I was nine. I can still see my mother sitting on her bed watching me as I sat at her sewing machine in her closet. By the seventh grade I had my own machine and by ninth grade I was making my own clothes. My mother had made most of mine before that. I think teaching me must have been quite the challenge because after me she quit. I have two younger sisters and for whatever reasons she never got around to teaching them how to sew!
When my little girl, Christen (also known as Sissi), was born I had so much fun sewing for her. I still have and treasure the pattern I used to make her first dress while we were living in France. She was about seven or eight months old.
Shortly thereafter, we moved to West Africa! There, you did not buy your clothes off the rack; there were tailors galore. My own sewing skills were put to use decorating our home–bedding, pillows, curtains, etc. For our clothes, I had a lot of fun designing, selecting fabrics, bargaining with tailors, and then working with them until the final creation was ready.
My best friend, Alyce (who is Senegalese) went with me every Saturday to the market to wander and think and create. It was the beginning of a lifelong love for me of women from around the world–their beauty, their art and their style. This interest in design became such a hobby my friends and colleagues joked that I should open a boutique for Americans overseas so they could be fashionable in an overseas setting!
Getting ready to bargain at an Arab market in Brussels, Belgium.
I would return to the states on break and it never occurred to me to not continue wearing my international garments. Sometimes I got stares, but more often than not I got, “That is so cool! Where did you get it? I would love one!” Um, sorry… It came from Africa and is one of a kind.
Once I recognized there was an interest Stateside in what women in other parts of the world wear, I began doing Global Runways. I collected garments during our travels as well as others that were sent to me from friends and family who live in places such as Thailand, Afghanistan and Indonesia. I would come back to the States and send these garments down a runway, introducing my audience to the authentic dress of women from other cultures. I also seized the opportunity to inform my audience of their plight and perhaps even their needs.
The models from one of my Global Runways!
Since we left West Africa, I have returned twice to visit. As soon as we land we head straight for the fabric markets and the tailors so that our designs can be ready before we leave.
This is the tailor who made all of our clothing during our latest visit to Senegal.
This past Christmas, while there, three different friends said to me, “Nell, you should start a business. You should design American style clothing in African fabric.” I smiled and laughed the same way I did when decades earlier it was suggested I open a boutique. Well guess what? I am no longer laughing! But I am smiling from ear to ear because that is exactly what I am doing and am having so much fun! I can’t wait to share the beauty I see in women from around the world with American women. That’s what Threads by Nomad means to me.