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Mountain Home Magazine

Sew Much More

Dec 31, 2020 09:00AM ● By Kathryn Ross

Nestled amid waves of mountains lightly dusted with snow, in picturesque Potter County, one woman continues the work of her lifetime—sewing.

Janice Darrah is the owner of Sew Much More, a bridal and formal wear alteration shop in downtown Coudersport. Easy to find, the shop is just two doors down from the towering Crittenden Hotel, dating from the late 1870s when Coudersport was a boom town. Whether it is the times or a trend toward nostalgia, it’s Darrah’s shop that is now booming, even amid COVID-19.

“We specialize in formal wear for all occasions at reasonable prices,” Janice says. “We have bridal gowns, mother of bride and groom, prom, homecoming, flower girls, special occasion dresses, veils, shoes, and accessories both new and gently used. Many of the gowns are brand new with the tags still on them.”

She says she learned to sew when she was just nine years old, when a neighbor took her under her wing.

“I became her adopted daughter,” says Janice of Bonnie Torrey, who had only boys and no one to pass her sewing skills to.

Growing up on a hobby farm with beef and sheep, Janice was a member of her mentor’s 4-H club. By the time she was fifteen or sixteen, she was such an accomplished seamstress that the outfit she’d sewn went to the Harrisburg Farm Show, where it placed fifth among hundreds submitted by 4-H members from across the Commonwealth.

“Bonnie taught me the basics of sewing and how to follow a pattern. We used to be able to purchase Butterick, McCall’s, and Simplicity patterns that you could buy anywhere in most five and ten cent stores. They were very popular, not like it is today,” Janice remembers.

She graduated from Coudersport Area High School in 1972 and continued sewing at home. In the mid-1970s, a woman from her church started a bridal shop and soon needed help.

“She knew that I liked to sew, so when the bridal shop took off, she approached me to see if I wanted to work for her,” Janice says. She jumped at the opportunity and went to work altering new gowns.

Hundreds of needles and thread later, the shop closed in 2014 and Janice moved her alteration business into her son’s garage. Early on, she worked on different projects, including the repair of an RV cover that was so big she had to spread it out on her lawn to do the work. With Coudersport located a distance from any larger cities, Janice was soon wondering if there was a market for gently used formal wear and, of course, bridal gowns.

There certainly was. That market is mostly during the school year for seasonal dances and prom. Noting that 90 percent of her business is in consigned dresses, she comments that, “Heaven forbid teenagers should wear the same gown twice.”

The wedding season, however, has expanded from June to a year-round business. And while her alteration work includes everything from jeans to uniforms, Janice’s bread and butter is bridal gowns.

She travels to Rochester and other regional cities to purchase inventory from shops that are going out of business, who have seasonal inventory left over, or have merchandise from cancelled weddings. Her gowns range in size from petite to plus sizes, and she, along with one other employee, alters them to fit the new owners. She says most of the time they only have to alter for length, but sometimes there are other modifications, like adding a bustle or a train. Some alterations can be more extensive. Janice recalls when one young woman brought in her mother’s wedding gown.

“She loved the train and the front of the skirt but not much else. By the time we got all the alterations completed it was kind of like a whole new gown,” she says. Janice is also working on a woman’s grandmother’s wedding gown.

“She found it in a bag stored in a garage. Mice had worked on the lace and on the under part of the dress,” she says, noting she has mended the lace and is creating a whole new underdress.

Business for Sew Much More is keeping Janice and her associate busy. She credits the Lord for keeping the business going, and also is finding that in today’s economy people don’t mind spending money to alter a gently used, discount, or antique gown to their needs.

“December, January, and February are our slow times of the year,” she says. “But, before COVID hit, we had four weddings in December [2019] and sold several dresses in January and February that kept me busy when we had to shut down because we aren’t considered an essential business.” After reopening in May, business has continued to boom. She sold between forty and fifty dresses for weddings and occasions in September and October.

But there is an addition to the gowns hanging on the racks this year. In her free time, Janice has sewn over 500 face masks. She takes orders for masks and some are available in the shop.

As for the girls and their dresses, Janice admits that her best moments come when her customers are satisfied. “All the girls are pretty in their own way,” she says. “Get the right girl in the right dress and they are beautiful.”

Find Sew Much More at 127 North Main Street, Coudersport, and on Facebook. The shop is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For appointments call (814) 335-8681.

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