- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - It all started with a pink sewing machine that has led seamstress Jan Lamm to a nice online business and a recent award for her work at Gen Con in Indianapolis.

Lamm first got a sewing machine when she was 4 years old. By the time she was 18, she had her first business license and started making upholstery for interior designers. But Lamm didn’t like it.

“Other people were taking credit for my work,” she said. Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lamm started approaching traveling performers who were in town for a two- or three-week engagement. Her offer was to make them matching clothes that would be ready by the time they left town.

“That was really like my first opportunity, and I was probably 20. I know I wasn’t old enough to go into the bar where they were performing,” she said.

In 1999, Lamm left Santa Fe and moved to Bloomington, and she decided it was time to do something “really happy” with her sewing.

“First of all, I’m practically driven to sew,” she said, adding that if she didn’t have a creative outlet, she’d probably be sewing slipcovers for everything from the toaster to the vacuum cleaner.

“So I decided I was going to make wedding dresses,” Lamm said.

In 1999, the online buying and selling potential was still growing. And Lamm decided to focus on making wedding dresses for larger women because “I felt everyone deserved to be beautiful.” The focus soon grew into a new market - cross-dressers who had trouble finding garments that were tailored to fit their stature.

Eventually Lamm grew tired of the wedding dress business and decided to try something new.

“At the time, belly dance in the U.S. was just kind of taking off,” Lamm said.

So she spent time trying to figure out how the costumes moved and what dancers were looking for as far as coverage. She went on to design clothes for belly dancers and began selling them on eBay 16 years ago.

At the time, being online was more complicated. She had to learn to write HTML, and Internet speeds were limited by to the use of dial-up. She also had to learn how to photograph her items so potential buyers could easily see the detail that went into her work.

“I used to say, ‘You see this mark on my forehead? This is from me banging my head into the desk,’” Lamm said.

Lamm realized that some of the belly dancers don’t want to be so exposed before going on stage, so she made a few capes and put them in her online store.

“I had a couple of men write me and say, ‘I found your capes. Would you be willing to make your capes for me?’” Lamm said.

Now, most of Lamm’s business is capes, sold to a mostly male clientele.

“And that was really a surprise to me. As a matter of fact, it’s still a surprise to me. I’m still surprised that I’m not sewing for women,” Lamm said.

The capes vary from fashion to fantasy. Her Costumes by Design store on eBay also appeals to university theater companies who are looking for costumes, clergy members who need a cape for a graveside service or cosplayers. She’s even worked with a descendent of Lon Chaney to make a replica of the cape he wore in the 1922 production of “Phantom of the Opera.” And she has made capes for Universal Studios, too.

This year, Lamm partnered with her niece Lauren Aguilar to create costumes for Gen Con, an annual gaming convention held in Indianapolis. Aguilar, who lives in New Mexico, traveled to Indiana with her children to participate in the convention. To help defray costs, Lamm was able to help Aguilar find teaching opportunities through Gen Con’s SPA Program, which stands for Spouse Activities Program.

Lamm said SPA evolved from the trend that Gen Con attracted men with spouses who had no interest in the scheduled events. Lamm has been teaching sewing classes, and Aguilar taught classes on henna and doing Day of the Dead makeup.

As for the costumes, Lamm thought Aguilar would make a good Maleficent.

“She has a bone structure for Maleficent,” Lamm said.

Aguilar’s turn as the villainous sorceress was convincing for one 3-year-old girl, who scolded Maleficent for fighting and turning into a dragon. Lamm said the little girl, named Winter, even shook her finger during the scolding. But Aguilar apologized for her bad behavior.

“And Winter forgave her for her misbehavior,” Lamm said.

For the second day of the event, Aguilar participated in Gen Con’s costume contest, where her Day of the Dead costume created by Lamm won the Golden Stitch award. The costume gave Aguilar a chance to showcase her makeup skills and also was an opportunity for her to pay homage to her best friend, who was murdered 10 years ago.

“About at the 10-year mark is when you can get past that and start to remember them with joy,” Lamm said.

To make the costume, Lamm used table linens she found at the Monroe County History Center’s annual garage sale.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to buy these because they should be used in another manner,’” Lamm said.

The table clothes were used to make the outfit, including one that was used as the underskirt. Some of the fabric was dyed purple as a nod to Aguilar’s late friend, as it was her favorite color.

Lamm hopes to lure Aguilar back to Indiana for next year’s Gen Con, but in the meantime, she stays busy making capes for her online business. Business has been so good that her daughter joined her last year in making the capes. Currently she has 18 cape orders pending.

“There’s something interesting about a cape. It just turns people on. It makes people notice. There’s something arresting about it,” Lamm said.


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1HSokpQ


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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