A Top Secret Commission
In late November I began conversations with Karen Pence to create gowns for her and her daughters and daughter-in-law for the presidential inauguration. Even now that I am retired, it was obvious to me that I could not handle this job on my own. I immediately thought of the members in my chapter and all the talents they have. With them at my side I was confident we would succeed.
I estimated we would need 6 people who could dedicate at least one whole day a week to working on the gowns and maybe more. I called Sarah Knochel first because she now owns my business, Something Wonderful. One of the first things I told her is that I wanted ASDP to be mentioned whenever possible and that I wanted the Something Wonderful label to be in all the gowns. She was told, as were all the other recruits, that this was a top-secret project to protect the Pence family’s privacy.
Sarah shares, “I started out in this business in a workroom, but have spent the last 12 years at home by myself. I didn't realize how much I missed the camaraderie of being together with other sewers on a daily basis. There wasn't a single day that I didn't learn something new, from techniques, to design, to business practices. The cumulative years of experience in the room for that project was staggering and I think we pooled everyone's skills beautifully. For people used to working on their own, it was amazing and humbling to see everyone come together to help with open hearts and zero ego.”
All the other dressmakers were called and asked if they could work on special project that would require at least one full day per week from late November to mid January. They were told it was a secret and they would find out what I needed them to do when they came to the first work day. I just went down the list of chapter members. Some were too busy, some were too far away to make the commute regularly, and others had obligations that did not allow them to participate. When I had 4 more people who could take part, I stopped calling. This was the beginning to a great adventure for us all.
Cathy Runion comments “Receiving a call from my friend, Joyce, left me feeling humbled that she would call me to help her with a sewing project. She was unable to tell me what I would be sewing until I showed up for my first Wednesday sewing date. After arriving the first day, I was sworn to secrecy. I arrived every Wednesday at Sarah Knochel’s home to be one of Cinderella’s mice in her basement creating the most beautiful eight gowns for the Pence family. Through this, I feel a stronger bond with five of my sewing friends from ASDP.”
Whitney Luckenbill comments “The field of dressmaking tends to be a somewhat solitary business. Most of us work alone with the only interruptions being client appointments. I, for the most part, have worked my sewing business alone and have never had the opportunity to work in a work room setting. This, however, all changed when I had the enormous privilege of working alongside 5 other talented members of our ASDP chapter. This was my first time working in a work room setting and, despite the stressful conditions, I had an amazing time."
"Many times, during that 8 weeks, I would comment how much I was learning from these other 5 women. We respected each other and everyone’s individual skills and specialties. The four of us who helped gladly accepted Joyce and Sarah’s direction because we understood that they were ultimately responsible for the success of the project.”
Ellen Blacketer adds “I think we considered ourselves “worker bees” and were happy to have Sarah and Joyce make the tough, final decisions on different challenges that would pop up. But, they were very open to any and all ideas from everyone else when we were working through some of the difficult situations. The bottom line was that we respected each other and that worked very well to establish a very cooperative work environment”.
Ellen continues, “It also worked well because Joyce and Sarah were great at orchestrating the work schedules, fitting schedules, timing of deadlines, etc. They were always on top of what had to be done next to keep things moving forward efficiently. This is where teamwork is so important. We were all ready to do whatever needed to be done, at any certain time, to keep all 8 dresses on schedule. This was not an easy task because of the Pence family’s erratic schedules. We needed to be flexible and jump from one project to another as directed even if we didn’t get something completed that we had started. It seemed strange from our normal work practices but we knew someone else would step in and finish it at a later time. We truly felt like a team working toward a common goal. I think we all were well aware of what an honor this was. We were determined to do our very best and help Joyce and Sarah in any way.”
Donna Christian adds her thoughts, “It was an honor to be asked to help. Ellen and I were happy to help a friend when asked, and were even more so when we got there and found out it was something so important. Each time we arrived they had different parts of the gowns that needed work done, the beads sewn on, hemming a dress by hand, or ruching for bodice pieces. Each aspect of the work was very organized and planned. We all get along so well that there was never a concern of stepping on each other’s toes, just a good time with friends. The last day Sarah had a nice lunch for all of us to enjoy together, which was very thoughtful of her and Joyce. The whole experience was one that none of us will ever forget.”
Whitney comments, “While the project itself was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it was the time spent in the workroom that I will cherish forever.”
Sarah comments, “It also came at a pivotal point in my business helping me make decisions about expanding and hiring my first employees. This was like a mini course on running a workroom with a total dream team of talent. It was a joy to be together and the experience of creating with my friends will be what I remember about this in years to come.
Donna adds, “It was a thrill of a life time to get to meet Karen Pence, and to know her a bit.”
Best of all, we grew in our friendship and I was thankful every day that I knew these talented women and that they were members of this great organization. It was very easy to work together since we have known each other through our membership in ASDP.