VALPARAISO | Karen Gay’s look back at her love for “Bessie” has put her in the national spotlight.
“My story ‘Ode to Bessie’ is a humorous take on retiring my first sewing machine,” Gay said. “It is a column called ‘Closures’ in 'Threads' - the largest circulating sewing magazine in the country. It is widely read by professional seamstresses.”
Taking on writing is a move forward in her second career. Gay has been a seamstress for 15 years working at Mercury Cleaners in Valparaiso as well as independently through Karen Gay Professional Alterations.
“This is kind of the beginning to move up to teaching. This year I am serving on the executive board for a national organization, Association of Sewing and Design Professionals,” she said. “I was asked by the nominating committee to be the conference planner. The association holds a conference including advanced classes and sewing techniques for about 100.”
Gay transitioned into the professional sewing world after working as a nurse for 19 years.
“I had teens and needed a more flexible schedule,” she said. “People would ask me to sew this and that. I did some work part time and then Mercury called me. They were looking for a seamstress and some of my clients mentioned me.”
Gay works on everything from replacing zippers to adding beading to wedding gowns to altering suit pants at the family-owned Mercury Cleaners. She took over for Arlene Dygert, who ran the business along with husband Erwin, until her retirement after 49 years. Today, the business is led by Norm and Linda Dygert along with Brett Dygert.
“I am the second seamstress in some 60 years,” she said.
The magazine feature has helped Gay fulfill a personal goal.
“This was on my bucket list: to get published,” she said. “I took Jane Schroeder’s writing class at the Portage Library last fall and this was the piece I worked on. It was my first submission to a magazine and it was published.”
The personal essay touches on the emotions tied to a first sewing machine.
“My mother taught me to sew at 6,” she said. “I have always sewn for the kids and my friends loved the (Halloween) costumes. Bessie was a trooper at costumes.”
The latest edition of "Threads" featuring her story is available locally at Barnes & Noble.