Sewing up a career |

Sewing up a career

Jeff Munson, Tribune city editor

For 25 years, the best time for South Shore seamstress Patricia Slaight has been consistent — prom season. It never mattered that high school proms meant a surge in business.

There were dozens of fund-raisers, charity balls, Christmas and anniversary parties year-round that required her mastery of the precise stitch for that comfortable fit around the waist or her ability to take up a hem line for the perfect look.

No, for Slaight the thrill of her job had been seeing teenage girls come into her 1017 Carson St. business every spring asking her to make the one article of clothing that they will probably wear only once — a prom dress.

“I really looked forward to proms,” said Slaight, who officially retired Friday as owner of Alterations by Patricia. “It’s the time of year the young girls come in excited and want to look good. They are always so pretty and it’s always such a thrill to be a part of their experience.”

Recognized by flowers, phone calls and well wishes, Slaight made her last alteration Friday — for a doctor who has taken his clothing to her for 23 years.

“This is a loss because I’ve known and have been taking my clothes to Pat for years,” said Daniel Norman. “It has been her reliability and excellent work that kept bringing me back, my wife back and our daughters back. I will miss her.”

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Slaight, 64, came to Tahoe from Napa with husband Jim in 1977. For years, the family had a cabin in Kyburz, and the time had come to make a choice of where to live and set up shop.

She learned seamstress skills in high school, taking as many sewing classes as she could.

“In those days, they had classes for girls to take. I took them all through school,” Slaight recalled. “Today, I don’t think schools offer sewing. It’s become somewhat of a lost art.”

While the family chose to continue to live in Kyburz, Slaight said the 33 mile drive to South Lake Tahoe was a challenge at times, especially in winter.

“I’ve taken a few snow days,” she said of the drive over Echo Summit. “I would leave at 6 or 6:15 and sometimes I would beat Caltrans to the roads. When that happened I would turn around and take the day off.”

The skill in her nimble fingers has been supplemented by pins, needles and four trusty sewing machines, including a 40-year-old Viking.

Of the clothing that has passed through her fingertips over the years, she noticed the quality is not exactly what it used to be.

“While the more expensive clothes seem (stitched) pretty well, most of the clothing anymore is chintzy,” Slaight said.

Still, she has plowed through her share of cottons, polyesters and wools, knowing that what matters most is customer satisfaction. Even if it comes at the expense of a few war wounds.

Probably not a day goes by that Slaight hasn’t pricked her index finger with a straight pin, or pierced her thumb with a large sewing needle, or worse, a run-in with the razor blade she occasionally uses for cutting.

The trick to keeping blood off clothing is easy. Instead of fumbling with Band-Aids that never want to stick and make it clumsy to sew, she does the next best thing. “I just dab a little Crazy Glue on it. It seals a cut right up,” she said.

There are other tricks to her trade, but there are not many shortcuts. A stitch, she says, is only as strong as the time put into making it.

In her retirement, Slaight says she will spend time doing something she never learned how to do — making quilts.

“I took a how-to class once, but I couldn’t keep up with it because I didn’t have the time,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always wanted to learn to quilt.”

— Jeff Munson can be reached at