Sewing Dreams with Ellison
By ELISABETH ALTAMIRANO-SMITH/ Community Columnist
For most people, sewing can be an intimidating task.
During America’s yesteryear, practically all women would sew their families’ clothes, but the revolution of department stores and ready-made clothing changed the way women spent their time. The art of sewing is a fundamental skill that is slowly fading and becoming harder to find. Clanton resident, Joyce “Sue” Ellison, age 80, has spent a lifetime of making wardrobes, wedding dresses and dreams of ball gowns come true.
Ellison was born in the early 1940s to Earnest and Essie Littleton and grew up in the Collins Chapel community of Jemison. Ellison grew up with generations of her family sewing.
“My mother could sew wonderfully,” Ellison said. “She was very particular about the measurement and fit being exact. If it wasn’t correct she would say, ‘let’s take it out and try it again until we get it right.’ My grandmother, Sarah Blankenship, also sewed. I remember her pedal sewing machine. It was iron with the long belt. We still have it in our family. It is currently being restored.”
Ellison’s late older sister, Faye, was also a seamstress, and for many years, they sewed across the road from one another on Highway 22.
“When we were younger, my mother and sister would go window shopping,” she said. “My sister would pick out a dress, and mother would come home and make the dress.”
During the 1960s, Ellison began smaking dresses for her four daughters: Donna, Carol, Jody and Tara. She also began working at Jack Goodgame’s Cleaners in Thorsby mending and hemming clothes. By the 1970s, she was working at Thorsby Blouse Factory (which was located in the newly renovated storage buildings beside the train tracks).
“When my daughter, Jody, was older she wanted to enter the Peach Pageant,” said Ellison. “We shopped around and found a beautiful dress in a storefront window. I came home and made the dress in yellow, and she placed second alternate in the contest. People started coming up to me asking ‘where did you get that dress?’ When I told them that I made it, people started asking if I could make their dress for them. Sewing for the public really started from there.”
Since then, Ellison has been sewing from her home for every major Chilton County event for the last 30 years.
“I am currently working on sewing the Middle School cheerleaders’ outfits for camp, two dresses for the Peach Pageant and two weddings,” she said. “I have sewn a bit of everything over the years, but my favorite is the Peach Pageant ‘Every-day Wear.’
Ellison’s granddaughter, Amanda, occasionally sews with her and shows an interest in carrying on the family’s sewing legacy.
“She also has four little girls and a baby boy on the way,” Ellison said.
“I love sewing because it is a challenge to see if I can do it and how well I can do it,” said Ellison. “Sometimes, you can see that the customer is really grateful for what you have made. You have brought their dream to life. I could call half of my customers and ask them for anything and they would try to help me. It’s a friendship. My daughters have asked me to stop sewing since the virus started, but I got vaccinated and don’t feel afraid to measure people. I’m going to keep sewing!”