by lisa horak
Clothes. We all wear them. We all buy them. But how often are they less
than perfect, fitting just a little to loose here or a little too snug
there? And dont we wish the fabric felt a little better and was
more in tune with who we really are?
Fear not, ladies. There is an alternative to ill-fitting, store-bought
clothes. There is Victoria Elston, an old-fashioned dressmaker who designs
customized garments for any occasion. From her home in Averys
Creek she creates magic, much like in the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin
in which the millers daughter must spin straw into gold overnight.
I can transform a two-dimensional piece of fabric into a garment
that will adorn a woman and help her feel good about the way she looks
in a particular circumstance, whether it is work, a party, or a wedding.
I have a good eye for what works for a womans shape, personality,
demeanor, and station in life, says Victoria.
Victoria can trace her sewing back to the early age of eight, when she
realized that her teddy bear wanted clothes. Her mother gave her a small
square of cloth. She showed her how to thread a needle, run it through
the edge of the cloth, and pull the thread tightly to gather the fabric.
Voilàan instant skirt for a bear to wear. To Victoria,
this was nothing short of miraculous!
After the teddy bears clothes came clothing for clothespin dolls,
followed bywhat elseclothing for Barbie dolls. (Actually,
the clothes were for Midge, Barbies best friend, since Victorias
own best friend had Barbie.) Midges wardrobe was more sophisticated
then the teddy bears, for by the ripe old age of eleven or twelve,
with guidance from her mother and grandmother, Victoria already had
several years of sewing under her belt.
I sewed a great deal when I was young. I used to play alone a
lot and entertain myself, says Victoria. My mother gave
me snippets of fabric, meaningful fabric that came from our lives. Id
make clothes and houses for the dolls and occupy myself for hours.
But sewing for dolls is one thing; real people are quite another. It
was in home economics that Victoria made her first life-size garmentan
apronfollowed by her first dress, which she remembers vividly
as being incredibly difficult for a beginner. I chose a difficult
project with a zipper, cuffed sleeves, and a collar. I still remember
it was made of a green calico print. Victoria quickly observed
that what came easily and naturally to her was much more difficult for
the other girls in her class.
I wanted clothes like every other teenage girl had, but we couldnt
afford them. So I began designing and making my own clothes. I did a
lot of babysitting and earned my own money and kept myself outfitted
as best as those dollars would buy. I was very fortunate that my mother
was supportive of my sewing. She would take me to the Woolrich mill
each fall and let me pick out whatever I wanted. Shed buy the
fabric, the pattern, everything. I can still hear her saying Now
were not getting any more fabric until you make these clothes.
And I always did. Which was a good thing, since woolen garments
were essential during the long, cold winters in her hometown of Williamsport,
Her clothes received praise from her peers, providing a welcome infusion
of self-esteem. People would say that my clothes looked so good
on me, that they fit me just right, says Victoria. I pursued
dressmaking because it felt good and I got good results.
Victoria moved to Asheville in 1971. Several years later in the summer
of 1978, while shopping at Ingles, an older woman approached her. She
complemented her clothing and asked if she would sew for her and her
sister. Victoria agreed and thus began her 25-year-long career of sewing
and designing for other people.
I consider myself immensely blessed with this talent that was
divinely bestowed upon me. The inspiration and ability doesnt
come from meit comes from a higher source through me, particularly
when Im faced with a difficult project and a very tight time frame,
Her favorite aspect of her work is creating wedding gowns. My
brides are definitely my top priority because weddings are so magical,
says Victoria. She describes a recent stressful experience in which
the bride was very late in getting Victoria the fabric to make her ensemble
and frequently missed fittings. Ultimately, at 5:15 on the day of the
wedding Victoria drove the dress to the wedding, which was to take place
at 7:00. The bride had yet to try on the entire wedding outfit, and
Victoria was furiously sewing the finishing touches amid the pre-event
chaos. Fortunately, with weddings things always come together,
she says. The ensemble fit absolutely perfectly. Im certain
there was divine intervention involved.
Unfortunately, dressmaking hasnt always provided Victoria with
financial security. Ive gleaned office skills over the years,
from paper shuffling to data entry, and Ive always been blessed
to have a variety of real jobs. But Ive learned over
the years that if you have a creative bent, you need to nurture it or
it will eat at your life. Whenever Ive had to set the dressmaking
aside for financial reasons my life sort of crumbles, says Victoria,
who currently works two other jobs to help make ends meet.
In addition to custom design and sewing she has also designed her own
inspirations but to a lesser degree of satisfaction. The female
body has always been the same. No idea for how to dress it is new. Fashions
are either accepted or rejected, but the ideas are not new. She
also creates costumes for theater, and dance and last year sewed 15
different sized cheerleading costumes in 14 days. Putting pressure
on the project is not the best way to get results. Customers need to
know that creativity takes its own time, says Victoria.
But it is working with women, with real people of all ages, shapes,
and sizes that Victoria finds most rewarding. All of the women
who come to me want their clothes to fit just right. People feel more
confident and beautiful when they look good in what they wear. It can
make all the difference in the world, says Victoria.
Victoria The Dressmaker can be reached at 828-650-6404.
Lisa Horak is a stay-at-home mom raising two young
daughters, Molly and Isabel. She has written for non-profit organizations
and is the co-editor of Heart of the Land and Off the Beaten Path, a
fiction and non-fiction anthology of nature writing for The Nature Conservancy.
She recently moved to Asheville from Washington, D.C., and is currently
working on her first childrens book. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.