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Stitching together a career

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Eric Hodges does custom work in leathers and furs in the workshop behind his Hermosa home. He has been sewing leather for 41 years.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Anna’s Alterations expects to reopen in October after a fire over the summer shuttered the shop on West Second Avenue.

For most businesses, a reopening would be a relief and a cause for celebration, but not for proprietor Anna Buske.

She knows she will be overwhelmed with work.

“To tell you the truth, we almost dread reopening because it’s going to be a nightmare,” Buske said. “It’s bad enough when we go on vacation and come back. We haven’t been gone this long. By the time we reopen, it will have been three months.”

In an economy that stresses technology and where everyone seems to be looking for ways to cash in on social media, the business of alterations follows its own patterns.

“I don’t have a website. I don’t want any new business. I have enough,” said Eric Hodges, who does custom work in furs and leathers as well making leather purses for a boutique in Miami. He works out of his house just north of Trimble Hot Springs.

Hodges gets many referrals from Anna’s Alterations. Buske keeps a list of people on her counter who mend and know how to fix a zipper. It’s not a very competitive business.

“All these people who are unemployed, I tell them just learn how to sew,” said Buske, who said sewers have to be very efficient and fast to keep up with the volume of work.

Shirin Khaledi, the owner of Shirin’s Sewing, 1474 Main Ave., Suite 104, said her business has benefited from the absence of Anna’s Alterations.

An Iranian immigrant, Khaledi followed a son to Durango who went to Fort Lewis College. She fell back on an old trade to support herself.

“This is the only thing I know. I’m not young. My language is not fantastic,” said Khaledi during an interview at her shop near Rotary Park. “I found this little place to stay busy.”

People with the patience for sewing seem to have an advantage of living in a hyper time.

“Before, everybody had time to sew, or their grandma (did). Now everybody is busy with computer. Nobody has time to sew their button,” Khaledi said.

But people still love their clothes.

“We patch a ton of jeans. There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t get jeans,” Buske said.

“There’s not much we have not done,” Buske said. “There are times I try to discourage people. I tell them it’s not worth it. ‘Buy a new one.’ They will say, ‘No, I like it.’”

Ironically, Buske moved to Durango from Greeley because she wanted to slow down.

“One time, I sewed 48 hours nonstop. I’ve done that numerous times. We wanted to move to a smaller town where it’s not so busy. Now, I feel like we’re back to where we were in Greeley.”

Before Buske moved here, “Somebody, said, ‘Oh, Anna, I hope you can make it there. People just don’t dress in Durango.’ I said, ‘Trust me. We hem T-shirts all the time.’”

Besides being busy, customers also don’t want to go to the bother of mending, Buske said. “People even tell me that. ‘I know I could do it, but I would rather you do it.’”

While clothes are now mass produced, people still want them to fit right.

“There’s all different sizes, but clothing is not made to fit the individual. They have to have the pants taken up or altered,” said Loreli Thayer, owner of Gussied Up, 863½ Main Ave.

She also believes alterations is a lost art.

“Some women don’t know how to sew on a button,” Thayer said. “They don’t teach sewing in schools anymore. I think my generation was the last that got it in school, the 1970s, when the budget cuts started hitting. They started taking it out of schools.”

Sewing is not offered in Durango School District 9-R, but local 4-H clubs offer it, officials said.

Besides being a reliable trade, alterations attract the crafty and creative.

As an alternative to mass production, Thayer is grateful for websites such as Etsy.com for selling homemade crafts such as clothes and fabrics.

“Thank goodness there’s that outlet,” Thayer said.

Thayer, who specializes in Victorian costumes, takes pleasure in looking back at old clothing patterns.

“It’s really neat to see how detailed they were back then,” Thayer said.

Nostalgia has been a source of business for Hodges.

“I have been doing repair work on old fur, which is really fun because everybody has grandma’s old furs. I take them down in size. I make the sleeves look normal. I take out the shoulder pads,” Hodges said.

A Vietnam veteran who grew up when the “Easy Rider” leather jacket was “really cool,” Hodges said working with fabric has always been a natural fit.

He stumbled onto his life’s work when he saw “this guy with a deer skin coat. I used to think fringe suede coats were cool. Well, this coat he had was the coolest thing I had never seen. I asked him where he bought it. He said he made it. To make a long story short, he gave me an hour lesson. It was how to stretch the hide, cut the lacing and that was it.”

Once Hodges was wearing his own jacket, “this guy saw it and bought it off my back. I started making more. It kind of went on from there.

“I didn’t do it for the money, but the money soon came.” he said. “It’s been nice.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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