Expert Seamstress Works Magic

Ann Turner puts finishing touches on a Civil War “day dress.” “A lady would wear this to a tea or other daytime social event.”
Ann Turner puts finishing touches on a Civil War “day dress.” “A lady would wear this to a tea or other daytime social event.”

As a young girl, Ann Turner took up the hobby of sewing but soon discovered that there was more to the craft than just making something to wear.

“It’s all about problem solving and I’ve discovered a passion for it. I can create anything I want and the only limitation I have is what I put on myself,” she laughed and added, “I have no limits! Everyday, every project is exciting and satisfying.”

Ann, who is owner of Alter Plus in Roanoke, is an inspiring and successful teacher for those who want to just mend or those that have ideas and visions that can’t be bought in stores.

“The first thing you must do is learn your machine.  It’s your friend. If you know it well, it will do what you want it to do.  Together you can create your vision.

Ann admits that over the 22 years she has had her company and the “I’m not going to say how many years I’ve been sewing,” she hasn’t named any of her sewing machines, “But I do talk to them and it did make me very sad to retire several of my machines.  I just simply wore them out.”

“I like to teach at all levels.”

She enjoys getting a student from the beginning and helping them buy the machine that is right for the types of projects the student has in mind.  Then she takes time to explain all the details on how it works and what it can do. “Then we can practice and problem solve using tricks that most people who don’t know their machine wouldn’t even imagine.”

“It’s great fun.”

“It’s exciting too when someone will come to me with a project that they haven’t done before and they say that they don’t know how to make my machine do what I want it to do.”

From a project that would place lace inserts into a wedding dress, to embroidery for a christening gown, piping, beading and high fashion and embroidery, are all fun and most often there is a time limit on when the project needs to be finished.

“I can problem solve with them and help them get the project done beautifully and on time. It’s very interesting to work on some of the ideas and visions people have.”

Last week, Ann was approached by a woman who was going to Hawaii.  “Her favorite linen Capri’s were thread bare on one knee and she really wanted them repaired if possible.  I chose a light weight polyester/cotton material and created a liner.  The liner would take the pressure of the movement of the body and relieve the pressure on the outer material.  I used a simple zigzag on the worn section and matched the stitching on the other leg. “It looked like it was supposed to be there and had always been part of the garment.  The pants were still lightweight and comfortable for hot weather but now they would last.”

Ann said she spent about one hour figuring out the best way to solve the problem, buy the lining material, create the liner and sew it all back together.  Ann said she charged $18 for the work..

“I get people who travel and buy wools from Ireland and silks from China but don’t have any idea what to do with the fabric.  We sit down together and figure out the best use of the fabric and then create a design.  That’s a lot of fun.”

Besides teaching and handling alterations, costume design, home décor, monogramming, embroidery and Haute Couture, Ann is one of only a handful of seamstresses who repair historical fabric items.

“I spent time in a woman’s home in Virginia about a month ago.  She had antique quilts that had been damaged in cleaning.  I stayed at her house because she didn’t want the quilts to be taken from her home. I was able to recreate the original hand work and you could not tell they had ever been damaged.”

Ann is in Pennsylvania this week, making a “great coat” for two men to wear with their Civil War reenactment uniforms.

“In that time all sewing was done by hand.  You can imagine how thick the layers are.  While the primary sewing of the coats will be done by machine, the button holes and other detailing are done by hand and even the buttons have to be put on historically correct.  There are 24 buttons on each coat.”

“It’s a great project,” she said happily as she was driving north from Roanoke.

“The skills I have – a lot of people aren’t renewing. A lot of skilled seamstresses are leaving us and there is no one replacing them.”

Who would be the best person to take classes from Ann?

“If you have an interest in sewing, let’s explore it together.”

For more info call 312-6051.