Evelyn Rigdon, of Columbus, has helped residents of the Golden Triangle and beyond create memories.
As the owner of Evelyn the Seamstress, she has spent almost 42 years altering clothes ranging from Air Force uniforms to prom and wedding dresses to everyday work clothes to school uniforms.
On Thursday, she retired and closed her storefront in the Holly Hills Plaza along Highway 45.
$500 to start a dream
“I turned 30 in January of 1980, and I went to my dad in March,” she said while in her shop Thursday. “I got this idea that I could sew, so I went to my dad and I said, ‘I need to borrow $500.’”
Despite only knowing how to sew quilts, a skill she learned from her grandmother, she was determined to figure things out.
Rigdon’s father gave her the money, which she said she used to pay first month’s rent, $125, on a storefront. She also turned on the electricity and phone service. Next came the sewing machine, thread and other tools of her trade.
As her alterations business grew over the years, she realized that she didn’t know how to do a lot of things. Kimble Crossley, owner of Crossley’s, a men’s clothing store in downtown Columbus, took Rigdon under his wing.
“If you can tailor men’s clothes, you can fix women’s clothes,” she recalled. “That’s how I got to know how to do alterations.”
She noted that there were a few months when she didn’t have a storefront and worked from home, but customers alway came.
Continuing a family calling
While her grandmother taught her how to quilt, Rigdon’s mother was also a seamstress.
Her daughter, Tabitha Coker, is a seamstress in New Albany who works primarily on drapery and bedspreads. One of her granddaughters works at The Bride & Groom. Rigdon said she sometimes worked in her shop on Mondays when the downtown store was closed.
Coker said she grew up in her mother’s shop.
“My earliest memories are like when I was really little, maybe eight or so, just being at her shop and playing with the thread,” Coker said.
Rigdon said she used to make clothes from scratch, cutting patterns out of cloth and sewing them together. When things got too busy in Rigdon’s shop, Coker took over some of those responsibilities and learned to sew.
Rigdon made a lot of Coker’s clothes and her prom dresses, while she was growing up. Her senior year of high school, Coker said she made her own prom dress.
“I didn’t really realize I had learned how to do it, you know?” she said. “Then when I was like, in my mid 20s, I had moved away and she mailed me a box of sewing stuff. She didn’t know if I was gonna like it or not. … I didn’t really start my sewing business until I already had my first child, and I knew I could have my kids with me if I had a business like she did.”
Life as a seamstress
Seamstress work can be very demanding and stressful, she said.
“I have worked many years, and at times I worked Monday through Saturday and on Sunday afternoon after church, because I just could not keep up with it,” Rigdon said of the work.
What’s the best part of being a seamstress for Rigdon?
“To me there was something about being able to take a garment apart and then put it back together,” she said. “I have a brother that’s like that. He loves to take things apart just to see if he can put them back together. … It must be something in our blood.
“It was just fascinating, because a lot of times I thought, ‘I’m not sure I can do this’ and then you just go into it. I would realize that I could get it back together. So it worked out fine, you know, but that was, that was a good part of it that I enjoyed.”
During her retirement, Ridgon said she plans to rest a little bit and spend more time with Coker and her young grandchildren, Katie and Caleb Coker. She has other grandchildren who are grown. She also wants to help with Coker at her alteration business.
“I built up a huge client base over the years, but it’s time for me to go spend some time with my grandkids,” Rigdon said. “(Tabitha and I) have always wanted to be able to work together, but just never had the opportunity.”
‘Columbus has been so kind’
Rigdon announced that her business was closing about a month ago. Since then, current and former clients have trickled into the building, wishing her well, getting hugs and dropping off gifts.
“I have customers who, when they started coming to me, maybe they had just gotten married or something and then they started to have children,” she said. “I’ve helped those children get fitted for their prom dresses and some of them with their wedding dresses.
“Now those children are having children,” Rigdon continued. “So it’s a never ending cycle. They’ve stayed with me all these years, which is amazing.”
Rigdon said she also liked making customers happy.
“They’ve been pleased or they wouldn’t have come back for 40 years, but they did,” she said.
Throughout the last day her shop was open, customers came in and out during a reception Rigdon’s family put together.
Hailey Lanier, who works at a nearby medical clinic, said she sees Evelyn every morning.
“I’m really going to miss seeing her in the morning,” Lanier said.
Throughout her career, Columbus and the surrounding communities have been very supportive of her business, Rigdon said.
“Columbus has been so kind,” she said. “I wish I could put a banner up there that says thank you, Columbus, Macon, Brooksville, Hamilton, Aberdeen, Alabama, everywhere. Everyone has just been so good to me, such faithful customers. You know, they became friends over the years.”