Gaylene Miller’s wedding was a little more stressful than most. But then again, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
An accomplished seamstress, Miller not only made her own wedding dress but also sewed dresses for her mother and her two sisters, and the ring bearer’s suit. While this may seem like an overwhelming ordeal for the average bride, for Miller, it was just like any other day.
As owner of Fabric Boutique & Bridal in Grass Valley, a typical day for Miller includes tailoring, hemming, making countless alterations or simply patching someone’s favorite pair of jeans. The piles of projects underway in her West Main Street store are a testament to her skill and expertise. And don’t let the mess fool you — she knows just where everything is.
“This year I had three girls from Nevada Union sew with me for their senior projects,” said Miller. “They came away saying, ‘Wow, we respect you as a seamstress. We now understand what you go through.”
For the past three years Miller has ordered and fitted tuxedos for boys associated with the Cinderella Project, which provides low-income young people with clothing and accessories for the prom and other special events. Over the years, Cinderella Project coordinator Sarah Gordon has come to truly appreciate Miller’s talents.
“Gaylene can do absolutely anything when it comes to alterations,” she said. “She can make a size 12 dress into a size 2 or the opposite. I’ve seen her put two dresses together to make one. She makes sure our boys are dressed from top to bottom. You can tell they feel like a million bucks. Some have never had that feeling before.”
Growing up in Gridley, Miller became interested in sewing at the age of 4. She sewed her dolls’ clothes by hand because her mother wouldn’t let her use the sewing machine. Finally, her mother caved in, and at age 8, Miller made her first skirt and vest using the machine. But it was her meticulous hand stitching that caught the attention of judges in 4-H competitions.
“They complimented me on my sewing, then said they wanted to see what I’d made by hand,” said Miller.
“I told them, that is made by hand. They were shocked.” She went on to make her own prom and graduation dresses.
Miller’s first job in high school was at a Gridley fabric store, which led to another fabric store job in Auburn and yet another in Grass Valley. When Miller’s boss at Hart’s Fabric in Grass Valley was ready to close his doors in 1999, Miller opened her own business that same year. Since then, Fabric Boutique & Bridal has been a full-line fabric store. In addition to selling dresses, suits and tuxes on consignment, she carries new wedding and prom dresses, as well as rental tuxes and other accessories. For every dress bought from Miller’s new line, she will throw in $50 in free alterations.
She is also known for her expert alterations and for making custom clothing, including wedding dresses.
“I love revamping modern vintage wedding dresses,” Miller said. “I recently put a v-back into an old dress and made another one for a bride based on Bella’s wedding dress in ‘Twilight.’”
She is also doing “production line” work for a local designer, which involves making a large quantity of the same dress.
But the best part of her job, says Miller, are the smiles. “I love the look on people’s faces, especially the teenagers once they’ve been fitted with the right dress or tuxedo,” she said. “I love the look on a bride’s mother’s face during the final fitting.”
Gordon praised Miller for giving the Cinderella Project students the same treatment she gives her high-end customers.
“You can tell Gaylene loves what she does,” she said. “When the boys come in for tuxedo fittings, it’s clear she understands the whole self-esteem piece. She understands how important it is to be a part of something that would otherwise be out of reach. For some it’s the first time someone has said, ‘You deserve this.’ She is an incredible resource and an asset to the community. I’m a huge fan.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.