By Karen Dybis
BerkleyLive Special Writer
Dottie Popp has spent the past 20 years creating, repairing and rejuvenating clothing. Call her the garment whisperer.
“If it’s fabric, I can pretty much do anything with it,” Popp says.
Popp is the owner of Peggendott Design Studio, a Coolidge store that does tailoring as well as custom clothing. The shop started as manufacturing business, supplying bridal salons nationwide. These days, Popp prefers to create special looks with her client’s help.
Popp learned to sew from her mother, who learned from her mother. Their guidance helped Popp become an expert on garment construction – something she says separates her from tailors found in department stores or shopping-center retailers.
“I know how something is made, so I can alter it, change it, recreate it without making a mess,” Popp says.
Take the whale tail, for example. That is slang for the gap in the back of a pair of jeans. Popp can take in the waist to eliminate this unsightly bulge, making the wearer feel more comfortable – and help his or her rear look far more attractive.
This kind of tailoring requires Popp to dismantle the jean, refit it and sew it back together, a process that takes hours. But it turns an average pair of pants into a head-turning ensemble. And that is the difference between something worn right after buying and having it altered by a reputable seamstress, Popp says.
“You should tweak everything,” says Popp, who counts police and other uniformed employees among her regular clients. “I can turn a 50-cent Salvation Army white shirt into one that looks like you spent $500. … We respect people’s investment in their clothing.”
In fact, Popp keeps some examples of poorly constructed dresses in her shop as a cautionary tale. Just one story about a wedding gown slathered with glue makes the listener cringe; Popp simply shakes her head with frustration.
“They don’t know what they can really do,” she notes.
Weddings are a constant in her business. Popp’s favorite thing to do is to create custom dresses with the bride leading the design. Together, they come up with special touches such as delicate halter straps with crystals sewn at the ends. It’s a look that flatters nearly everyone, Popp says.
“Brides really try to be creative and think of the most romantic things. A one-of-a-kind wedding dress makes more sense for that bride than buying something off the rack,” Popp says.
She tries to add personal touches to her work. For example, she puts a blue tag in her wedding dresses above the heart that reads, “Happily Ever After.”
Popp’s space is like a view of what the “Project Runway” workroom looks like in real life. The saturated yellow walls are offset by white curtains, a silver tin ceiling and a makeshift dressing room. There are dress sketches and patterns everywhere. Every desk is lined with zippers, pins and ribbons. If you need a seat, pull up a zebra-print desk chair; Popp is happy to chat between stitches.
Popp has such a fondness for her customers that she calls many by their first name. One young man, a Birmingham beauty-salon owner, even gets chided over his love life while having his blue jeans tailored.
Then there are the challenging assignments – like a pregnant bridesmaid that needs her dress altered to accommodate an ever-growing belly. She rarely turns a customer down, no matter what the job or time that they arrive on her doorstep.
“I did say no to someone once. He wanted me to put zippers in his Jeep top,” Popp says.
Peggendott Design Studio, 2684 Coolidge Hwy.; 248-586-1711