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Eye of the needle

I'm an all-thumbs male. And when it comes to domestic stuff, like sewing, the most I can do is barely close up a hole in the toe of a sock with a needle and thread-and then it's usually with the wrong color thread. To make matters worse, sooner or later my pathetic stitching job will come apart at the seams-literally.

You'd think that having been surrounded by talented seamstresses all my life, I'd have picked up a few good sewing tips. Well, most guys just can't do it. Tape measure-draped Hong Kong tailors aside, most men just aren't hardwired for the craft.

Case in point: My spunky 92-year-old mother still sews costumes for Off-Broadway productions from her at-home shop in Pennsylvania. Back in the 1970s-when everyone was listening to the Eagles' country-rock sound on FM radio-my lovely wife handcrafted custom, "made-in-Vermont" classic Western-style shirts. My late aunt (my mother's oldest sister) was fashion designer Oleg Cassini's chief patternmaker in New York, plus my one sister makes exquisite costumes-with my mom's assistance-for her own award-winning professional dance troupe, Mosaic Dance Theater Company. With all that thread-err-said, I really can't do much more than primitively stitch a couple of holes in a cheap pair of socks.

That's why I was thrilled to meet Vermont clothing designer and seamstress Wendy Ann Durkee. It was like going home for me. Durkee, a talented and skilled businesswoman, owns Classic Couture in Vergennes.

Durkee began sewing at the age of 15. While she made her own school clothes because it was fun, the teenager discovered something more profound-she possessed, for lack of a better term, a real God-given talent for an all-too-rare craftform.

With a B.A. degree in biology from UVM, and no jobs in the biological science in the offing, Durkee fell into sewing as a career out of necessity. To make ends meet, she picked up sewing jobs here and there.

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