Ten New England Chapter members gathered on a cold and snowy January 8 at Maxwell Silverman's Restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the chapter's founding. Among the attendees were three of the chapter's founding members: Janee Connor, Mirjana Freilich, and Astrid Gallet, all three also past presidents. vFrom the summer of 1991, beginning as Massachusetts PACC, our group was an early chapter of the fledgling Professional Association of Custom Clothiers, also founded in 1991. We later expanded our geographic reach and became the New England chapter of PACC and continue today as the New England chapter of ASDP.
Opening the event, current President Sue Bennett proposed a toast to past and present members, to our friendship, and to the next 25 years. Following a luncheon buffet, we continued a tradition of going around the group with each saying what we are currently doing. Everyone agreed that the encouragement we receive from each other has been valuable beyond words and that our association transcends professional and business connections, to deep and lasting friendship. We have been with each other during illnesses and loss, personal achievements, business ups and downs, and much more.
The celebration also included a recent tradition, a fabric exchange. The pieces that each person brought were passed around the table, examined and then spoken for. Despite audible murmurs about "downsizing", "too much of a stash", "no need for more fabric", and the like, everyone seemed to leave happy with a "new" piece for a new year.
At the end of the party, members received a silver colored gift bag which held a pair of ballpoint pens personalized with the chapter name and website (we're always marketing!), an article on the early chapter history written in 2002 by Janee Connor, a package of basting needles, a handmade silk organza press cloth, some chocolates and a rose. Amid laughter and hugs, we headed out in our different directions once again on the snowy roads of New England - until the next gathering!
This event was organized by the current chapter officers: Sue Bennett, Joyce DeLoca, Cathie Ryan, and Maureen Egan.
The ASDP New England Chapter web address is: www.newenglandsewingpros.org
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.
The Colorado Chapter of the ASDP continues to meet monthly with a business meeting followed by a sewing presentation or activity. In October we pieced together quilt blocks for the Quilts of Valor and the Flights for Veterans programs. The Quilts of Valor program donates completed quilts to injured service men and women, and Flights for Veterans gives lap quilts (for wheelchair use) to World War II veterans when they travel to see sites important to their service. Our quilt making was led by former ASDP member Sandy Harmon. We had three groups working the tasks of sewing, ironing, and trimming. This year’s quilt was quite dramatic, with solid blocks of navy blue and blocks that were half navy blue and half stripes of red and white.
We almost finished the quilt top during our four-hour session with just a few rows remaining to be sewn together. After the November business meeting we were scheduled to hear a formal presentation about doing business plans. Unfortunately the SBA (Small Business Association) representative had to cancel at the last minute. The group then decided to have the more experienced members share their expertise. They encouraged the newer members to do a business plan because the process of doing a plan helps clarify thoughts about the development of the business. At our annual potluck Holiday brunch in December the usual business meeting included a discussion of activities planned for 2017. One of the new activities being considered is a series of Couture Building Blocks sessions to be taught by Clara Dittle. (She taught the Couture Skirt classes in 2016.) These classes will focus on learning techniques and making. We expect these classes will be held on three Saturdays in the spring and three in the fall. In January our featured presentation was on the Chanel Jacket. Melanie Knoblauch started with info on available patterns, books, and websites for us to examine. The presentation included samples of completed jackets and jackets in progress. Among the ideas that differ from the average jacket included horizontal quilting in addition to or instead of vertical quilting in the body of the jacket and using hooks and eyes for a hidden front closure.
There are three things to consider when determining the best sewing service project for your chapter:
Here is a list of a few of them:
I believe that the face of ASDP is changing. I wish we had birth dates on our profiles so that I could show concrete data but the best I can do is anecdotal. When I first joined ASDP, then PACC, I was among the youngest members. That is no longer the case. And yet, many of us still wonder what will happen when we retire. After all, as we often hear, “the younger ones are not joining.”
There is a term known as “anchoring heuristic.” It refers to the human tendency to accept and rely on the first piece of information received before making a decision. That first piece of information is the anchor and sets the tone for everything that follows. Think of first impressions and how hard they are to overcome. Or as another example, an investor who took a painful loss in a bear market will not readily invest when the market turns around.
“Heuristic” is using experience to learn and grow. While not a bad thing and in fact smart, can anchoring heuristics keep us from seeing, evaluating and utilizing current realities? If the answer is yes, and I believe it is, then what is the antidote? The first question was primarily rhetorical. The second is not. I await your response.
Have you ever wondered why there was a boxed wedding gown in your attic? Why did you keep yours? Was it just for sentimental reasons, or could it be there was a specific reason?
The Project: Over the last three years, three sisters from a Midwest family have become engaged and the last one to marry her sweetheart will do so this fall. It has been an exciting and busy time for all the family, especially the girls' mother, Tracie, who has made the journey frequently from Cape Girardeau to St Louis, Missouri, venue of the weddings; she has planned all the weddings and taken care of the myriad of details. And it may have been while she has been driving that Tracie’s mind moved ahead to the possibility of grandchildren!
So it was that last year, Tracie asked me to take on the task of creating three christening gowns (one for each of her daughters) from two wedding dresses.
Hers: 30 years old
Her Mother’s: 60 years old
The design of each christening gown was left to my creativity. Both of the wedding dresses needed cleaning (including some areas of poorly cleaned red wine stains) and some areas of lace that were torn and needed restoring.
Deconstruction and Cleaning: First, the gowns had to be deconstructed so that the individual components could be cleaned separately. Each grouping of lace, both Chantilly and Guipure, and the silk satin, plain and embroidered, as well as the tulle were left in the cleaning solution overnight. Sometimes this step raises my blood pressure! Next the cleaning solution was carefully rinsed out and the garment or lace pieces were laid to dry over a drying rack. I'm never quite sure how the old/vintage pieces will react in the cleaning solution. (The oldest gown I have cleaned and restored had a date of 1839 on it and fortunately held up well). Once dry the pieces were pressed and then I assessed what was usable and how they could be combined in a pleasing way.
Pattern: I like the variety of styles in the now out-of-date Children's Corner pattern ' Hand Sewing 1'. For this project I chose three different styles.
And the resulting garments were very pleasing for me and also for Tracie and her daughters
Where is your business located? In Greendale, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Milwaukee. I draw clients from the entire metro-area and beyond.
Do you work out of a home studio or do you have a brick and mortar location? My studio is in the lower level of my home, which is mostly above ground with lots of natural light. I have about 800 square feet, with three separate rooms – a client room, a creative/cutting room, and my sewing work room.
What kind of work do you specialize in? My business has evolved over 13 years and now I only do bridal, prom, and formal alterations, which is what I love doing. I tend to do a lot of bridal gown restyles and pregnancy re-sizing for brides and maids. In the bridal off-season months (Nov-Feb), I also do work on ballroom dance costumes including custom design, restyling, and alterations.
Do you work alone or do you share the space with others? I work alone. What's the first thing that clients notice about your space? That it is an organized and professional business operation, or as many state “wow, this is a real business!” I’m single and support myself solely from my business. Clients also notice the number of bridal gowns hanging in the work pending area, and my sample ballroom dance costumes on display.
How did you develop your layout? I have had several configurations over the years, and am always trying to make the most efficient use of my space, which is split into small rooms with lots of doorways. I’ve had to use grid paper and cut outs of my furniture to figure it out. My biggest challenge was to get the ironing board accessible from the right side, and minimize the movement of bridal gowns from machine to worktable to iron! I’ve also consulted books on sewing space design, as well as any other examples I can find for ideas.
What makes your sewing space unique? Aside from my quirky décor items from Latin America, I think my space is unique because I have set up a dedicated, high speed sewing station/work table for wedding gowns – which is clean of other thread colors, lint, etc. Then I have another high speed station for everything else – bridesmaids’ dresses, ballroom dance costumes, etc. My serger, coverstitch, and zigzag/embroidery machine are also in this area. I made this change a year ago, and feel it has really increased my productivity and efficiency. The other thing I have done is have a ‘creative room,’ which is where I have my reference library, woven and dance costume stashes, rhinestones, cutting tables, and mannequins. The idea is to keep this room clean and inviting to facilitate starting a new creation - from draping concepts to pattern work, layout/cutting, rhinestoning dance costumes, and steaming bridal gowns.
Anything else you'd like to add? Because I am tall, all of my work tables are 32-35”tall. I use balance balls for my work chairs as they strengthen core muscles and make it hard to slouch at the machines. I also switched to a standing desk for my computer/desk this year to reduce sitting time and improve my work posture.
In mid-August, the local county historical society hosted an open house off-site of its main campus, during which they announced an opportunity to ‘adopt-a-tree’ for decoration and display during the up-coming holiday season at the society’s main historical home, The Tallman House, a beautiful 2-story built in the mid-1850’s. The theme had to be family friendly and appropriate for the setting. With almost two dozen trees available for adoption, I immediately signed up for a tree, selecting the master bedroom for the location. A proposed design, a ball gown from June 1860 Godey’s Lady’s Book, was approved and the hunt was on for the necessary supplies. With tree installation scheduled for the first week of November, the majority of the tree needed to have the ‘dress rehearsal’ completed before leaving for conference in Vancouver.
The tree gown is built with a dress form as the base, so the society let me pick the form I wanted from their storeroom. Even though the chosen, undressed form has a silhouette from a later era, it was selected because it was the sturdiest, heaviest form. The S-shape meant draping a muslin for the bodice. The 2016 Threads ‘Quilted Garment’ Challenge came in handy: pliable evergreen garland was quilted to the muslin base. The back closes with a two-inch wide Velcro over/under lap. The unusual busk is a scavenged section from a discarded silverware basket from my dishwasher.
The skirt frame needed enough heft to support the weight of tree branches and was built from 4-foot wide chicken wire. Hint #1: make sure your tetanus is up to date, as you may get a lot of deep scratches while working with this wire. Hint #2: get a friend to help you with this step! While you will be able to snip the wire into panels, it will be nearly impossible to ‘sew’ a shaped chicken wire seam by yourself. The skirt was shaped by folding the wire back about 1 foot below the waist, and the then the seams of the four sections ‘stitched’ by using zip-ties at CF, and each SS. The CB ’seam’ was left open.
A pleated burlap ‘petticoat’ covers the frame; it is also left free at the CB. The burlap hides the wire, helps fill in some of the shaping for the skirt, and provides easy anchoring spots for the some of the smaller branches.
The skirt used 2-1/2 artificial 6-foot trees. (Real trees could not be used as they are a fire hazard) This was the hardest item to track down! After several weeks of looking, I gave up on scoring trees from consignment or estate sales and bought trees from Big Lots. If you want to try this for next year, hit the after-holiday sales! Just remember, the branches should probably look like they all came from the same tree. Hint #3: if you do not have one, GET A BOLT CUTTER if your trees have the branches permanently attached to the trunk. My trees needed to have the pre-strung lights removed before removing the individual branches. After cutting the branches off, use pliers to bend a hook into the tip. Begin at the ‘hem’ of the tree, and hook the branches through the burlap, catching the wire, spreading and shaping the branches as need. Continue told up from the bottom, filling in with the smaller branches as you near the waist. The single tips can be used to fill in as needed. Add lights if desired. Note: historical settings will probably require LED lights, but best to check with the site for any restrictions they may have.
The trim on the dress was built from tulle. Seven dozen silk yellow roses replaced the bows on the original, because they were the favorite flower of the original owner of the Tallman House. The sash was from my stash.
The Wisconsin Chapter toured the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection on the UW-Madison campus in April, directed by collection curator, Natasha Thoreson. The collection contains a wide variety of both textiles and garments from around the world. We were allowed - even encouraged - to touch the garments selected for our tour! How often does THAT happen? We were mesmerized by garments from around the globe and across many time periods. The collection is also viewable on-line.
It’s hard to pick a chapter favorite for all the wonderful pieces we examined, but two of the top contenders were a fitted unlined jacket from the late 1800’s and a chiffon gown from the late 1940’s. Ah, the wonders of seeing in person and being able to touch the garments!
In addition to the textile museum, we were also treated to tours of the student design labs, including draping studios, the extensive weaving studio, and the Ruth Davis Design Gallery. Throughout the tour, Linda McCoy, VP-Membership, had a great discussion with the curator, and as a result, the Wisconsin chapter will be developing a panel discussion with a question/answer period to present to fashion design students on career options in the sewing and design industry.
Rebecca A. Nelson
February 24, 1950 - June 7, 2016
With great sadness the New England Chapter reports the death of Rebecca Nelson, a fifteen-year member and our immediate past president, following a courageous battle against cancer. Rebecca was a much loved and valued member of New England ASDP. From the day she joined in 2001 she brought a ready smile, enthusiasm, organization, a great sense of humor, and wholehearted commitment to our goals and events.
For the past nine years she served on our Board in Membership and Program positions and most recently for two consecutive terms as Chapter President. Rebecca was instrumental in the startup of our website and in monitoring the statistics and effectiveness of our Google group. It was always a treat to be an officer when Rebecca was chairing the Board, because meetings often featured delicious lunches she provided at her home.
A native of Rutland, Vermont, Rebecca made her home with her husband Jon in Marlborough, MA where she established her sewing business, Rebecca's Dresses, focusing on bridal work, christening gowns, and prom gown alterations. She was incredibly generous with her time and talents. Rebecca made room in her busy schedule each spring for Princess Boutique, a voluntary initiative to obtain and alter prom gowns and accessories for local girls in financial need to be outfitted beautifully for their big night. She put in hours of preparation and organization for this legendary annual event. Then, in a single nonstop day of gown selections, fittings and alterations, Rebecca and her team would send dozens of happy girls home with their perfect look.
Besides her lifelong passion for sewing, Rebecca also enjoyed traveling with her husband on his Master Singers music tours, and cheering on the New England sports teams as a devoted fan.
In her passing, Rebecca has left big shoes to fill. To say that we will miss her is a great understatement. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and to all who knew and loved her.
The New England Chapter has made a monetary gift in Rebecca's name, donated by individual members and a Chapter allocation, to the ASDP Charitable Foundation. We felt that contributing to the support of professional education in sewing and design would be a very appropriate way to ensure that Rebecca's name lives on in a field she so loved and to which she gave her talents and energy.
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