.
Hounshell worked at area nursing home facilities and health departments, but that didn't keep her from sewing. She continued to sew, making nursing uniforms for herself and for the other nurses she worked with.
"I almost made as much making clothes as I did from payroll," Hounshell said.
She retired from nursing just a few months before turning 70. But sewing continued to be part of her life.
So, Hounshell turned her craft into her next career.
Hounshell made her first quilt in the 1970s, she said, but even she admits the work took a little practice.
"I didn't know what I was doing," she said.
More than 40 years later, she's perfected the quilting process - so much so that she can piece an entire lone-star quilt in just a few hours. Other quilts usually take her less than a day to piece together, unless she's working on a new design.
The rest of the quilting process - adding the backing of the quilt and stitching the quilt together with an automated machine - usually takes another five or six hours.
Hounshell decided to expand her workspace to keep up with the demand for her quilts last year. She moved both of her computer-assisted long-arm quilting machines into a building in Vevay and began to set up her quilting store.
Little by little, Hounshell moved fabrics into the Main Street building that now houses Cardinal Quilts and opened for business.
"My house was so full of fabric, I only had a path," she said. "Nobody even knew I had a piano."
Along with the two quilting machines, Hounshell pieces and completes about 30 to 50 quilts a month.
She created nearly 60 quilts during December, Hounshell said.
Even though the quilting store may differ from her former jobs, Hounshell says the skills she's acquired over the years help when it comes to cutting the material and piecing the quilts together.
"I'm an assembly line-type quilter," she said, noting some of her work in carpentry carries over to her quilting. "I can tell a quarter-inch cut from across the room."