Elaine McPherson: Her Needle is Magic
Elaine is a true Asheville native, born on Woodfin Street next door to the Thomas Wolfe house downtown and raised at 19 ½ Biltmore Avenue. During WWII, her mother rented a 30-room hotel, then rented out house keeping rooms.
Growing up there, Elaine experienced both the closeness of immediate family and the diversity of myriad strangers. She remembers the days when they didn’t have a refrigerator and the ice man delivered to their ice box. When her mother finally got a refrigerator, everyone in the house used it. “During the war a whole family would rent a couple of rooms, have a hot plate and often share the hall shower if they didn’t have a private one.”
“It was wonderful growing up in Asheville then. We kids used to go to the Grove Park Inn and sleigh ride down the golf course in winter and play on the grounds in summer. The Inn was closed from Labor Day till Memorial Day; they would lay the rocking chairs up against the wall on the patio and we’d play around there, then ride our bikes to Riverside Cemetery and sit on O.Henry’s grave! I didn’t have a yard growing up, so my playground was the street.”
She has been honored with a plaque on Pack Square next to the statue, Childhood (little girl sipping from a fountain), that is part of the Asheville Urban Trail. It commemorates her childhood playing in the square as well as her four years dancing with the Grand Old Opry starting when she was 20.
It was in that Biltmore Avenue house that, in third grade, her aunt Dot gave her the first needle and taught her to embroider. It was that moment, she says, “I realized the needle was magic!” She still has that first embroidery sample.
At age 14 her father passed away and she used the Social Security money her mother collected to buy her first sewing machine: a Kenmore from Sears. Before that she had learned to sew on a treadle machine at her aunt’s house. “I’d go and borrow any machine someone would let me use and started making my own clothes at a young age.”
The atmosphere at 19 ½ Biltmore fostered not only her sewing skills but her later artistry with drawing and painting. “There was one man in the house who did water colors; one who went out on the fire escape at sundown to play the fiddle (I thought that was so sad); my mother was a silversmith for Stuart Nye who then went out on her own to make and sell her jewelry designs.”
During those years, polio was rampant, and Elaine came down with a light case of it. Yet, luckily when the Grand Ole Opry called her to dance with them, she was still able to do it.
Elaine married two different sailors: the first one was killed in a car accident when she was 20; the second one moved her to the Bay area of Alameda, CA, and the fact that he was in the Navy led to the start of her tailoring business and shop; she also got to travel all over the world with him. “I made my husband a CPO shirt and he got so many compliments that I started getting orders.
I ended up making uniforms for the Navy and the Coast Guard. Also, Japanese and Saudi Arabian navy came through our boot camp in San Diego and I was asked to make special orders for them since they were different sizes than Americans.” She also designed a line of ice-skating dresses and a style of leisure suit. “I had Reggie Jackson as a customer, the music group Grand Central Station, and the local roller derby participants.”
After living in CA for 20 years she came home to be with her mother, ended up getting divorced and opened a tailoring shop on Hendersonville Road in 1981. She added fabric and notions to her tailoring services but then says, “Walmart came along, and they could sell it cheaper than I could buy it, so I quit selling fabric.” She moved to her current Sweeten Creek location and has been in that space for the past 30 years.
The list of all that Elaine and A Stitch ‘N Time offer is extensive and encompasses virtually every item that can be sewn. A major part of what they offer is embroidery and monogramming. Her daughter-in-law, Becky, is in charge of doing designs on hats, shirts, totes, towels and more. They receive a lot of orders for graduations and other events.
They alter prom and wedding dresses, even having sample shoes for men and women to slip into so that measuring for hemming is accurate. You can have them reline your favorite winter coat. They designed and sell a line of quilted garment bags (that can be monogrammed) with a cosmetic bag to match.
Costumes are big in the Asheville area and they design custom ones (such as the Lay’s Potato Chip bag they made for a man who won tickets to the Super Bowl) as well as rent them. They can alter, hem and repair about anything.
Their outstanding reputation in the area means that when celebrities and entertainers perform here and need help with clothing (sizing and repairs) this is the place they go. Over the years Elaine has sewn leather pants for Bon Jovi, repaired Elton John’s jacket, created the balloons in the movie “My Fellow Americans,” put a zipper in Randy Travis’ jacket, and much more.
Elaine has a thick book of signed celebrity photos and more on the walls, such as the one of Willie Nelson. “I got to meet Elvis and danced with the Stoney Mountain Cloggers in a country-western show at Carnegie Hall that included Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins and several other well-known stars.
I used to do costumes for Ghost Town and created crew jackets for “The Last of the Mohicans.” The promoter of the show “Extreme Makeover” came in and we embroidered the backs of all the jackets.”
They do a lot of design work for other companies: several years ago, she duplicated miniatures of the Teddy bear mascot of the Grove Park Inn; those were for sale and one was purchased and donated back to the Inn. That one is now encased in glass at the Inn. That led to Ted Turner seeing it and wanting one for his Vermejo Park hunting ranch.
In 1998 she designed angel bears as part of North Carolina’s display on the national Christmas tree in DC (states bid for that honor only every 35 years). “Because of those bears I got to go to the lighting of the tree and a Christmas party in a grand ball room in the capitol. It was a really big deal for me!” After that people came into the shop to buy the angel bears.
Word of mouth has been a powerful means of promoting her business; when folks in the area are in need of anything fabric/sewing related, they are told “go see that woman at A Stitch ‘N Time!”
And what you’ll find in the shop doesn’t end with items that can be sewn. Elaine has many artistic talents and has created an extensive line of note cards displayed for sale in her shop.
She draws and paints impressive images of plants, birds, animals, etc. all with a story about the subject on the back of the card. Even though she was told—when she started creating the cards—that people don’t send note cards anymore, she has sold thousands of them. Local realtors even come in and buy them by the box as a special, local gift for their clients.
Visit A Stitch ‘N Time for whatever sewing needs you have or simply to be awed by the jam-packed display of artistry and craft.
A Stitch ‘N Time at 1259 Sweeten Creek Rd.