Stitch-by-Stitch: Old fashioned skills in an automated world

There's one Terre Haute company that can't use automation...they rely on hand-made.

Posted: Oct 30, 2018 10:50 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - In a generation full of technology, it seems many of the old-fashioned skills have fallen by the wayside.

Sewing is a trade considered nearly obsolete.

An artistry lost in the era of outsourcing and computers.

But there's one Terre Haute company that can't use automation...they rely on hand-made.

Business is booming, but there simply aren't enough fingers to keep up, stitch-by-stitch.

Walking into the Glas-Col manufacturing plant may feel like a step back in time.

At the Terre Haute plant, dozens of workers hand-stitch custom heating mantles to be shipped worldwide.


It's an old skill that's still in great need here.

There's one big problem for the company...their workforce is aging.

Debbie Clark has been sewing for Glas-Col for 34-years.

Dixie King...for 32.

Both learned how to sew in high school and from family.

As more and more schools around the country drop home ec classes, many companies that rely on the vintage skills are hurting for workers.


Phyllis Bales supervises the second-floor sewers at Glas-Col.

"It's harder and harder to find people who know how to sew or know how to machine's kind of a dying thing," Bales told us.

She says business is growing so fast, they can't find hired hands to keep up with demand.

"We're trying any kind of avenue that we can to try to develop people's skills and to get them to stay," Bales said.

Dave Templeton is the president at Glas-Col.

He told us they've been setting records in the last few years.

More and more pharmaceutical and industrial companies want these hand-made mantles from Terre Haute.

As society shifts to automation...his company is left searching for workers.

"It's just an area that isn't trained anymore in school," Templeton said.

At this company, a quarter of the workforce has been there 20 or more years.

10 of those workers for longer than three decades.

As these sewers reach retirement, it's getting harder to replace them.

"To teach someone to hand sew a product doesn't happen real quickly. It can be a couple of years before they're really proficient at some of the more complex items we make," Tempelton said.

Phyllis Bales has been doing her part at Glas-Col for 34 years.

She says they'll continue to change recruiting and training at the plant, trying to revive a dying skill set to keep up with the company's bottom line.

You'll find Glas-Col at 7th and Hulman in Terre Haute, celebrating nearly 80-years of business.

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