Sew What?'s new in Window Rock

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 1, 2010

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(Times photo - Althea John)

Elsie Tom, 59, of Fort Defiance, finishes a traditional dress at her new store, Sew What, at the Enterprise Center in Window Rock. Tom sews all the clothes in the store.

A new boutique offering a contemporary flare to traditional style clothing is now open in the Window Rock Shopping Center.

The shop sits where the old Radio Shack and General Store used to be, its entrance located under the "Enterprise Center" marquee.

The boutique, owned and operated by Fort Defiance resident Elsie Tom, 59, is called "Sew What?"

She credits her husband Harry with coming up with the name.

"He would ask me what I'm doing and I would tell him that I'm sewing something and he would ask, 'Sew What?'" Tom recalled.

She continued to sew many of her own outfits during the two years she's been a sixth grade Navajo language instructor in the Window Rock schools, which led to requests from friends and relatives to make traditional outfits, gowns, blouses and skirts.

"People know that I sew and that I make clothes," she said. "I wear what I make sometimes to advertise, like at work. People would come up and ask where I got the outfit."

With creations piling up at home, and encouraged by her three daughters, Tom decided to open a store. Finding storefront space in the area was not hard, she said, and she found a spot nestled in the Window Rock Shopping Center very near Blacksheep Originals, another boutique featuring handmade creations by a talented local woman.

Most of the clothing items for sale at Sew What? are made of velvet or crushed velvet. Prices range from $30 to $100, with outfits and matched sets costing the most.

"If there's something that (the customers) want, that's custom, they would make orders and I would make them too," said Tom, who is Kiyaa'áanii (Towering House Clan), born for Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan).

She opened for business three weeks ago but celebrated the grand opening on June 25, posting flyers and notices throughout the community, online and in the area.

Still, she said, "A lot of people don't know that we're here. All they see is the windows."

"The people that do come are surprised with what I have and the styles," Tom said. "People like what they see and if they have something else in mind that's when they make orders. A lot of them tell me that coming here is better than going to Gallup and the prices are reasonable."

The boutique doesn't have a dressing room but she allowed several potential customers to use the shopping center restrooms nearby to try on an outfit before purchasing.

Inside the shop, behind the cash register and counter, is her workstation with two sewing machines and bags of material nestled around a desk. On a display near the worktable are accessories, such as a hood with attached scarf to wrap around the neck.

For Tom, sewing started with her firstborn, Rachel, for whom she made an outfit. She went on to make other outfits for her four now-grown children, and her reputation as a seamstress began to spread. It was a good thing, too, because it meant extra money for the family.

In addition to making the outfits for sale at Sew What?, Tom buys outfits from her sisters, Helen Williams and Hazel Keams, to sell there.

Sew What? is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information: 928-871-4994.

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