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(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Considered a bit of a rock star in the world of sewing machines, Hanspeter Ueltschi, a fourth generation owner of the Bernina Company, arrives in Utah to celebrate the state's love of all things sewing machines as he talks with owner Rhonda Lopez at her new Nuttall's store in Riverton on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Many fans of the sewing machines brought in their own so he could sign them.
Bernina owner — a sewing machine ‘rock star’ — visits Utah
Bernina » Owner of Swiss company Bernina helps open new Nuttall’s store in Riverton, greets customers.
First Published Nov 05 2013 11:34 am • Last Updated Nov 05 2013 05:51 pm

Riverton • Hanspeter Ueltschi is the Mick Jagger of the sewing machine world.

So when the fourth-generation owner of Bernina —the privately owned Swiss company that manufacturers sewing, embroidery and quilting machines — visits a United States store such as Nuttall’s new building in Riverton, fans of his product often bring them to be autographed.

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That’s why Rhonda Lopez, whose family owns five Nuttall’s stores along the Wasatch Front, made certain her new building would be open in time for one of the two visits Ueltschi makes to the U.S. each year.

Customer Gayle Peacock showed up at the store Monday about a half hour before Ueltschi’s visit to have her Bernina signed.

"It will be kind of neat to have his name on my machine," said Peacock. "This is my second machine. I have had a Bernina for 48 years. My mother had a Bernina when I was a little girl. That’s one reason I am so sold on it."

Ueltschi’s great grandfather Karl Friedrich Gegauf invented the world’s first hemstitch sewing machine in 1893 in Switzerland, starting the family-owned company. In 1932, the Bernina brand was born when the company manufactured the first home sewing machine. Bernina is named after Biz Bernina, the highest summit in the eastern Alps. Ueltschi took over leadership from his mother in 1988.

He is credited with working to improve the technology of the modern sewing machine.

"The technology the last eight years has changed tremendously," said Ueltschi. "Look at the machines 30 years ago, and now it’s fully computerized. It’s still simple but the design has changed a lot …We come out every year with new products. The main driver is technology."

Sewing has changed over the last decade or two as well, a fact both Ueltschi and Lopez noted.

Ueltschi compared old sewing machines with bicycles that were designed as utilitarian devices mainly used to get from point A to point B. He said the newer products are more like mountain bikes, in that they are used more by hobbyists than out of necessity.

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"Sewing used to be a must to save money," he said. "Twenty years ago, it became a hobby … People still buy sewing machines to make clothes, but there is not the saving aspect. They want to create something unique and want to be individuals. They don’t want to buy everything that is available in the big stores."

Lopez said Utah remains one of the strongest markets in the world for sewing machines. Nuttall’s often sells more Berninas than any other dealer in the world. One of the reasons is that sewing is still taught in many schools.

She said that since clothing has become so inexpensive, sewing has turned into a hobby and a craft that allows participants to express their individuality.

"Based upon what we have seen in our business trend, sewing is a creative outlet and a social outlet where we have had our business grow in the last few years," she said.

That’s why when the new Riverton building was constructed from scratch, the first Nuttall’s store ever built specifically to display machines and fabrics, Lopez insisted that it contain a 2,000-square-foot classroom. Every machine the company sells comes with a free class on how to use it.

Lopez began her career taking a designer jeans sewing class, partially taught by Norman Nuttall, the founder of the stores that are now located in West Valley, Sunset, American Fork, Riverton and Murray.

When he opened a store close to Lopez’s West Valley home, she ended up been a supervisor. Soon, she was managing three Nuttall’s stores and then six others. She bought into the company’s American Fork store and eventually purchased half of the company. She bought the entire company last year. Her husband and four children all help operate the stores.

"Now what used to be his family business turned into our family business," she said.

Nuttall passed away in September. His daughter, Tracy Nuttall Velasquez, attended Monday’s ribbon cutting.

"She has done a fabulous job," said Velasquez about Lopez’s new store. "The building is perfect. Every store dad had had to make do. This was built for sewing."

Joyce Thurman of Bluffdale said the new store is a big improvement over the previous Nuttall’s location in Riverton.

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