SMITHVILLE — Mary Becker learned how to sew with her mother’s quilt scraps at 10 years old.
She now has a storefront in Smithville, Sew Sweet Alterations, 105 E. Main St., that has been serving the growing community for 20 years.
“It’s so rewarding when someone walks in with an item that they have taken to all these other alteration shops that say it can’t be done,” Becker said. “I love being able to look at them and say, ‘Challenge accepted.’”
Beginning her practice with custom pieces years ago, Becker said she no longer handles custom pieces because alterations are more satisfying.
”It’s more rewarding,” Becker said, “to do multiple items rather than what is like an assembly line, doing the same thing over and over. ... It’s hard to be creative with something when you are looking at a pattern. When you see a finished item and you are wanting to do different things to it, it is easier to visualize and proceed.”
What would surprise people most to learn about your job?
“How fulfilling it is,” Becker said. “I studied graphic design for four and a half years when I was in college, and it is just amazing because people will come to me needing a lot of creative solutions. Sometimes it’s not just needing a zipper put in or a button put on, but maybe they want a corset back or they need an insert put in or they want something taken out and a different kind of fabric put in. I love the fact that I get to be so creative with my alterations, especially when it comes to bridal wear. ... I think people would be surprised by how much artistry and creativity there is in alterations.”
Would 10-year-old you be surprised you are in this position or field?
“Probably be surprised that I’m doing it as a living,” she said with a laugh. “I started sewing with my mother’s quilt scraps when I was 10. I loved doing it. ... I didn’t ever think of it as a living, more of a hobby.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
“I have a reputation for being able to take care of emergencies. I think the biggest challenge is from so many years of having a reputation of taking care of emergencies. I can take care of three, four, maybe five at a time. The challenge comes in prom season All these girls come in, … it gets hard doing eight, nine or 10 dresses at a time.”
What’s the most common question you get asked about your job?
“There’s two of them; ‘How much do you charge?’ ‘How long will it take?’” she said. “Or, like I said, when they come in and say, ‘Do you think you could fix this?’” Becker answered, “My prices are very reasonable. I haven’t hardly changed my prices in the last 20 years. It doesn’t take any more work to do a pair of pants than it did 20 years ago, the only thing is my equipment has gotten more expensive.”
What determines the timeline of completion, Becker said, is when a customer needs it.
“If you need it in a half hour, I’ll get it done for you. But, if you aren’t in a hurry for it, it may be dependent on my workload and time of year. It’s usually a week to two weeks if I’m buried. ... Every now and then, someone comes in with a winter coat in April and says, ‘I don’t need it until September.”’
What do you like best about this field or your job in particular?
“I’m a firm believer that the difference between the clothing you like and the clothing you love is the fit,” Becker said. “When somebody comes in and they just don’t like it because it doesn’t fit right and I do all these creative little things to it and they end up with an item that they love, it is just so satisfying. … It makes me feel good to be able to help someone out and make it their dream dress for her or the best suit that ever fit him, or the uniform they want to go to the military in.”
Outside of the workplace, when you meet someone new, what tips you off that person is another seamstress?
“If they’ve made their own purse or their own backpack, or they made the blouse they have on or they made the vest they are wearing. You know they’ve done something to make their clothing their own, that shows they are a seamstress,” Becker said. “Other than that, I think we all just look like everyday people who happen to sew for a living.”
What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?
“The most important thing is having a passion for it,” Becker said. “As long as I’m sewing, I absolutely love what I do. I am committed to it 100%, and my customers are incredibly important to me. I just think if you are going to go into any line of work, make sure it is something you truly have a passion for, a heart for; something that excites you.”