Five Questions with Estée Cuddihy of Stitch Witch Tailoring and Alterations

Estée and I met each other through our kids and shared school community. I’ve always been interested in clothes but not great at taking proper care of them. However fast fashion and failing to mend your garments are terrible for the Earth. Let’s see how we can improve at these skills. A fun interview with a local business owner. Enjoy! – Rachel

1) Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Stitch Witch. How did you develop this interest and skill? My name is Estée Cuddihy and I am the owner and operator of Stitch Witch Tailoring and Alterations. My business serves the greater White Mountains and Central NH area and I offer services from basic mending to custom garment making.  Sewing is something I’ve always done and saw being done around me. Some of my earliest memories are standing on the kitchen table while my grandmother hemmed my Halloween costume, or my mom whipstitching a busted seam on a dance costume backstage. Sewing and mending was always the first option for my family as I grew up in a regular, blue-collar household in the Deep South. Buying new clothes was never something we really did, my folks always opted for thrifted or second-hand garments. Sometimes that meant having to give new life to someone’s hand-me-downs or changing a seam to make something modern or fun. I always had clothes that were exciting, different, and unique but I never thought that I would grow-up to do that professionally.

As a kid, you would often find my face buried in a play script or working out dance moves for an upcoming musical. The theatre and drama were my entire life and my sewing skills became especially useful in helping backstage or on the fly during a performance. Later on, I would get a Bachelor’s Degree in Acting, but you could often find me toiling away over a hoop skirt or corset in the costume shop.

As the years went on, sewing was something I just did for myself or my friends and family. I made a couple of garments for myself, but once I had my first baby, I found myself flocking to my sewing machine during naps as a form of therapy. I began taking on bigger projects: making cushions for my living room, quilts for friend’s babies, and later even cloth diapers and reusable menstrual products. I noticed the enormous amount of waste I was producing with each project and it made me wonder, “what kind of impact does fabric and even sewing, in general, have on the environment?” When I started digging into the science behind textile production and fast fashion, I was sickened. While choosing what is called Slow Fashion (clothing made by hand by people who are paid a fair and livable wage) is better for the environment than fast fashion, the amount of water used to manufacture and produce the textiles plays a major part in our water-waste footprint.

When I opened Stitch Witch Tailoring and Alterations in January of 2019, my business model had two major pillars of integrity: 1) that I would offer a safe space for all people where they can feel confident about not being exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other harm and 2) that I would do my part to minimize my carbon and water footprint by choosing local, second hand or ethically sourced options whenever they were available. Two years later, I feel that I have held to those pillars and they have set my business apart from others.

2) What is it like to own a small business in New Hampshire? Pros? Cons? I know I can always stay busy here in New Hampshire. Folks here are more likely to buy a durable, long-lasting coat and therefore will go to great lengths to keep it in good condition! I replace more zippers on winter coats than anything else I do. Because New Hampshire offers so many amazing outdoor activities, I get lots of customers that come back to me year-round to keep their seasonal gear in good condition. The work for a sewist in NH is abundant, but making ends meet can sometimes be difficult. Even the smallest project can take an enormous amount of time to prep and complete, but some people do not see the worth in having a sewist or tailor fix their clothes. Financially, the mending doesn’t pay the bills but the big projects are far and few between. You do what you can, but sometimes I find myself taking on menial projects or compromising on the cost to keep myself afloat. With COVID, things have been particularly difficult, but with an end in sight, I’ve seen an uptick in business and hope to continue to grow!

3) Mending clothes is an important part of zero-waste living. Fixing rather than tossing something into the garbage. What are some simple tips you can give to beginners? A) Keep scraps on hand: last year my partner blew out a pair of Carhartt work pants. They had become threadbare in the knees and behind, but otherwise had a lot of life left in the material. Instead of tossing the pants altogether, I “stripped it for parts” and now have various-sized heavy-duty, patches! B) Learn to Darn: if I could stress any sewing skill, it would be darning. Nothing is more disappointing than a wool sock with a hole in the heel, but if you catch it early, a quick darn can drastically increase the life of a sock or any other holey garment. C) Learn how to wash your clothes: you might be surprised at how little you know about washing your clothes but with a little label reading, a good bar of laundry soap, and a clothesline or drying rack you can drastically increase the longevity of your favorite outfits.

4) Please tell us about your own zero-waste journey. What are some habits you’ve mastered and others you are working on? I love recycling my fabric scraps! I’ve gotten good at keeping my scraps in a box under my sewing table and once it’s full I ship them off to be recycled at FABSCRAP located in NYC. It gives me peace of mind knowing that my scraps are being recycled ethically.  I’m also working on planning my personal sewing projects better, instead of buying fabric that I see at Joann’s as a form of instant gratification. I know intuitively that planningand buying sustainably will help me feel better and the garment will last much longer!

5) Anything else you’d like to share? Consider where your buy your clothes. Think quality instead of quantity, but don’t be afraid to scour your local thrift store for hidden gems from good clothing companies! Think about buying second-hand first or borrowing from a friend for a one-off event. 

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