CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There was a time when almost everyone knew a grandmother or friend's mom or a nice woman in the neighborhood who could sew anything at the drop of a hat. They were experts when it came to making up outfits for Halloween or a school play.
Now it seems moms are making more late-night trips to the mall for those last-minute costumes rather than taking a drive to Grandma's to save the day.
Or are they? Ask around and soon you'll find many women in West Virginia who are passionate about sewing, eager to tell the practical benefits and emotional satisfaction they get from their craft. Some have been sewing for most of their lives, often starting because of a financial need and then finding they'd rather do nothing else.
That's what happened to Kris Moore when she started sewing 24 years ago. Pregnant with her third child, she decided to try sewing as a way to save money and avoid dragging all soon to be five of her kids to the store from their home in Looneyville in Roane County.
Her plan didn't go so smoothly at first. "There were times I'd sit there and it was so hard, and I'd just pray, and God would give me wisdom, and I just grew to love it," she said.
As her kids grew older she learned to make just about anything -- coats, dress clothes, suits, matching outfits for her and her daughters and formalwear. The outfits looked store-bought, but they were unique, she said.
She soon found sewing gave her something she could hold in her hands that she could be proud she made.
With all the kids at home, "keeping the house neat was frustrating, but when I made something at the end of the day, I felt productive, I did accomplish something."
Five years ago, she directed her passion into a business, selling everything from scarves to handbags to Bible covers and children's clothing on Facebook and Etsy, a website where handmade items are sold. Crochet is a large part of her business now, and she is working to introduce hand sewing and mixed media to the crochet community so that the garments and crochet pieces match.
"Until I can't do it anymore, I will be doing it," she said. "You become your own designer, and there is great satisfaction in that."
To have nice things
For Sonya Armstrong, sewing is a way to stay on trend and be "stretched to the limit" in the designs she makes for her clothes.
"When you sew, you don't have to wait for it to go on sale or out of season. You can make it," said Armstrong, a professor at West Virginia State University.
In the past 40 years, she's made everything from lingerie to coats to fashion pieces requested by friends.
"My friends have stretched me to the limit. They have such faith in me," she said. One of her favorite creations was a Vogue pattern pantsuit two of her friends asked that she make. One of those friends just wore her outfit on a recent trip to Austria.
"It's not because I liked it so much, but because it was difficult," she said. She enjoys making prom dresses and evening wear, and every year she's sewed a prom dress either for her daughter Janelle or for one of the seven high school exchange students she's hosted at her house during that time.
Long before she had kids to sew for, a teenage Armstrong started sewing because she wanted nice things to wear to social events when she lived and went to school in New York City. She came to West Virginia in 1999.
"I wanted to be able to have nice things that I could not afford to buy," she said. "A Singer sewing machine was the first item I purchased to establish a credit on a credit card. I got it before I had a radio, a TV, a car."
When she had her daughter, her skill came in handy when she could not afford certain items the child needed. Once, when her daughter was trying out for "The Nutcracker" and needed a special leotard, she just made it instead of buying it.
Another way she uses sewing is to remember her mother in a very special way. Each Mother's Day for the past 20 years, she has worn an outfit her mother owned. With her skills, she is able to adjust it the size and make it match current trends.
"Being able to sew afforded me being able to do that," she said.
Generation to generation
Sherra Bailey is education coordinator for the Jo-Ann Fabric store in Dunbar. She believes people want to sew because it gives them that connection to the past.