I design clothing for Mardi Gras courts in Mobile, Mississippi and New Orleans.
Growing up I wanted to be a nun because my cousin was a monk. He was my idol and my heart and we started going to the monastery when I was a little girl. It was difficult for my family to grasp because we were all Baptists.
My mother was a seamstress so everything I do comes from her. She made my clothes and beautiful, frilly dresses. When I was 12, I was a delegate to the BTU convention in Selma. I told my mama I needed new dresses and she told me, ‘Here is a room full of fabric. If you need anything you will make it.” I huffed and puffe and then found a pink and white pinstripe and made a box skirt. I bought fabric at Hammel’s department store and made my dresses. I have been sewing ever since. I was an only child and didn’t play with a lot of children, but I was always a dreamer and a designer. I took sewing classes in school and graduated from Murphy High School in 1967. I was one of four African Americans to graduate that year. After fashion college, I came back and started making little things for MAMGA. My niece became a lady in the court and her mother insisted I make the train and her gown and it grew from there.
My mother had dementia and I moved her in with me. She hated being out of her home, but she was happy when I sewed and that is when we got along. She would rock and pat and watch for hours. She had a chance to see a little of this before she passed. She didn’t have a chance to see me grow, but she was my beginning. She was the wind beneath my wings.
I wanted to get better and move beyond sequins into rhinestones, so I called Karen Thornton. Most of the trains in the Mardi Gras museum are made by her
She taught me everything she knew and we were close until she passed. I started traveling and bringing different rhinestones and designs back to her. I felt like I was giving back to her. I also learned a lot from Ron Barrett.
3D is my style. It is different and more lifelike. I am a stickler for details even if most people won’t notice them. The question is not whether or not it will work, it is how to make it work. Sewing and creating are an adrenaline rush and my high. It is so emotional to see my clients wearing the clothes I made for them and the transformation.
These trains are elaborate and each one is hand sewn and individually made. The price runs from $5,000 to $35,000. I am often making three or four at once and have six women working with me. This one weighs 60 pounds. I am already looking for things for clients for next year and in a few weeks, I will go to Dubai and India looking for rhinestones, material and design ideas. I also go to markets in New York and Atlanta. Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. I will add beading to table cloths and table runners that I found in India or have a leopard print pained on a rabbit pelt.
I only sew for Mardi Gras because this keeps me busy. This is my last week of the season and I am almost done, but I am tired. I don’t recover by the time the next one starts again. I relax by going to jazz events in New Orleans and Pensacola.
I was never in a court because I got married when I was 19. However, I like to dress like a designer and I am a queen every year. I love making Mardi Gras elegant and beautiful and making my clients feel good about themselves.”