MANKATO – Barb Sweiger’s reason for learning to sew began with a burning teenage fashion desire.
“Back then, bell-bottoms were in style. My mother thought they were horrible. I learned to sew so I could make stuff that was in style.”
And she did make herself some bell-bottoms.
That sewing skill, learned from a nun at Good Counsel school in Mankato in the late 1960s, grew into a lifelong career of sewing.
Her career started in the mid-1980s. “The downtown mall was expanding. Brett’s and J.C. Penney were there and there were a lot of small businesses opening. A woman opened a tailor shop [Dot’s Alterations], and I worked for her for 10 years. Then I thought, I could do this myself.”
Ever since, she’s operated Barb’s Sewing out of her home at 425 West 7th St. in Mankato. And she’s never lacking for work.
“I’ve done all the sewing for Nutter’s [Menswear] in St. Peter for 18 years. Scott, the owner, brings it to me and picks it up. He’s very nice to work with.”
She also does sewing for Americlean Dry Cleaning in North Mankato and has a steady stream of customers at her home business.
“Prom is coming up and I get to see all these nice girls and their pretty dresses. Gals bring their wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses in.”
A lot of her business is shortening pant legs or other alterations for clothes.
Even in a throwaway society, there are plenty of people who will pay to have something fixed or altered. “I hate to say no to people. People are good to me, so I keep busy. I have a lot of longtime customers. I know people who had little kids when they came to me and now I do the kids’ wedding dresses.”
Her sewing equipment comes from Stelter Sewing in Madison East Center in Mankato. “The sewing machines from the big-box stores are OK for doing basic stuff, but you need good quality machines for this. The people from Stelter’s are great to work with.”
Despite being an expert at it, some things she doesn’t sew, including leather. And she gave quilting a try — once. “I don’t have the patience for it. I tried making a quilt 20 years ago and I thought it looked like crap and no one’s ever seen it.”
And she rarely gets around to sewing anything for herself. “If my other half needs something sewed, he has to wait a while. I tell him if he wants it sooner he’ll have to pay me to do it.”
At 65, Sweiger doesn’t see herself slowing down soon.
“I like what I’m doing, I like the people. I’ll always do some sewing.”