Grant recipient urges skill-building, self-sufficiency | News, Sports, Jobs

News Photo by Julie Riddle
Lois Watson works on a dress at her alterations shop in Rogers City on Wednesday.

ROGERS CITY — At 87, Lois Watson sees $10,000 from the state as just one more way to make her community better, one stitch at a time.

The owner of Stitches, Etc. last week learned her downtown Rogers City shop had been chosen as one of two Northeast Michigan recipients of a Match on Main Street grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

My Glass Wings, in downtown Alpena, will receive $25,000 as part of the program designed to support small local businesses and strengthen downtowns.

Watson will use her $9,350 grant to fancy up her shop’s back room, adding workstations where she hopes to teach sewing classes.

It baffles her, she said, why today’s children don’t know how to sew or perform many of the tasks that used to be commonplace in homes and schools.

News Photo by Julie Riddle
With Rogers City’s downtown reflected in her front window, Lois Watson, owner of Stitches, Etc., works on a dress in her shop on Wednesday.

She teaches those skills already, showing customers how to make simple adjustments and encouraging them to take on the little tasks she feels anyone can learn to do, if they try.

The internet provides instructions for anything a person might want to know, and people can get all the help they need to learn a new skill, she said.

“But then, do it,” Watson urged.

Many Rogers City homes and heads, over the years, have felt the impact of Watson’s talents.

A long-time business owner, she first set up shop on the opposite side of downtown, running a beauty shop adjacent to a restaurant in the 1960s.

She learned independence and hard work from her mother, who worked in a garment factory when Watson was a girl. That inspiration supported Watson as she bustled through a series of moves to other downtown buildings and other businesses in Rogers City, sewing clothing and performing alterations for local residents.

Another move took her downstate, where her work ethic earned her a series of hands-on jobs and led her to start a dressmaking and alterations business.

That work proved stressful, requiring painstaking work on thousand-dollar wedding dresses and outfitting entire wedding parties.

One memorable bride, planning a yacht wedding, ordered shiny gold jumpsuits for all her bridesmaids.

“I tell ya, when I got done with those jumpsuits, they looked like they were aliens coming off of a ship,” Watson said. “I’m thinking, you didn’t think this through, girl. But that’s what she wanted.”

A move back to Rogers City and the suggestion of a friend of a friend resulted in the opening of Stitches, Etc., where locals eagerly take advantage of Watson’s skilled hands. Word of mouth provides all the customers she could want and then some.

People come from Cheboygan, Indian River, Alpena, and all across northern Michigan seeking her services, Watson said.

Rogers City has proved generous, residents donating sewing machines, thread, and tables, plus fabric for masks in 2020.

Residents come to her eagerly, relieved she knows how to do what they can’t.

“They’re so grateful when they walk through that door that someone can sew a button on,” Watson said. “Buttons, even.”

She now performs alterations for people whose hair she cut when they were children, sometimes teaching them simple fixes to help them gain new skills for themselves.

She doesn’t charge much for her work, and she loves when customers remember how she altered a special dress for them in the past, Watson said.

“It’s not about the money,” she said, wiping sudden tears from her face.

She already has a list of people interested in the classes she hopes to teach with help from the grant money. She’ll let quilting clubs use the new sewing space, too, she said.

She requested enough grant money to cover the cost of the new equipment she needs, including a heavy-duty sewing machine.

“I didn’t go (for) $20,000,” she said. “I don’t need $20,000. Why would I do that? I’m not greedy.”

Watson hopes the new equipment will let her sew specialty items people can’t buy in stores or online. She wants to make the smaller room where she sews now into a lunch room where people can sit and talk, as customers often do now when they drop off items and stay for a chat.

She’s almost caught up on wedding gowns, she said, displaying one remaining white dress in need of alterations. People buy online more and more now, and bridal shops won’t touch those online purchases, so everyone comes to her for help.

Nobody makes shoes, either, or works with leather, she said, displaying the materials for specialty moccasins she makes for a local man.

It doesn’t make sense, all the work not being done, the skills not being taught, she said.

Children wave as they pass by her front window and see her bent over her sewing machine. Men and women and teens bring her their dresses, their hats, their hunting jackets, their curtains, needing a patch here, a tightening there, her hands tweaking and adjusting to make their items better.

Her skills could be anyone’s skills. Anyone can learn to work with their hands, she believes.

People sitting in front of television at night could watch an instructional video instead. Someone who knows how to weld could offer instructions in their garage.

“Take a little class,” she said. “Just do something.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle
Lois Watson works on a dress at her alterations shop in Rogers City on Wednesday.

News Photo by Julie Riddle
With Rogers City’s downtown reflected in her front window, Lois Watson, owner of Stitches, Etc., works on a dress in her shop on Wednesday.

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