Hanging up the needle

Hildegard Piersol sits at a sewing machine July 18 at Piersol’s in Hermiston. Sarah Britain/The Hermiston Herald

After 63 years in business, Hildegard Piersol is putting away her sewing machine and packing away her needle and thread.

July 31 is the last day the 83-year-old seamstress will work at Piersol's Hobby and Sewing. Son Spike Piersol is throwing her a going-away party all day at the shop on West Hermiston Avenue.

Piersol said she has many projects to work on now that she is retiring. Because she taught sewing classes for 40 years, Piersol has many projects she never finished and looks forward to completing them.

"Those unfinished projects have accumulated in my drawers in my sewing room at home and here," she said with a laugh. "I have so many projects, I'll have to live to be 122."

Piersol came to Hermiston as a war bride in 1945, helping to run the business owned by her late husband, Russell.

After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in business administration in the spring of 1945, Piersol arrived in Hermiston that fall. Her in-laws came to Hermiston in 1936 and bought the dry cleaning business.

In those days, dry cleaners did alterations. The man who did alterations was a tailor, Piersol said.

"He did the heavy pressing," she said, "and he taught me alterations. I learned from one of the best."

While she raised three children, she wasn't in the shop all that much. However, as the children grew older, Piersol would take them with her to the shop.

The cleaners had a two-day a week pick-up and delivery service. Spike, who now runs the business would ride along with his father, while the other two children stayed at the shop with their mother.

One day, her husband couldn't do the route and it was left up to Piersol. She took Spike with her so he could point out where his dad stopped.

"He knew the route," she said.

In about 1967, when Piersol's daughter was a sophomore in high school, the business took on a new venture - fabric.

"We had heard from Jantzen that they were setting up what they called 'Mom and Pop' stores," Piersol said. "We brought a trunk load of fabric to Hermiston."

The fabric store was situated where Banner Bank's Home Loan Center is now. Both businesses moved to the current location in 1968.

"There had been a bakery here," Piersol said.

At first, the fabric store sold only fabric, then it branched out into selling sewing machines.

Piersol says a man wanted to do sewing-machine repair, so they let him set up shop in the front of the store. Pretty soon, they became Pfaff sewing machine dealers.

At one point, the business also sold Sharp and Royal vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. The Piersols finally ended up with Viking sewing machines after closing the vacuum business.

"We got out of the vacuum business because vacuums are so dirty," Piersol said.

By 1978, the Piersols had sold the dry cleaning business because of Russell's health. After he had a heart attack, his doctor recommended he reduce his stress.

Spike opened the model and hobby shop in 1980, relegating the fabric and sewing machines to the back of the building where they have been since. The model and hobby shop will remain open in the front part of the building.

Piersol plans to join the Good Shepherd Auxiliary - something she has always wanted to do, but did not have time for - and will continue to be active in the Hermiston Altrusa, which she helped to start in 1977.

"I've got plenty to do," she said. "I've tried to do this (retirement) before. Most people tell me they will believe it when they see it."

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