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40-year thread still going

Forty years ago Dec. 4, in a modest shop built by her father at the junction of Hwy. 66 and Dead Indian Memorial Road, Joyce Stockstill hung out her shingle saying “Rogue Valley Tailoring” and sat down at her Bernina sewing machine doing what she loves most — and, at 75, is still doing, with no intention of retiring.

Born in 1943 in Klamath Falls, Stockstill has lived mostly in Phoenix, learned sewing from her mother by age 7, got a degree in home economics and art at Oregon State University and mastered alterations at Robinson’s in Medford, then settled in doing hemming, fitting and repairs on her own.

“I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do what I love,” says Stockstill. “Anyone who does this for a living loves fabric. It’s a very tactile experience and a great way to make a living.”

Yes, clothes are accessible and cheap online and we live in an increasingly throw-away society, she notes, but demand for tailoring is always strong because many clothes from the internet don’t fit right and she can make them good.

She even does well in recessions, when people want to repair clothes and extend their lives. She says she even has regular work from the coast and Siskiyou County. Ironically, she finds that men seek her out for restoration work because “men like to hang onto their clothes.”

Tailoring may look like a skill set you master and that’s it, but Stockstill says there’s a big head game involved and to stay at the top of her game, “I begin every week with a meeting with myself. Am I alert to the client’s requests and expectations with all aspects of the sewing process? I approach each project with an open mind, looking for new techniques or different methods. The rapport with clients is very important.

“You are relining a coat and it’s going to be the third generation of women to wear it. That makes it more interesting.”

Without this “alert attention approach,” she says, “you could lose your mojo and get sloppy I’m an organizer at heart and keep the tools and process organized so the result is favorable to myself and the client.”

Her parents were Curtiss and Joy Stockstill. He was a building contractor and orchardist east of Phoenix. Her talent with the needle comes down from her grandmother, who died in 1936 and, she says, holding out her finger, “this is her thimble.”

From her days of youth, Stockstill has loved square dance and mastered 200 “calls,” which is no easy feat. With this and sewing, “I have learned a lot about how my mind works. If there’s something I can’t figure out (a sewing challenge), I just go home and sleep on it and the next day, there it is, all figured out and I ask myself how come I couldn’t figure this out at the time?

“Sewing, like dancing, is complicated and I love them both.”

She has seven sewing machines in her shop and, by the way, Bernina is her favorite.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsJoyce Stockstill works on material inside Rouge Valley Tailoring.
Andy Atkinson / Daily TidingsA newspaper clip from the Daily Tidings in 1979 shows Joyce Stockstill in her tailor shop.