A Well-Crafted Career Alteration
by Jodie Randisi Photography by Christian Lee
Marion Welsh used her math degree from Rutgers University to start her career in Information Technology, but she eventually changed her occupation from computer geek to full-time seamstress. She followed her passion and ended up working in bridal shops doing alterations. Her specialty was making gowns bigger. However, in 1984, something altered the direction of Marion’s sewing projects.
Marion worked part-time in a bridal shop in Red Bank, N.J., where she discovered the fabric from damaged wedding dresses made exquisite christening outfits, as well as matching “big sister” dresses. Marion also made cotillion dresses for young ladies from Asbury Park. “Their white dresses had to have crinoline slips, sleeves and a jacket,” Marion said. “Back then, cotillion attire was a big thing in certain communities.”
Although she found her true love, her husband Vince, while programming computers for Prudential, her true calling was tailoring. When Marion realized computers weren’t as exciting as they used to be, she found the time to go night school at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She excelled in everything but drawing, which kept her from officially earning a degree. “The best teacher was an Italian tailor who taught us how to make clothing fit an actual human being, not a dressmaker’s form,” Marion said with a smile.
With coaching from other seamstresses in her family, namely her mother and grandmother, Marion began sewing at five years old. She started making doll clothes and storing her handmade collection in a “just for dolls” suitcase. As a fifth grader, she made her own school clothes, complete with pockets, piping, buttonholes and zippers. She also made bridal gowns for her dolls. Her current doll collection showcases much of her work, including her first Ginny doll she received at Christmas. “I was not at all interested in a two-wheeled bicycle. I knew I’d just fall off. In fact, you’re never going to see me on a bike,” Marion admitted.
At age 35, Marion became the bride in need of a gown. She put her skills and creativity to use and made her gown using a Vogue sewing pattern that was “already three-fourths perfect” for what she had in mind. Like every great seamstress, and as she was taught, she made a sample from muslin, an inexpensive, loosely woven fabric to make sure everything would fit. And, of course, Marion was delighted with her perfectly fitted, stunning gown.
Today, her neighbors leave antique lace tablecloths at her front door, knowing they’ll be put to good use. Much of Marion’s work is donated to Julie’s Mission, a non-profit organization, whose mission it is to provide support to hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICU) by creating handmade items for critically ill newborns. Marion’s donations include memorial dresses and christening gowns for premature infants and babies. “I make sure to reuse the design elements of a wedding dress when designing a christening gown,” Marion explained, referring to handpicked beading, sequins and lace. Although she never knows who will be the recipient, she recognizes the greater purpose in supporting Julie’s Mission.
“I will sew as long as my eyes and hands hold up,” Marion proclaimed, as she showed her dolls on display. Her collection includes an assortment of Madame Alexander, Besty McCall, Bye-Lo and Robert Tonner dolls. Marion especially enjoyed sewing clothes for her Robert Tonner dolls, which, unlike a Barbie doll, are 16-inches tall and properly proportioned. Marion collects what she likes. She isn’t concerned that her Wizard of Oz Dorothy doll isn’t wearing Ruby slippers. Marion once sewed Oz costumes for her and Vince, her mother and a few friends for a “themed” cruise they went on together. Vince was the cowardly lion, and her mother was Auntie Em. She was the wicked witch.
Marion is glad to be living in Sun City Hilton Head. Marion and Vince moved here from Eatontown, N.J., after a 28-day tour that started in Naples, Fla., which was quickly crossed off the list. “In Naples, Ferraris are everywhere, and BMWs are the economy cars,” explained Marion. From there they explored Clermont and Melbourne, Fla., eventually finding Hilton Head online after one of Marion’s customers said, “Have you checked out Hilton Head?” Unlike the Florida communities, Sun City was brimming with activity. “I guess people do things here. We’re moving to Sun City!” Marion declared four years ago.
First Barbie: Her husband gave Marion Irish Barbie on her 50th birthday because she was born on St. Patrick’s Day.
What She Will Never Sew: Home décor. Marion prefers to decorate people.
What She Will Never Do: Teach sewing. She admits to being a terrible teacher.
What She Makes with Leftover Fabric: Sachets, ring bearer pillows and money bags.
Sun City Favorite: The photography club because they taught her how to buy a camera.
Grandchildren: Two boys from her only son and daughter-in-law, which means she makes American Girl doll clothes for other people.