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(Profile) Grant Gray: VSM Restoration Specialist & Collector

Grant Gray refurbishes sewing machines at Sew Restored in Brookfield, Illinois.

Grant Gray was always a "gear head," ready to fix almost anything mechanical. When a stroke impacted his life, he was unable to work. His doctor told him to do some puzzles as therapy, so Grant disassembled a sewing machine and then put it back together.

"It has helped me with my memory and my motor skills," he tells us. Meanwhile, Grant has helped countless sewists and sewing machine enthusiasts. The stroke was quite some time ago, and he has refurbished and repaired sewing machines professionally for many years now.

I had been buying and selling machines for some time for myself when I was asked if I did machines for other people. I said why not? The woman who was asking had her mother's machine.

That first client had learned to sew on her mother's machine, and her Mom had passed away. At first, the customer intended to restore the machine herself, but she found that the task was too much. The machine then sat for another five years before she asked Grant for help.

When she came to pick it up, she started to cry and said that it never looked that good when her Mom owned it. From that moment on, I was in the business of restoring machines.

From that first client, Grant grew his business considerably. Now clients will drive many hours to reach his shop in Brookfield, Illinois.

I have a regular client that drives 8-11 hours each way to bring me machines and pick up the ones she left the last time. She won't let anyone else work on her machines. I think I have done over twenty machines for her. That is not the longest trip taken to drop off a machine. I had someone drive 2,200 miles one way from Southern California.

The customer dropped off two machines and then proceeded with his vacation until he returned to pick up his machines. He'd found Grant thanks to dozens of five star reviews. But Grant's love of vintage sewing machines doesn't hinge on earning fees.

I am never too busy to help someone that needs good advice. Some days I am helping people all day. That is okay though, I like helping people, and knowing they are getting good advice also makes me happy.

Grant Gray and Bonnie Hunter in Grant's shop, Sew Restored, in  Brookfield, Illinois.
Quilting celeb Bonnie Hunter visits Grant in his shop.

Grant has an amusing story about the time renown quilter and instructor Bonnie Hunter stopped by the shop.

My regular client from Iowa was coming to Chicago to go to Bonnie's class. I had talked to Bonnie for years and let her know I would love to come to the class just to meet her. She insisted on coming to my shop because she wanted to see it and chat. My client came and dropped off her machines and went to check in to her hotel. She ran into Bonnie and they had lunch together. Bonnie mentioned to my client that she wanted to visit a friend not too far away but didn't have transportation. My client asked, "Where?" and Bonnie said Brookfield.

Serendipity! Grant's client gave Bonnie a ride to the shop and all three enjoyed a few hours of conversation.

Grant Gray shows us a before and after vintage sewing machine.
Grant Gray refurbished this lovely White Rotary model.

So for Grant, what is it about "old sewing machines?"

I am intrigued by how many brilliant people designed these machines and how many different ways they could make a machine do the same thing, but by a whole different process. Like bobbin winders. Some German ones are very complicated, and some, like a [Singer] 301, are very simple.

His favorites from his collection include a rare Minnesota hand-crank model and a three-quarter White in its proper cabinet. Meanwhile, he has a possibly unexpected absolute favorite: his Nelco R-2000.

Grant Gray's favorite vintage sewing machine, the Nelco R-2000.
Grant's Nelco R-2000.
After I cleaned it up, I was so impressed with it, I kept it for myself. It is very forgiving, powerful 1.3 amp motor, Decorative stitches, and runs beautifully while making fantastic stitches. I also like the fact it can sit for a year unused and when you go to use it, it is like it was serviced the day before.

This is Grant Gray's vintage Minnesota hand-crank.
Grant Gray's Minnesota hand-crank.

We wanted to know what machines Grant would suggest a "newbie" seek if she/he wanted to feel certain the machine would have some value in the coming years.

Hard to say, but any machine pre-1900. Original hand crank machines too. German machines are always good. Not necessarily just Pfaff machines.

Spend enough time collecting or refurbishing vintage machines and you're bound to end up with some funny stories. Grant once selected a machine at an estate sale, and the woman helping him remove the machine from the house asked him what he intended to do with it.

I said restore it and find it a good home. Right there in the driveway she said she wanted it when I was done. So I bought and sold a machine, from the same person, before I even loaded it into my car.

You can find Grant at Sew Restored on Facebook.

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