Friday, July 19, 2024

St. Regis seamstress has lifetime of experience

Mineral Independent | March 13, 2024 12:00 AM

Since she was knee-high to a grasshopper, or in this case, a Singer Sewer, Gayle Johnston’s remarkable seamstress profession has come together over the years one stitch at a time.

“I pretty grew up underneath the drapery table,” she fondly recalled.

Raised in Kansas, Johnston’s mother worked for an interior décor business crafting draperies, pillows and cushion covers. As a little girl, she would sit below the work table collecting snippets of fabric like a puppy looking for scraps.

Johnston would then take these rectangles of material and do what her mom had instructed. 

“Bend it in half and cut a little triangle from the middle fold,” she showed. “Then fold it again a little further out and cut a half-moon shape.” 

Laying it flat Johnston described, “There it’s now a shirt for a doll or a stuffed bear. Just stick their arms through, wrap it around the back, and stick a pin in to hold it.”

When she was a little older, Johnston frequented Jett’s Department store in her old hometown to visit the sewing section and acquire new notions, threads, lace, buttons, and zippers. 

“My Dad allowed me to charge items at the store but he had one rule. Whatever projects I started, even if it didn’t fit right or I didn’t like how it looked, I had to complete it before I moved on to sewing something new,” she said.

Decades ago, moms, aunts and grandmothers all sewed – passing this skill and knowledge to younger generations was a tradition. 

Johnston remarked, “It really has become a bit of a lost art.”

Long before attending her first home economics class as a seventh grader, Johnston was already following and creating Simplicity patterns making her own clothes.

She was so proficient at sewing that she would finish her class projects and then assist other classmates with their work. Eventually, she became an aid to her teacher later on in high school. Her expertise also carried over into the machines themselves, over time she was able to identify general maintenance needs and demonstrate this to fellow sewers.

Most striking was her time teaching sewing classes at a Bernina Center inside a massive Joan Fabrics Store in Arizona. With students in one space all using the same sewing machine Johnston could go around to each person and recognize what aspect of the process wasn’t working right. Be it the tensioner, the bobbin, a dull needle, or a loose guide.

Johnston has won a handful of red and blue ribbons for her sewing work, she even holds a tailoring certificate, but the work she enjoys most is being a seamstress. With her three sewing machines at home, a Bernina, a Husqvarna, and a Singer Sewer Johnston can alter, create, repair and restyle garments for herself and others.

“One kind of repair that I get a lot is zippers,” said Johnston. 

Taking out a coat zipper that no longer works seems simple, but she explained that there are numerous stitches that hold the zipper in place. Then, once all those stitches are removed, separate panels of fabric around the zipper come loose. 

“You have to keep track of all of those, then get them all put back in place and sew the new zipper in,” she added.

The zipper itself is cheap, but the time it takes to repair can be a bit spendy.

“I love being able to fix a piece of clothing and give it new life, so many people just throw things away these days,” Johnston remarked. 

She desires to take on more projects for people who need certain mending done for their work clothes. But she can do just about any kind of alteration, whether it's hemming pants, sewing on a patch, or modifying a prom dress, Johnston is your gal. Along the way, she has been a seamstress for hire in many of the places she’s lived.

After relocating from Arizona to Montana, Johnston now works in her daughter's second-hand store in St. Regis, Two Rivers Thrift. Sew far, sew good. 

Regardless of where Johnston finds herself residing a common thread in her life’s story is her passion for sewing intertwined with her delightful sense of humor. 

She loves to make people laugh. 

Johnston quipped, “I used to have business cards on them that said, I’ll keep you in stitches!”

The best way to get in contact with Johnston for work on a garment or a mending need is to simply stop by the Two Rivers Thrift store in St. Regis during business hours.