Marla Kazell, seamstress

by Jan Behrs

Employer: Self-employed

Training/Education: Learning to sew was a breeze for Marla Kazell, who excelled in seventh-grade home-economics classes in Kenosha, Wis., where she grew up. Her skills in designing and making clothes soon landed her part0time work in a fabric store during high school. She continued working there while pursuing a degree in social sciences at Carthage College.

"It was the 1970s, and knits were becoming very popular," said Kazell, 53. "I worked at Stretch & Sew, a franchise store specializing in the new fabrics."

In 1977, Kazell eagerly transferred to Stretch & Sew's headquarters in Eugene, where she became a sample seamstress.

"We worked with a patternmaker to sew test samples, and then wrote and illustrated the sewing guide," she said. "Such a job had never occurred to me, but I liked it instantly."

After a couple years, though, she wanted more freedom to tinker with patterns and create clothes, so she began doing custom sewing, building a clientele through friends and co-workers. By 1983, after a move to Portland, she was sewing full-time.

"Some clients like designer patterns but don't want to do the sewing themselves; others are very tall, or are different sizes on the top and bottom, so finding clothes, especially dresses, that fit properly is difficult for them," Kazell said.

She found herself shopping more and more at Josephine's Dry Goods, because "everything she (owner Judith Head) has in there is beautiful."

Soon after, Kazell started teaching sewing classes at the downtown Portland store. She also teaches workshops, through the American Sewing Guild, for sewing groups around the country.

"To do this, you need a lot of experience in sewing and fitting clothes, and, because it's a pretty personal business, you also need to be able to make people comfortable," Kazell said. "But as far as equipment, all you really need is a sewing machine and a good iron."

Best Part: "I get to sew great fabrics, and I enjoy matching them with patterns to make pants, skirts, jackets. I like taking a single commercial pattern and making it in different ways."

Realities: "As always with being self-employed, you have to take care of your own insurance, taxes, marketing, and so on, do you need to be a businessperson as well as a creative person."

Future: "People will always have a need for clothing that fits them."