WELLFLEET — Sewing spans the generations in Paul Townsend’s family. His grandmother, Theresa Townsend, remembers how, as a toddler, he would sit on her lap while she sewed quilts, fascinated by the thread running through the machine and the needle bobbing up and down.
Two months ago, when Theresa sat down to make a key fob for a friend, Paul offered to help. It wasn’t long before he took over, realizing this was something he could make on his own. What began as a small project has since blossomed into a successful sewing business.
Most days, when the second-grader comes home from school, and on every weekend, he sews key fobs using fabric he chooses himself. “He has an incredible eye for detail and his ability to regulate the foot pedal amazes me,” says Theresa.
“Paul loves choosing his fabrics,” says his mother, Tammi Townsend. As he roams Joann’s — the sewing and craft supply shop in Hyannis — he keeps one of his finished fobs in hand, checking the prints to make sure the patterns are small enough to show when the fabric is folded over, she says. They buy a third of a yard — enough to make ten fobs — of each print Paul chooses. His favorites include dogs and fire hydrants, and he’s partial to the color blue, but his choices cover all tastes.
Back home, the first step is to carefully measure and cut the fabric into rectangles. Theresa helps Paul iron interfacing onto the back of the fabric — the only step she assists him with. Interfacing is a muslin-like fabric used to reinforce and shape some elements of a garment, like collars and cuffs. A layer of interfacing makes these key fobs firmer and easier to grip and helps them hold their shape over time.
Paul folds each fabric rectangle once in the middle, then opens it out again and folds both sides back into the middle fold, making the fob a sturdy eight layers thick — four of fabric and four of interfacing. He uses small clips to hold the fabric in place while he sews two perfectly straight lines along either edge. “He is very focused when he is at his machine,” Tammi says.
To finish each piece, Paul folds the sewn strip of layered fabric in two, lengthwise, and clips on the key ring with a special pair of pliers.
It takes him about 10 minutes to make a fob, Paul says. To date, he has made more than 500 of them — some have been custom commissions. He sells mostly through friends and family as well as online in an Etsy store. He has also just started to bring his creations to stores, including Blackfish Variety, the Shell station on Route 6 in Wellfleet.
Paul’s first purchase with his profits was a brand-new sewing machine of his own. He chose a Janome 234, Paul says, because the pedal works so well.
He is thinking of branching out to make potholders and oven mitts. His goal is to earn enough to one day buy himself a blue Toyota Tundra truck. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Paul says, “a firefighter, like my grandmother.” With a nod to his machine, he adds, “I always want to do this, too.”