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Sewing project for friend catches company's eye

April 8, 2011

Post & Mail photo/Linda Hoskins Doris Rhoades works at her sewing machine to create a basket liner for use with power operated vehicles.

SOUTH WHITLEY — For South Whitley resident Doris Rhoades her skill with needle, thread and fabric has found a new market.
Rhoades started sewing in 1947 when she purchased her first (treadle) sewing machine at an auction for a mere seven dollars.
“It was dirty, it was old and my mom said to take kerosene to clean up all the parts,” Rhoades said. “I had this sewing machine upstairs in this old house we lived in at the time, and I worked and I worked on it trying to get it adjusted.”
Rhoades said the sewing machine was perfect for scrap materials, but when she tried to make an article of clothing, the machine just wouldn’t cooperate. Exhausting all her efforts and becoming extremely frustrated, Rhoades attempted to throw the machine out the second-story window.
“The sewing machine got stuck in the window and when my husband (J.R.) got home he took me to Fort Wayne to buy a new sewing machine,” Rhoades said. “The new sewing machine was white and we purchased it from Wolf and Dessauer in Fort Wayne — it was a nice one and it worked perfect.”
Moving to South Whitley in 1949, Rhoades’ efforts became more of a part-time job as she found herself sewing for many residents in South Whitley with weddings at the top of the list.
To keep up with the demand, Rhoades purchased a new sewing machine.
“I did a lot of bridesmaid dresses and wedding dresses, I was always busy and I don’t know how I did it,” Rhoades said. “I would wait until my kids went to bed, mop the floor and cut the dresses out on the floor, doing an entire wedding party — I loved it, absolutely loved it.”
This type of work required Rhoades to update (again) and purchase a sewing machine that made button holes. Today, Rhoades has a 20-year-old Elna machine which is guaranteed for a lifetime.
“I taught myself to sew. My mom did sew, but I ended up doing all of hers, too,” Rhoades said. “When my first granddaughter got married, I made her wedding dress, along with the pattern. (The dress) ended up having several thousand sequins and beads on it. It was a heavy yet beautiful dress.”
Rhoades’ sewing expertise went to a whole new level this year, when her friend, Joan Eberhart, contacted Amigo Mobility Center located in Bridgeport, Mich.
Eberhart has a power operated vehicle (POV, or scooter) and deals with Amigo frequently.
“I had sewn a (basket) liner with pockets for Joan Eberhart, which goes on the front of her POV. I had made pockets for her cell phone, keys and she pretty much told me what she wanted,” Rhoades said. “I made five more liners and people thought they were made by Vera Bradley.”
A representative with Amigo Mobility immediately contacted Rhoades and was interested in 100 basket liners each year in hopes of selling them as an accessory for their POV. Hesitant to commit to 100 liners a year, Rhoades agreed to mail two prototypes to Amigo for review.
“As soon as they got the basket liners, I got a call from a representative with the company. Everybody at Amigo was thrilled over them,” Rhoades said.
The liners are a new addition to Amigo’s product. Depending on the fabric, Rhoades can complete one liner (with nine compartments) in approximately two hours. The quilted (and non-quilted) fabric for each basket liner is a work of art, ranging from Thomas Kincaid to the University of Michigan.
“Everybody is thrilled over them,” Rhoades said. “Amigo really likes the Michigan fabric, so I have to make more of those.”

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