For Rachel Freeman, owner of Alterations and Sew Much More, the art of sewing is a craft the women in her family have passed down from generation to generation.
“My mother and my grandmother are both seamstresses,” Freeman said. “In my grandmother’s day, you know, it was a necessity. You made some of your children’s clothing. You made your own clothing. If something needed to be mended or altered, you did it. So, it was a necessity, and most women knew how to do what we do today.”
As the eldest daughter of her family, Freeman’s mother was expected to work alongside Freeman’s grandmother, assisting with the cooking, cleaning and mending duties.
“When we were kids, young children, my mom didn’t want to work outside the home, if at all possible,” Freeman said. “So, when people found out she could sew and do little things, she started doing little things for neighbors. Then she went and took some classes and started doing more. And then, as a child, I just grew up with it. I helped her tear apart a hem and to tear out a zipper. I helped her tear apart couches. Any of those things she needed help with.”
As Freeman grew older, she learned about fabrics, acquiring the basic foundation of her sewing repertoire.
“I took Home Economics in school, and I knew more than the teacher,” she laughed. “Then, I got older and had children…just as little babies, I just didn’t like what was available. I wanted frilly, ruffles, very girly things on them. So, I just started making them and learned a lot that way. I learned a lot about construction and design, proportions, what does and doesn’t work. So, my poor daughters were my guinea pigs, I guess.”
An Illinois native, Freeman lived in several different states before settling down 16 years ago in Marion, near the mountains where her parents relocated.
“I grew up in Illinois, but my dad is a microbiologist and works in safety control at factories,” she explained. “(Lincolnton) was the last stop on my dad’s career train.”
While living in Marion, Freeman began working at her mother’s store part-time.
“My mother had her own shop,” she said. “I moved near to her, and she asked if I wanted to work for her part-time. I worked for her for a couple years, and then she left the shop. So, I ran her shop in Marion for about eight years, and then we moved here (eight years ago), and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s so hard to start over again, to build your clientele,’ so I wasn’t really sure I was going to do it. I did other things for a little bit, I just kept coming back to it, and that was how I made money. Someone would need a costume, so I would make it. Somebody would need drapes, so I’d make them. It got to be where I just couldn’t make as much money doing something else than I could doing this, so it was ridiculous to be wasting 80 percent of my time on things that were barely worth it.”
Freeman also found herself miserable being away from her children during her few stints in office work.
“I didn’t want to leave my children,” she said. “I wanted to have them with me. It’s just so hard as a mom to work and leave your child everyday if you don’t have to. I know there are so many women who just don’t have a choice, but I had a skill that I could sell where I didn’t have to leave my children. So, my kids have been stuck in sewing shops their whole lives. My first shop in Marion, I had a nursery area. My co-seamstresses, the women I hired, I let them bring their children as well. Family is such an important part of my life that I want to make it as easy on my seamstresses as possible. Family things and children things also come first.”
Two years ago, Freeman opened Alterations and Sew Much More, a 1,000 square-foot storefront on North Generals Boulevard.
“I decided to just open a small shop to put my toe in and see how it worked,” she said. “And we’ve just had a really great success. We’ve had people really respond to it.”
The business has been so successful that Freeman has officially relocated to 732 Main Street in Lincolnton, a 6,000 square-foot building next door to Family Dollar.
“We needed more square footage, and we had only one dressing room with a curtain at (the) old store,” she said. “We now have three dressing rooms that are private and furnished with an actual door and a lock. We have more room for displaying our clothing, valences and bedding.”
Unlike some sewing professionals, Freeman and her fellow seamstresses offer a diverse range of services.
“Mom really loves alterations, quilts and kind of crafty items like purses,” she said. “And I love total construction. I like making gowns from scratch. I also do a lot of cosplay costumes. We also do valences, draperies curtains, baby bedding, regular bedding, bed skirts and decorative pillows. We’ve recovered bicycle seats, and I have a great upholsterer working with us so we redo outdoor cushions, stuff like that. Pretty much anything you can sew, we do,” Freeman said.
Freeman believes part of the reason she is able to offer such a diverse range of services is because she has access to both industrial and domestic sewing machines.
“We use industrial machines, which I know a lot of the ladies who work out of their homes don’t have those machines and don’t have access to that kind of equipment that we have,” she said. “But my mom’s been doing it for 40 years, and I’ve been doing it for 20 years, we’ve just built up all this access to great machines and great equipment. It just makes it a lot easier to do the job right when you have the correct equipment.”
According to Freeman, most of Alterations and Sew Much More’s business is local, with a large portion of the clientele from the eastern end of the county. During prom and wedding season, however, she’s worked with customers from Maiden, Cherryville, Gastonia, Mooresville, Huntersville and even a few loyal customers from Marion.
“(Customers) will generally bring me a picture, pattern or sketch, and then I tell them the number of yards I’ll need and have them purchase it, she explained. “That way, they can price their fabric at their own preference…you can spent $150 a yard for bridal lace, or you can spend $1 a yard.”
Typically, wedding dress construction starts at $300 at Alterations and Sew Much More. For wedding gowns and formal dresses, Freeman likes to have a month to design and construct the piece. In addition to the more traditional wedding dress styles, she also offers renaissance wedding gowns and other specialty gowns.
“If you do have an emergency, we try to make it work,” she said.
While her wedding gowns and formal dresses are often more affordable than brand-name apparel, her costume work tends to be a little more expensive.
“With costumes, you can get them cheaply overseas, and I can’t compete with their prices,” Freeman admitted. “But my pieces will last for years — they’re higher quality. (Some overseas costume companies) tend to take a lot of shortcuts, and it makes the garment not as nice.”
Freeman has already begun passing on the sewing tradition to her two teenage daughters, Leah and Sariah.
“My daughters can pin a hem, pin the waistband on a pair of pants, iron, tear out zippers, the little tasks to get things ready for me,” she said. “It’s all the stuff I was doing at their age for my mom.”
One thing you won’t find at Alterations and Sew Much More is weekend store hours.
“I’ve always said that Sunday is for the Lord and Saturday is for my family,” she said. “Saturdays off gives me time to go do something amazing and fun with my family.”