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Portrait of a Seamstress: Stasia

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Have you ever met someone and as you speak with them, their layers start to peel and they reveal the many talents, knowledge, and skills they have? That was how I felt after I met Stacia. She works at probably the most unique vintage and hobby store – Love Saves The Day. During my first foray to the store, located in a town north of Philadelphia that is a treasure trove for cool finds, I heard her conversing enthusiastically, and I mean enthusiastically, with a customer. Looking through the racks of 1960s clothes, the tone of her voice made it seemed as if they were best friends, like they went waaay back. They didn’t though, Stasia is just that friendly. When it was my turn to pay for my purchases, a pair of 1960s, high-waisted wool trousers, which will be my coveted pants this fall and winter, I randomly asked if the store sold vintage patterns. “Funny you asked that,” she said, “we will be getting some this Monday! If you give me your number, I can call you when they come in!” I gave her my contact information and a week later, we were not only chatting about the amazing vintage patterns the store just acquired, we were also talking about her sewing life. She comes from a long lineage of seamstresses, her grandmother worked at a high-end department store in Center City, Philadelphia, and she regularly uses a vintage Singer sewing machine, which was a hand-me-down. When I formally interviewed her, the things that Stasia knew how to do seemed endless. Dyeing, lithography, sewing… she knew about it all and was skilled in each trade. She is one multi-talented gal.

Love Saves the Day opened in New York City in 1966 and little did the owner know that she was creating a vintage legacy. Desperately Seeking Susan, the film that features Madonna in her glory days, was filmed in store in the 1980s. Shortly after the filming, Loves Saves the Day  opened a second location in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The New York City store was closed a couple years ago leaving only the New Hope location. When Leslie Herson, the owner first opened the shop, she accidentally left a few vintage and dismembered mannequins in the courtyard while she was getting stuff together and when she came back, she found tourists photographing the mess of mannequins. To this day, the mannequin graveyard is one of the most photographed areas of the historic and quaint tow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhere did you learn to sew? I learned how to sew from my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother was one of the head seamstresses at the Blum Store in Philadelphia. She started working there in the 1940s, creating patterns, custom tailoring, and making garments, but she gave it up in 1950s when she had her sixth child. Her hands were a little full to say the least!

Mentor: Again, my mother and my grandmother. They didn’t believe in buying new – they handmade everything. All the women in my house knew how to sew – my sisters, my aunts – and we repurposed all our clothing. When my mother married my father in 1969, her wedding dress was made from a Vogue pattern and costing, in total, about $28, which in today’s market would be around $100 – cheap! Because of this, I have learned that what is trash is also a treasure, especially when it comes to vintage clothing. A lot of people will pass up a 1940s circle skirt because a seam is open, or they’ll pass up a vintage dress because there are no buttons attached, or they’ll pass up a garment because it is stained, but what I have learned is that everything has many lives. If I come across that vintage dress, I’ll find 1950s button to go with it. If a garment isn’t selling on one color, I’ll dye it another. I’ll once got the most amazing orange 1960s Mad Men dress that was a great cut and looked good on every body, but it wouldn’t sell and I wondered why. – it was a beautiful piece and had a Lord & Taylor tag. Then I dyed it navy blue and it sold within 24 hours.

Also, my mother still sews every single day, every single day, and that’s inspiring.

What sewing machine do you use/have? I have a 1962 Singer professional sewing machine. It’s in its original table and you can drop the machine down and pull it back up. It was my grandmother’s sewing machine that she bought new and used when she was seamstress on the side. It’s only been in our family!

Also, my mother has an 80-year-old Singer featherweight machine that’s in mint working condition and has gold appliqué. She has a newer, fancier machine with tons of stitches and bobbins, which she uses for her bigger projects, but she always goes back to her Singer because she says that they don’t make machines the way they used to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAltering or sewing a garment from scratch? I like making clothes better. I’m not as skilled at altering, especially when it comes to sizing. If I have to bring out the bust and bring in the waist on a garment, I always mess up because I’m an art student and I’m terrible at math! But I’m good at recycling clothing and if a 1950s dress comes in with a beautiful, full skirt and a bodice that is shattered, I’ll cut the top half off and make it into just a skirt.

Best sewing books? Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century (Hardcover) by Kyoto Costume Institute (Author, Creator) . It was one of my textbooks and I love it because it gives the entire history of fashion from the 1800s. It also talks about different materials that were used and how and why they were used during that time period. What this book does is help me create new ideas.

Favorite thing you’ve made? Probably my denim jacket. The owner of this store used to have an original Levi’s jacket that she’d wear all over the place. It’s from the 1960s and legend says it actually went to Woodstock – it has the original Woodstock patches on it! What I did was I bought all sorts of patches from all over the place – Asian patches from the 1960s, Vietnam patches, Elvis cutouts – and I collaged the entire jacket. It’s hanging on by threads because it’s aged but I wear it all the time. People offer me money for it all the time but I’m not giving it up! It’s my prized possession.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATips for dyeing? Don’t be afraid. Go to a thrift store or a garage sale and find items that you’re not afraid to ruin and experiment. I love dyeing with different levels of coffee, it gives a great sepia tone. I also love using Kool-Aid and RIT dyes, which are a lot better than they used to be, especially the liquid kind. But it’s all about trial and error.

Where do you buy vintage clothing? Anywhere I can get it. About two weeks ago, I heard through the grapevine that a gentleman who was a sample salesman had just passed away. The clothes were on an emu farm so I had to take my husband with me so that he could keep the birds out of the trailer while I went shopping. It was a horrible experience but the garments had never been worn and had never been touched. They had the sample tags on them and the swatches of the fabrics that the showed what color the garment came in! I ended up getting amazing pieces – 70s jumpsuits with the wide leg, unisuits with big collars and shoulder pads. You never know where I’ll end up. I’m always in someone’s basement, barn, attic, garage.

3 Comments

  1. Reply

    Ginger

    Cool interview! I love her tip to think outside the box and not to overlook things because they’re a weird color or are missing buttons or something– great reminder!

  2. Reply

    emily marie

    This looks like such a super fun place to shop! I love her problem-solving DIY attitude to selling second hand- just dye the dress and it’ll sell!

  3. Reply

    sallieforrer

    Totally inspiring interview! Alot of wonderful gems of wisdom in here. Makes me miss New Hope and all those kooky stores!

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