Altered Fashion: Could you shorten the legs a little? 2009.02.18

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

The pants were on sale and fit perfectly at the waist. Great price, great look, but they were a couple inches too long.

The diet wasn’t working, but the cash wasn’t available for a new wardrobe.

The bride-to-be bought her gown in Chicago where she was going to school. She brought it back home and it didn’t quite fit right.alterations.bev.jpg

The solution to these dilemmas is obvious: find someone skilled with a thimble and needle or a sewing machine—someone who does alterations.

Morenci resident Beverly Fortney says she’s been making clothing ever since high school, but her interest began long before that.

“I probably started sewing when I was about seven years old,” she said. “My sister would run the pedal [of the treadle machine] and I would run the material through. Then we’d trade places.”

Jean Durham of Fayette learned at her mother’s treadle machine, also, plus she was in 4-H and took school classes in home economics.

Donelda Ford of Morenci learned as a youngster, too.

“My grandmother started me out with a thimble and needle and embroidery work,” she said.

Donelda didn’t like the feel of the thimble, but her grandmother explained that she would soon appreciate it. Grandma was right.

She later signed up for all the home economics classes she could get at Morenci High School.

Beverly always made her children’s clothes because it was cheaper. When she lived with her son in Missouri while he was serving in the Navy, her sewing skills became very valuable.

“I got to sew on his stripes for him and I was proud of that.”

Word got around among the other single men on the base and she often heard the question, “Mom, can you put these on?”

Later, when she served as an apartment manager in Toledo, word spread once again.

“After people found out I could sew, I don’t think there was an apartment among all of them that I didn’t help,” Beverly said.

She finally returned to Morenci and advertised her services.

“I like to sew and I thought it would be a good way to make some extra money.”

She’s made some bridal dresses in her time, but it’s alterations that she prefers.

Jean started out doing alterations only for her family, but word spread when she worked at Sheridan Manufacturing in Wauseon.

She retired in 1995 and moved to Fayette. One day she mentioned her skills to her beautician, Karen Lavinder, who passed it on to others.

“It really mushroomed,” Jean said.

Donelda put her sewing skills to use in 1975 when Herm Cremeans opened a men’s clothing store in Morenci.

Herm’s closed many years ago, but Donelda never stopped with the alteration work.

“I’m someone who likes to be busy,” she said.

Lost art

When these ladies were children, there was someone with sewing skills in most every house.

“I think every homemaker sewed back then,” Donelda said. “Then the war triggered the need for women to go into factories. They found out they could do the work and some liked it better than staying home.”

People are just so busy these days, Beverly said.

“I think they’re so busy with their jobs that they don’t bother learning,” she said. “My daughter just got started, but when she has something tricky she just brings it to mom.”

Jean was a Depression era child and she remembers the wonders her mother did with a sewing machine.alteration.jean.jpg

“My mother took old coats that were wearing out, turned the material inside out and made ‘new’ clothes for us kids.”

She’s been getting a lot of requests for zipper replacements and she’s done a lot of patching, so maybe once again people are thinking twice before buying new.

Donelda is seeing a lot of the same work, as well, in addition to adding linings in older clothing.

“I’ve gotten a ton of hemming and zipper replacement for jeans and winter coats,” she said. “Zippers are getting harder to find. The colors aren’t available.”

Jean also commented on lack of availability and noted that some larger stores are down-sizing their sewing departments. She still finds a lot of what she needs at Rupp’s Sewing Shoppe in Wauseon.

Jean still uses an old Sew Mor sewing machine that she purchased in 1962. The heavy, all-metal machine has never needed any repair—only one new belt.

Many jobs, such as dress pants or a nicer dress, require hand sewing to make the work look right.

Not every request is something the ladies can handle.

“I have to see it first,” Jean said. “Some machine stitches are difficult to remove. Some zippers are glued in.”

“Whatever they need, you try to provide the service,” Donelda said.

She’s even done a couple of wedding dresses over the years, but with those involved projects she gets too far behind in other projects.

Beverly does her best to please her customers, too, but not everything can be done. Sometimes it just isn’t possible.

“If someone has lost two or three sizes, it’s going to lose the look of the dress. I try,” she said. “I tell them, ‘We’ll look and see what we can do.’”

When the altering job is all done and in the hands of the customer, that’s when Beverly feels satisfaction.

“It’s the finished product that you’re always proud of,” she said.

Donelda agrees.

“It’s not the money as much as the satisfaction of helping people,” she said. “It’s very relaxing and very rewarding.”

To see a young woman beam with delight when she’s given her newly fitted wedding gown—there’s nothing more pleasing, Donelda said.

Wedding gown alterations aren’t all that common. Usually it’s a more mundane task such as tapering legs or shortening sleeves.

There’s always going to be a need for someone with sewing skills.

“It’s hard to buy something that fits you just right,” Jean said. “Nobody’s average.”

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