After 25 years at home, local seamstress opens up shop

  • Cynthia James in the back room, left, and in front of, right, her seamstress shop, Red Right Hand, on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

  • Cynthia James of Red Right Hand on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Cynthia James of Red Right Hand on Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls at the sewing machine. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2019 5:50:57 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Cynthia James’ 25-year career as a seamstress began at age 40, nearly by accident. Out and about about in Northampton, James ran into friend and noticed a tear in her coat.

“I said to her: ‘I can fix that for you, I’m really good at that,’” James said. “So, I did, and then, I don’t know, people just started calling me. It just had never ended since then, really.”

Northampton is a small city, she said, and word of her abilities quickly spread. Soon enough, she was making alterations for residents by appointment in her house and eventually, at a studio. After moving to Shelburne Falls six years ago, James rented a studio on Bridge Street.

Two months ago, James took a leap and opened her first shop, Red Right Hand, at 29 Bridge St. The store offers dress-making and alteration services and sells an array of hand-made clothes and local art.

“I’ve always worked just from home, by appointment,” James said. “This is the first time I have my own place.” 

James said she is most enjoying the social aspect of retail. 

“People come in and … we end up talking, and it’s really nice in that way,” James said. 

To James, creating an inviting atmosphere in the store was paramount. To achieve this, James made sure the store felt spacious, with clothing displayed against the walls, leaving the floor open and airy. 

“I wanted to create an atmosphere,” James said. “More than a retail store. That’s why you don’t see this all filled up with stuff.”

James was inspired to open a shop after noticing a retail space across the street was vacant. Though she admitted to feeling “some trepidation,” James said she’d thought about opening her own shop, and the space presented itself at the right time. She also has a business partner, Doug Sena, who she said has “pulled” her “along.” 

“Obviously it’s a venture that you’re going to have second thoughts,” James said. “’Should I really be doing this, is it OK, can I do this?’ That’s the big one: ‘Can I do this?’”

In addition to offering retail and dress-making services, James hopes the community will use her store in the evenings or days she is not there. 

“I want it to be available to the community in any way they may need it,” James said.  

On Saturday, James is holding an opening party 7 p.m. at the store, with performances by local musicians Frankie Rozelle and Tanya Bryant.  

A room in the back of her shop, cozily outfitted with wall-hangings and rugs, is available for community use. She imagines tarot readings and community meetings or events might be held in this space.

Before taking up sewing, James worked as a professional ballerina and dance teacher. Her career started early: as a teenager, James moved to London to dance in the city’s Royal Ballet School. Though at the end of her schooling, she became disillusioned with the competitive nature of the school and returned to the U.S.

After returning to the U.S., James didn’t stray too far from dance, finding work as a ballerina and teacher in Springfield. Today, James teaches dance lessons to children at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, she said.

“The ballet world, and the Royal Ballet School, is really stressful, it’s highly competitive, and it doesn’t sit well with me,” James said. “I’m not competitive … so I was really at that point, just like, I want to get a regular job, I want to live a regular life.”

All are welcome to attend the Red Right Hand opening party at the shop, 29 Bridge St., Saturday at 7 p.m.

Reach Grace Bird or 413-772-0261, ext. 280. 

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