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  • Writer's pictureAndi Settlemoir Barney

Sewing Doc's Mobile Workshop - Coming Soon!

Yes, we have an ambulance! This is the future Sewing Doc mobile workshop! Not only does it lend itself to my branding, but it is the perfect vehicle for a mobile workshop! It won't be mobile for awhile (keep reading), but for now, it's filling a HUGE need by providing a workshop at home. We've been surging in machine service demand since the quarantine started, and it hasn't let up… in fact, just when we think it can't get any busier, it does!!

Unfortunately, we have to address some serious repairs to it (likely a blown head gasket, but we don’t know for sure yet), but we have big plans for this thing.

Phase 1, we'll build out the workshop so that I can have a functional place to work without having to be at the shop all the time. It's the only way I can keep up with demand and still handle some longer term repairs. This is happening this weekend - Paul is getting it leveled, installing my portable a/c unit, building the workbench, and all the other things that need to be done (another post will come this week with progress pics). We hope it will be functional by tomorrow afternoon so I can start working in it Wednesday. In the meantime, we're building the revenue for the necessary repairs and get it road ready.

Phase II, once it's been repaired and is safely road-ready, it will transport machines (and us) between home and the shop. This will give us time to fine-tune the set up to keep the workshop safe during transport and move in the direction of mobile business. This also gives me back my video space, which I haven't had since we left Kennesaw, because a big part of my focus needs to be on building the Academy. Talk about a wake up call - this virus has caused such a surge in demand for machine service (and a huge shortage of new sewing machines!!) and there are NOT enough technicians, and so many people that have broken machines, this needs to happen!

Phase III, we will be expanding. We will always have a shop in Cumming (as long as David at Vector Quilts will have us!), and over the next few years, will grow that shop to be independent of Paul and I, ideally. On our side of town (we live 30 minutes from Alabama), we would like to expand our pick up and drop off service to parts of Alabama, north Georgia, and Southern Tennessee (Chattanooga area), as there aren't many options around here. Phase IV (a long way off), Paul and I would like to get this show on the road! It's partially why we live in an RV full time, to get ourselves mobile. When we travel, if I have a mobile workshop, we will have a chance to help so many communities that don't have service options, and we can teach the ones that want to learn. So eventually, our home and workshop will be completely on the road!

Why an ambulance? Well, I had looked at all kinds of options - Nissans, sprinter vans, buses, RVs, transport vans. Honestly, all those options would've been an expensive purchase and expensive to convert. Ambulance makes sense - it's roomy enough to work, but it has the vast storage space I need. Also, I mean, it's an AMBULANCE.

You know that "ambulance" backward is going to change to something fun for Sewing Doc! All lights and sirens work as they should, we just have to change the color of the lights if we ever want to use them, and we can't use them on roadways, etc. Doubt we'll ever really use the sirens, but we aren't disabling or removing anything.

The workbench will go along this wall, right over top of the gray padded bench. The padding on the bench and wall will have to come off. We'll keep the bench for storage. The a/c unit will likely sit to the right of that, in front of the white space, so we can vent it through an opening there.

It's hard to get a good picture in this thing, but this is the other side. We are going to alter as little as possible in the ambulance. There's a counterop there, the seat I'll ride in, and another jump seat to the left that also folds down to extend the counter. Closest to the camera is a wall of incredible storage space where parts will be stored.

Looking in the front door of the box

A better view of the storage compartments, near the rear door.

More storage above the counter, near the seat. Also the control panel for the box, including oxygen, which we won't need.

More storage near the front door, you can access this from inside or outside. We'll use it when machines have to stay apart and are waiting for parts to come in, things of that nature.

Same storage space, but accessed from the outside.

Outside storage bay. All these compartments will be padded with foam all around to remove vibration and stabilize machines. There is so much storage space.

This last storage space held a hydraulic lift for the oxygen tank. Of course we'll find a use for it.

I'll post pictures and videos of our progress this week. Such an exciting time for us!

The Back Story

The journey with this ambulance doesn't look at all like we thought it would, but then again, when you do big things, how often do they actually turn out the way you think they will?

Okay, so yeah, we decided to replace my Fiat with an ambulance. This is something we've thought long and hard about, and is kind of bringing my dream and my business full circle. Many of you may remember that I actually started my business back in 2010, not long after Aaron was born. It was tiny, micro business (selling fabric and quilting notions online) just to gain experience and understand what it means to own a business. I used to haul bolts of fabric, thread, and fun stuff to our retreats and usually came home with nothing left. At one of our retreats, there was another big retreat going on next door with the American Sewing Guild, and one of the ladies commented that she was so excited because having fabric and stuff available never happens.

That sparked an idea within me, to figure out how to have a mobile quilt shop of sorts. At that time, it was a growing trend in New York to have a pop up boutique when someone was trying to launch a clothing line or something. I have always thought it would be amazing to bring fabric to people that gather. Not long after, my fabric business accidentally turned into a sewing machine service and repair, so the idea kind of fell away. Still, in all my years, the dream of bringing a service to people has never fallen away. After 5 years of owning a quilt shop, I have zero desire to bring you fabric, but sewing machine service, yes! I get so many emails and comments asking for something like this, to come to retreats and service machines while there.

Then the virus happened. We thought we would be shut down and that work would dry up while the world figured out what to do, but instead, our industry surged. We're still surging! A combination of mask-making demand and boredom brought machines in for service in droves. Some days we've taken in 20 or more machines. In one day! Taking in 20 a week used to be high volume for us.

Even more disheartening are those that can't leave their home due to immune compromised health or various other reasons, and thus, no machine service. All of these issues had the gears turning in my head… I was already thinking this virus isn't going away any time soon. We don't know how long lockdowns will last. This may change all of our lives forever. We had one other big issue that drove this decision. As many of you know, we live in an RV full time (so thankful, because we were able to weather the financial storm of this virus due to our lifestyle), and the virus really disrupted the full time RV community. We were informed a day before things started shutting down that we had to move. There aren't many long-term RV parks in Georgia, the two remotely close to us were full, and like many others, not accepting new residents during the pandemic. Thankfully, Paul's oldest brother and sister-in-law invited us to stay on their beautiful land indefinitely. The only drawback to this is we are 103 miles each way from the shop. Yes, 103. That's 2 hours each way, every day. Well, 2.5 hours now that things have opened up again. But we love where we live, we love being with family, and we like each other so the driving has just become a thing we have to do. Now, couple that with the demand to get 20 or more machines done a week… we can't sustain this kind of pressure and exhaustion forever. Enter the plan for a mobile workshop. But for real this time. We have kicked around this idea for ages. We even went and looked at those beautiful Nissan vans and Sprinter vans. Could have worked, but I really wanted something bigger because of the video studio aspect of it. Then one night, Paul was talking to his brother about it, and the idea for an ambulance suddenly seemed feasible. And necessary - if we could make a mobile workshop happen, we wouldn't have to drive 5 days a week, we would only have to drive 3. Driving 5 days a week, that's 5 hours a day (25 hours a week), so we'd get back 10 hours of week that I could spend working on machines and filming online class videos. Yes, let's do this!! After a lot of research, we found that it was doable. Older, retired ambulances were affordable, would need some work, but provide exactly what we needed - plenty of room to work on machines, tons of storage, and a way to transport a large amount of machines.

Long story short, an ambulance in great condition was purchased, but we had issues on the drive home with it from Ohio. We had it towed to a local diesel shop that was close by - GREAT people - and we had to leave and come home without it. They got it in to look at it in June, but it's a van-style Ford, not truck-style, and they can't get into it to see what the issue is. Their guess is head gasket issue, could be as simple as a hose coming loose, or could be full blown head gasket, all typical of this motor. Painful decisions were made, and last week, I paid a hefty price to have it towed home, so it's been here for a week now. We'll be using it as a workshop while we raise the funds for repair. I have a good start on the fund already, minus the investment to convert it, but we should have it on the road in a few months. Despite the hassle, it still feels like the best purchase we could've made on a budget. We at least have the service records and history for this one, any other rig would've been in much worse condition and we would've had to buy it blind. So this is just a hurdle to cross.

Paul is really excited about changing the branding over with Sewing Doc decals. All the sirens and lights work - we're allowed to keep all of that but not use any of it in a public setting. We have the options of changing out the siren lights to something non-emergency, so we can use them at events in a different manner. So many possibilities.

Anyway, that's where we're at. There are more announcements coming - we haven't even posted on social media because our life right now is literally working as many hours as possible, driving, and sleeping. It's a "satisfied" kind of tired, but we are tired, nonetheless.

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Dec 11, 2020

Hurry up! I live in Blairsville and have a Bernina that needs a part

love your mobile idea. So needed.

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