Gresham seamstress talks of increasing need for alteration shops

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Michelle Davis, owner of Custom Fit by Michelle has spent nearly 30 years in sewing and alterations shops. She specializes in wedding and formal wear.

An old Singer pedal sewing machine sits in Michelle Davis’s alterations shop, signifying a time in the early 1990s when tailors and seamstresses were in high demand.

Yet, for a craft that seems to have fallen by the wayside, sewing still plays an important role in any community, says Davis, seamstress and owner of Custom Fit by Michelle on Gresham’s Main Street.

“So many kids today cannot sew on a button,” said Glenna Patton, Davis’s mother who works alongside her.

“My mom’s actually the one who taught me to sew,” said Davis, a native of Gresham. “She was a home economics teacher so I think I learned from the best.”

Davis, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years, started sewing before starting kindergarten.

“As a child I thought everyone could sew,” she said.

By age 4, Davis was making clothes for her dolls and at 16 was being trained to run a shop.

“Sewing is just something I fell into,” she said. “It comes so easily and naturally for me.”

Davis took costume making classes in 1989 and ‘90 at Mt. Hood Community College and studied draping and pattern making at the Portland Art Institute for a year.

She opened Custom Fit in 2000, providing full services including alterations to any wardrobe item, zipper replacements, custom-made garments, hemming, repairs and more.

Set among fabrics and thread spools in every color are an array of machines in her workroom.

They range from a serger machine used for edging, hemming and seaming, to a Singer, used to mend jeans and Carhartt material.

“This old machine will go through denim like butter,” she said.

Throughout her career, Davis has worked on everything from prom dresses to military uniforms to pirate costumes, but she especially likes working on bridal gowns.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Davis bustles the back of a wedding dress, making the gown look fuller for the bride-to-be.

“During wedding season there are so many gowns in here you can’t get through,” she said.

Apart from her sister’s wedding dress and her own, Davis has created gowns for women of all ages, some as young as 18 and some who are 70.

“I really don’t think there is a target market in this business,” she said.

In the fall, school clothes that need hemming are a common sight in the shop while November brings in suits of business men and women.

Later into the year, custom made wedding dress requests start pouring in and in April alterations for prom dresses start to stack up.

Others come in for unique custom costume design for events like Comic-Con, Davis said.

“I think when people come in here, they see we’re not just for alterations,” she said. “This opens up a whole new door for them than just buying something off the rack.”

One day, Davis hopes to move more toward custom design.

She said any girl can go to a store and spend $20 on a skirt, but you can make your own for $6 to $10. “And it will fit,” she said. “You can definitely have a unique wardrobe if you can sew.”

But Davis said, something she attributes to a lack of home economics classes in schools. The Gresham-Barlow School District cut the program after 1989, the year Davis graduated, she said.

And with a growing demand for alterations in the Gresham area, Davis said all the shops in town are very busy.

“It’s so important because there’s so many people out there that need this service done and don’t know how to do it.”

Even though Davis has passed the craft on to her children, she is still the go-to family seamstress.

Whether it is a ball gown for a bride-to-be or a Halloween costume for a family member, sewing is Davis’s life.

Though fully functioning, her antique Singer now rests on display for an older generation of customers who reminisce about the machines they learned to sew on.

“Not everyone can sew forever,” she said. But for Davis, it doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon.

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