MOLINE — Grant Sims' sewing machine whirred as he quickly maneuvered a camouflage Army uniform top around the needle, tacking a name patch into place. Soon, he cut the thread and was up and moving to the next piece.
It was about 1:30 p.m. on a recent January day, and the Coal Valley man was as busy as ever at Monster Sewing, which he owns with his wife, Kim.
Monster “was a nickname,” said Sims, 52. “People used to say I sewed like a monster.”
The couple returned to the Quad-Cities from Missouri a little more than a decade ago and restarted their professional tailoring and alterations business. Since then, they have bounced around a couple of locations, but for the last few weeks, they have been working out of their new digs in SouthPark Mall, near J.C. Penney, in Moline.
Large racks span one area of the shop, and they're filled with coats, jackets, dresses and military uniforms in all colors and sizes. Colorful thread, bobbins and more line a back wall, and a giant American flag that once was flown on the U.S.S. Mitscher adorns another.
Altering, mending and otherwise working on military and biker items are two of the shop's many specialties, Sims said.
“Most military people come here because we know what we're doing and because we're pretty conscientious about how everything is,” Sims said. “We know the regs; we make sure that stuff gets put in the correct place the first time, and that it looks, you know, perfect.”
The shop offers tailoring services for women's, men's and children's clothing, including jeans, dresses, suits, skirts, swimwear, lingerie and more. Beaded or sequined fabrics and wedding gowns are just about the only pieces the people at Monster Sewing will not touch.
“Everybody kind of finds their own thing — the stuff that they're really good at” or the pieces that “everybody else doesn't have the patience for,” Sims said.
His niche became military and biker pieces, he said.
In addition to Sims and his wife, shop workers include his mother, Priss Sims, of Coal Valley, and best friend, Jon Clark, of Camanche, Iowa.
“We can do pretty much anything,” he said.
In between bouts of sewing and ironing, Sims greets customers and answers questions. Occasionally, the line grows a few people deep. Whether the customers want jeans mended, a new zipper added, or a patch on a vest moved, Sims drops what he's working on to help.
Such was the case when Colleen Kenney came in with her mother, Courtney, to have her volleyball warm-up pants hemmed.
Standing in front of a group of mirrors in her warm-up pants, Kenney, of Rock Island, tipped her head to the side to get a better look at a pant leg.
“Stand up straight for me,” Sims said, adjusting the hemline.
Having once worked out of a 440-square-foot space with a fitting room that doubled as a bathroom, the folks at Monster Sewing now are sure to have a dedicated fitting space complete with a handful of fitting-room stalls and mirrors.
“Our first shop we ran out of the basement of the house,” Sims said.
The couple started their first tailoring shop, G & K Alterations, in the Quad-Cities in 1991. About 31 years ago, Sims started tailoring work at the former Foreman & Clark stores in Davenport, and he at one point was head tailor and store manager at the Foreman & Clark store in Moline.
Before he got into tailoring, he was working at grain elevators as his dad had, he said, and driving a truck.
“(I) started coming down here to hang out with my buddy, Jon,” he said. Jon's mother, Dorothy, was a tailor, and “I asked her one day, I said, 'Hey, will you taper a pair of jeans for me?' Because this was the '80s, I wore wrestling shoes and tight, tapered jeans. And she said, 'No, but I'll show you how.'”
The next day, she showed him what to do and he did it. “She's like, 'You probably ought to think about doing this for a living,' " he said. He began to hang around the shop for a few weeks, doing free alterations and pressing — “anything I could do just to kind of learn while I was watching people,” he said.
One day, when everyone was at lunch, a customer needed a suit taken in at the waist by nine inches. “Throw it down here,” Sims told the manager, and he altered the suit. About 20 minutes later, Sims said, the customer needed another suit taken in, too, so he got to work.
The manager “hired me on the spot and made me the head tailor (at the Moline SouthPark) Foreman & Clark,” Sims said. It's “just one of those things when you find something that you're good at, you know, and I love doing it, so I'm lucky in that regard.”
Not long after the Kenneys left, U.S. Navy veteran and Patriot Guard rider Mike Pompeo, of Coal Valley, came in to have a patch moved on his vest.
Sims worked out the kinks of the patch placement, chatted with Pompeo, and was back to work sewing in no time.
While the shop is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, Sims said he tries to get to the shop between 6 and 8 a.m. “so I can get some work done before people start showing up.” He leaves sometime between 6 and 8 p.m. His days are spent sewing, fitting and answering questions.
“Other than a trip to the bathroom here or there, or five or six minutes to eat lunch, that's it — we work nonstop,” Sims said. “Sometimes, it's all you can do to hang onto the tail of the day.”
Sims met Kim while she was running the Karmelkorn kiosk at SouthPark Mall. They married and moved to Lake of the Ozarks in 1995 to be near family. While in Missouri, they owned and operated a landscaping and fertilizer business, as well as other businesses, but they returned to the Quad-Cities to be near family again in January 2008.
“We've got really loyal customers; we take care of everybody as well as possible,” Sims said. "I'm honest with people," he said, which works for some customers but not for all. If someone comes in to say, "This is wrong or that's wrong," he'll look at it and "tell them either they're correct or they're incorrect, because that's my job.”
The phone rang, and Sims answered. Holding the phone between his chin and his shoulder, he worked on a winter coat without missing a beat. While fielding questions about military patches, he scraped away a singed area of fabric left behind by a cigarette and prepared to mend the spot. A few hits with an iron, and he was over to the back wall, selecting a thread to match the fabric.
Not long after, his wife arrived at the store with their dog, Maggie Mae.
“Hi, Worm!” Sims said as Maggie galloped toward him. Worm, short for wiggle worm, is one of Maggie's nicknames. He gave her a little attention before going back to work. With several beds, toys and treats throughout the shop, Maggie was just happy to be there.
No matter where the couple moved over the years, “I never quit sewing. I always had a shop wherever I lived. … Sometimes it was stuck in an area as big as this table; sometimes it was two bedrooms,” Sims said.
“I don't make a lot of money doing this, you know. It's very hard to make a lot of money doing $8 and $10 alterations, but I get to work with my mom, my wife, my best friend, my dog; I get to basically do what I want to do.”