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Crafting his own path

FRANKLIN LIVING—Jeffery Dick, a 2006 graduate of Red Bay High School and owner of The Little Stitch in downtown Red Bay, discovered his lifelong passion for sewing at 5 years old when he began to learn the basics from his mother.

“I have always been creative,” Dick said. “Whether creating clothing or quilts or whatever the project might be, I get to play with all the different colors and shapes and make something that is functional as well as pretty. I love the process. Every project is a new adventure.”

He spent his early years growing up in Kansas, where his mother needed a way to keep all five children busy – but also quiet and entertained – during the winter, so she taught them all how to sew. “It’s a good basic life skill to be able to sew on a button or a fix a pocket,” Dick said. The first sewing machine project his mother let him make was a pillowcase of soft, white, quilted fabric with tiny blue roses, and he still keeps it safe. “I loved that pillowcase so much. I immediately knew sewing was for me. I’ve gone from that first simple project to being able to design clothing and quilts.”

When he was 12 or 13, Dick wanted to be a wizard for Halloween, but a store-bought costume just wasn’t an option, so his mother showed him the basics of how to draft a pattern, handed him a box of old curtains and told him to have at it. “I made the costume, and it turned out great. I have come leaps and bounds since.”

Dick said he enjoys the challenge of breaking down how various garments are constructed, figuring out how to make them – and how to do so in his own style. He often does this with women’s fashion ads. After his mother taught him the basics of sewing, he never stopped working to expand his skills. One way he learned more was by watching quilting and sewing shows on public television, such as “Sewing with Nancy.” Sherry Hutcheson’s high school home economics classes at Red Bay afforded him the opportunity to hone his skill on the finishing touches, such as straight seams and neat button holes.

After graduating from high school, Dick attended Northwest-Shoals Community College before continuing his education at the University of Alabama, graduating with a degree in business and minors in art history and computers. Part of the time while there, he worked at Hancock’s Fabrics. “It was right up my alley,” Dick said. “I had the opportunity to discover and learn about fabrics I had never had the chance to play with before.” Knowing when all the best sales were scheduled and having an employee discount provided the chance to experiment with more expensive fabrics, such as silk.

While working at Hancock’s, he became good friends with a customer. One day, he asked if she would do the quilting for a quilt top he made. Instead, she helped him learn how to do it with machine quilting – long-arm quilting, something he now does for others.

With quilting, Dick said working out the geometry is an enjoyable challenge, figuring out how one angle fits with another. Another appealing component is the unique format it provides for telling a story. “There are so many ways to tell a story with a quilt,” Dick said. “There’s so much history in the tradition of quilt making. I love being part of it.”

All of his quilts are named. One with a black-and-white pattern is called “Pepper Grinder.” A stained-glass quilt is and another is called “Beach Babies.” Other quilts have simpler names, such as a blue-and white-one called “Mrs. Hall’s Birds and Stars” or “Jason’s Harley T-Shirt Quilt.”

In 2017 two quilts were included in the exhibit 100 Years of Quilting at Belmont Mansion in Tuscumbia – the only two in the display that were machine-quilted. The invitation to enter the exhibit, Dick said, was extended largely because of a special stained-glass quilt he made for his grandmother called “Morning Mass.” He spent a couple of weeks with grandparents each summer while growing up. As devout Catholics, they lived in a house across the street from the church, and they and Dick walked together to attend mass there almost every day. “I designed that quilt for Grandma,” Dick said. “It’s reminiscent of the stained-glass windows from that church. It was going to be her Christmas present, but she passed away right before Halloween that year.”

Originally Dick rented the building in downtown Red Bay to have a private studio space for working on projects, but when Founders Day came, he said the prospect of setting up a booth and being in the hot sun all day when his store was only a block from the park was not an appealing one. So, he decided to open to the public for the day. People started asking if that meant the store was going to be open all the time, so it began with one day a week, then two, and it just kept growing from there.

“I was working for Tiffin Motorhomes up until this last November,” Dick said. “I was full time there while working here building the business. Now we’re able to offer classes both for children and adults. I plan to do at least one Saturday children’s class per month. This summer, I offered a variety of classes for kids on Wednesdays, including making wind chimes, decorating T-shirts and making slime.” He said he loves “seeing the creativity of children. I enjoy giving them outlets to make things and to be away from technology, to use their hands and minds and create. What I love the most about teaching kids is seeing the looks on their faces when they show off their finished products.”

Upcoming plans include offering quilting classes for adults. Other sewing classes will take place as time permits, and other artists will teach different subjects, including how to do painted door hangers. “I like to help people learn,” Dick said. “Not everyone has a store to use for teaching their crafts or selling their crafted goods, and not everyone needs an entire store. I like being able to share my space to sell items on consignment and for others to teach their respective arts.”

Of course, his own artistic projects will always remain a priority, too. Designing clothing for children is one of his favorite endeavors. One long-range goal is to come out with a line of children’s clothing. “I love the freedom of creating and designing for them. It’s more fun because I get to play with the trims and colors more,” he explained. “You can put lime green and hot pink and turquoise and ruffles on a pair of pants for a little girl, whereas it’s not commonly done for adult women.” Children’s clothing, he added, is more fanciful and fun, and the fit doesn’t have to be as precise. There are more variables in adult fashion and fewer opportunities to make something outlandish or creative. “I always try to come up with something different,” said Dick, adding he especially enjoys making custom pageant dresses for little girls. A couple of years ago he created the drum major outfit for Red Bay High School. “Costumes are fun,” Dick said. “You get to play with the fanciful and design things you wouldn’t normally see while walking down the street.”

Another hobby is woodworking; he has done a lot of carpentry with his father. “I love building with wood, including remodeling houses, and I’m currently helping with the restoration of a historic home. I love anything creative that can keep my hands and mind busy, but sewing is always my go-to,” Dick said. He creates vinyl decals, too, and also makes hair bows and jewelry – necklaces and earrings made of beads and pendants. Other popular requests are sewn name keychains for school backpacks and embroidered towels – such as a popular one celebrating traveling by motorhome, a big seller because of the high number of motorhomes that come through Red Bay. Monogramming is another popular service.

Dick says he has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Most of his time is spent running his shop, where services include sewing, quilting, alterations, personalized acid etched glassware, monogramming, creating hair bows, making jewelry and selling a few items from other people.

An ever-increasing variety of projects leaves little downtime. One recent project was re-covering lobby cushions for The Wharf in Orange Beach. The opportunity arose after a friend in the sewing business decided to retire. As a result of that job, The Wharf has hired him to sew three hundred plus bed covers. Southeast Sales, which is owned by Lex Tiffin, supplies the uniforms for Tiffin Motorhomes, and Dick does the hemming and other alterations.

Being part of a large family of brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews is an important part of Dick’s life. His sisters live in Kansas, and he frequently talks to them on the phone and via Facetime to help them learn new sewing skills, embroider, make things out of vinyl or whatever they’re interested in doing. Dick said he counts himself fortunate to have a supportive family, including parents Danny Hamm and Nancy Hamm, and friends that are like family.

“I’m grateful to be a part of downtown Red Bay and to see the businesses flourishing, to see downtown coming back to life,” Dick added, “because 17 years ago when I moved here from Kansas, things were very different.”