Revealing the reality of a lost art form

This is a revealing tale of a dying art form that is going unnoticed in our fast paced world today.

To alter something is to make something different in some particular way such as size, or style, or to modify. In our family business we offered alterations as a normal part of our service.

My husband has said for years that performing alterations is a dying trade. Mending and alterations have slowly slipped away as clothing has become cheaper to replace or not worth the expense of fixing. Therefore, the need or desire for repair has shifted. I have been guilty of this myself.

Most of the time a seam that needed sewing or a loose or missing button was a free service we provided as a thank for the business or just a kind gesture to save an embarrassing moment later.

My mother spent 40 + years behind a sewing machine. She was a master at her craft. Early on she was doing complex alterations like re-lining coats or skirts or making clothes for customers that supplied the material and pattern. As business grew she was called into more pressing matters (literally) and had to cut back on alterations. For the last 3 decades we mostly focused on replacing zippers, hemming pants, skirts, and occasionally shortening sleeves on jackets.

As with all aspects of the dry cleaning industry, I learned my abilities from watching and listening to the women that came before me. My mother and grandmother loved what they did and loved the community they served. I was taught by the best.

I became the seamstress by proxy a few years ago when it was clear my mother could no longer see to thread a needle and her stitching wasn’t uniform. It broke my heart to watch her lose something she loved to do. I never could quite match up to her competency and knowledge, but I got along, leaning on her occasional advice.

Alterations seemed to fit into our business model from the beginning, filling a void and a much appreciated service for those that came in for other services. It served us well, and it became about a quarter of our complete business offerings as of late.

These days you can find any information you desire of the internet. If someone wants to tackle the job of sewing a seam or fixing a tear, the knowledge is at their finger tips. Generally though, as a lot of my customers would say, “I could fix this myself. but I don’t have a sewing machine.” Maybe that’s just what they would claim to save the inconvenience of having to do it themselves, or no understanding of where to start.

The world moves so quickly now, and it seems no one has the time for the simple things like sewing on a button. But, I think that’s exactly what we should do. Find the joy in slowing down and taking the few minutes to work with our hands and step back and admire a small accomplishment.

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on

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