‘That’s just what I do’

Photo by JOHN SHELMAN

Barbara Farley uses a 100-year-old machine Thursday to stitch together the pieces of a quilt. Farley operates the Monogram Shop at 117 Stanley Dr., in Arkansas City, and offers clothing alterations and repairs, as well as custom monogram and embroidery work.

Few people have spent more time in front of a sewing machine than 89-year-old Barbara Farley. As the owner of the Monogram Shop, a home-based business on Stanley Drive in Arkansas City, Farley stays busy monogramming clothing items, making quilts, and performing repairs and alterations on almost anything made of fabric.

“I tell people I can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but I can fix anything,” she said.

Staying busy has never been a problem. Farley assists the sheriff, the highway patrol and the Winfield fire department with uniform repairs and alterations, and she makes all of the uniform adjustments for the Ark City police and fire departments.

“I sew their patches on and tailor their shirts,” she said. “They come in with their bullet vests on so I can fit them with just how it’s going to be when they wear them.”

She also hems their pants and makes any other necessary adjustments to make the garments fit properly.

Ark City Police Chief Dan Ward said Farley has handled all of the department’s patch and uniform tailoring for years. She also provides insight into when it is time to purchase new uniforms.

“She tells me which ones are great and which ones are even better,” he said. “She’s a good person, a good community member and she has become part of our family.”

Farley said she also sews emblems on school letter jackets, and sews patches on the leather jackets for local bikers.

She also does custom embroidery work, which requires an expensive, complex, computerized machine. Farley said the machine can be programmed to do almost anything, but said her favorite tool is a 100-year-old machine that was once owned by a clothing factory. She uses that machine most of the time.

“I can do things with it that I couldn’t do otherwise,” she said. “I couldn’t do the school jackets if I didn’t have that.”

Farley said she learned to sew when she was 10 years old; her mother finally allowed her to hem up dishtowels that were made from flour sacks.

“I was born in 1930, which was the Depression,” she said. “Our clothes were all made out of feed sacks or flour sacks.”

When she was 15, her mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Farley had to take over all of the sewing and began making clothing for herself and her younger sisters. After she married, she continued to make clothing for her family.

“I raised three kids, and I made all of their clothes, coats and everything,” she said. “I made wedding dresses for my girls — anything that was sewing I’d do it.”

“You learn as you go,” she added.

When she is not sewing for other people, Farley likes to make quilts. One of her most difficult creations required 2,177 pieces stitched together.

“Of course, a daughter got it,” she said with a laugh.

Farley has made more than 100 quilts and given most of them away. She enjoys making people happy.

“I give them to people I love, people I care about,” she said.

Farley also works with crochet, knitting and counted cross-stitch. She recently completed a cross-stitched Christmas tree skirt, which she said required more than a million stitches.

Farley enjoys repairing a customer’s treasured and irreplaceable item. While she won’t promise to make it look brand new, she will make it look as good as possible.

“I’m a perfectionist,” Farley said. “If I can’t do it as perfect as can be done, I won’t do it.”

Farley works out of her home and has no set hours. Customers drop off or pick up items as late as 10 p.m. and even call her on Sunday. She doesn’t mind at all.

“The satisfaction I get out of sewing and helping people makes me happy because they are happy,” she said. “That’s just what I do.”

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