Every time I meet a seasoned seamstress, they have the same look and stance. Even the glare in their eye is the same. The best way I can describe it is “standing at ease,” or the stance military men and women get into when an officer is present. While in a standing at ease pose, heels touch each other and toes point away at a 45-degree angle. Legs stand straight, chests lift high, and shoulders are square. Hands also touch the side seams of pants. There is an absolute obedience to anyone who is ranked higher than you. When I met Nilah, owner and seamstress of Nilah & Company, her absolute obedience wasn’t in her stance but in her devotion to sewing. This women is good, extraordinary, in fact. I met her the Wednesday before Fourth of July and when I asked her how she was celebrating her holiday, she said she was taking the holiday off but working the remainder of the weekend. My kind of woman! She runs a tight ship, employing three seamstresses, including herself, who handle gowns for what I would guess is a large portion of the Philadelphia region (she is a sought after seamstress). She imparted smart words about our hobby and our industry during her interview, all while keeping a stern or “standing at ease” attitude the whole time. By the end of her conversation though, I got her to do what most officers can’t get their soldiers to do – smile! She has an unknown and untouchable devotion to our craft and you know what else, a killer smile and warm heart. Thanks again Nilah!
Nilah is looking for a skilled seamstress – if you know of any in the Philadelphia region, please email me at Maddie964@aol.com or Nilah at email@example.com.
Tell us your story: I’ve been sewing my whole life. I started as a little girl, making clothing for my dolls and I continued throughout my childhood and adolescence. My career in sewing initially began in men’s suits but as men wore less tailored suits to the office, I got into evening wear and bridal and I’ve been doing it for over twenty five years.
What is the business of Nilah & Company? Nilah & Company creates custom-made gowns, restores vintage gowns, and alters purchased wedding gowns from individuals and companies such as Kleinfeld. We also have girls who buy a sample gown but want to redesign it. We are not a typical bridal boutique. We offer personalized service with our salon in the front and an attention to detail with the work that we perform.
How many seamstresses work for Nilah & Company? Three and then myself. We’re expanding another 1200 sq ft in the back of the studio, which will become another work area that is the size of our current space.
Why Bernina? Our home machines handle our more delicate work when we need to have more control over the fabric. I’m a Bernina fan, I won’t touch any other brand of sewing machine, because they’re actually built, equipped, and constructed like an industrial sewing machine but they’re finer. Most of their home sewing machines are smaller versions of their industrial machines and many of their machines have multiple uses – their sergers can do a serge, a serge and sew, and a rolled hem, so I don’t have to have to different machines for two different serging edges. Durable, cost effective, and quiet.
Bad experiences with brides? Everybody always asks me that! All the bad brides are on television on those not-so-reality-reality shows. It’s all played up. Two reality shows were filmed here and they clipped and snipped it to how they wanted wanted the brides to be portrayed. Don’t get me wrong, there are bridezillas but most of the girls that come here are a pleasure to work with. If they get stressed, it’s because their mother, mother-in-law, or relative is nagging them to do something or are nagging them about something that they didn’t do.
Do you get nervous working with expensive gowns? When I first started, yes. Now, no. Even water can stain a garment so we have strict rules – there are no food or drinks allowed in our workrooms or fitting rooms. Period. End of statement. We have a lunchroom and if anyone wants to eat they have to go to the back.
Mentor: I’ve had several mentors and I feel very blessed that they came into my life. I knew I was lucky when I met them but I didn’t realize how lucky I was until now. All of my mentors were old Italian men. One was the private tailor for General Bradley and he used to get chauffuered to Washington to tailor the general’s uniforms. Another one of my mentors was the private tailor for Walter Annenburg. Unfortunately, all the mentors were from way back when and their skilled was unlike any tailor today. They knew how to sew a black suit with white thread and not have one white stitch show through.
Tips or secrets of sewing? Sewing is constantly evolving and every seamstress is constantly learning. Designers and patternmakers are always changing their methods and demands and that creates a challenge all the time.
Perspective of sewing: Sewing is a dying art and it’s a shame that it is because it’s a good business. There is a high demand for what we do and not enough people to fulfill it.