I Tried to Make It Good for My Child
By Minnie M. Evans
1234 E St. NE
Mrs. Evans, 80, has lived in her house on E Street since 1952, and she raised her daughter, Mrs. Delores Holly, there. We spoke in her dining room about her life as a seamstress, a career she began as a child.
I was born in Martinsville, Virginia. My mother died when I was a year old. My father died when I was 14, I think it was. I stayed there in Martinsville for a little while.
I began to look for work. Got me a job. I went up to a place there in Martinsville called Jobbers Pants Factory. And this man, Mr. John, I think he was a Jewish guy which that don't matter he was so nice to me. I used to go up there every morning, with grown women. I was a child, looking for a job. And every morning, as I say, I'd go up there, and we would stand in the line for a job. I was the only child, standin' in line for a job. So on this particular morning, Mr. John came out, and he was rough-talkin', you know? And he said, "Girl you want a job?" I said, "Yes, sir." And he said to the other girls this was women, all women he said, "Go home! I ain't got nothin' for you to do." And they all went home, and he kept me. And that's where I learned to sew!
Young people laugh. This was a factory he would come over, and he'd say, "What was all that noise?" Or something like that. "It was her!" And he'd say, "You all stop that noise." `Cause he had set me and another child that was working there he had set us together, and we was playing like children. But he never got at us about a thing. He was always so nice to us.
Was that with a sewing machine?
That was with a sewing machine. He started us out just sewin' on scraps just anything you want, he gave it to us, to sew.
Just to practice?
Just practice, you know, using the machine. And then, later on, when I learned how to use the machine, he gave me a part to work, in the pants. I think I was makin' the watch pocket. And the fly some little thing that I was makin'. And then, after I made that, somebody would pick it up, and sew it onto the pants, and the pants went right on down the line, I guess about 25 or 30 people. But when it got to the end, it was finished. And the person would grab that thing, and put it in a box, and it was ready for sale! From there, I came here.
What did you do once you came to Washington?
Once I was here, I lived with my sister for a while, and then after I lived with my sister for a while my brother-in-law was a dirty kind of man, tryin' to do dirty things to me so I went back home [to Martinsville], and I stayed for a while.
Then I came back [to Washington], and by me knowin' how to sew, I could do jobs sewing, in factories and in different places. And later on, when I learned how to make slipcovers and draperies and bedspreads, and things like that, I earned enough money, and then I came here and bought this place.
And then, when you started living here in this house, you did slipcovers and things like that?
Well, I had learned to make slipcovers and different things, so when things got hard you know, it was just my daughter and I when things got hard so we couldn't make it, I put me an ad in the paper: "Minnie Evans. Custom-made slipcovers and draperies." I just put an ad in the paper, and I would get all the work I wanted. My basement was stacked. After I learned how to sew, I didn't have to suffer for things, `cause I know how to do these things. I could make things. I made all my child's clothes. But at the same time, I was workin' somewhere else. So I was workin' day and night to stay in here. Lord have mercy.
People would they come from all over the city?
From anyplace. I had a friend, and he bought me a car, and I was able to go about and do what I wanted to do.
So you'd go pick up stuff, and bring it back here and work on it?
Yeah. I would go and get the fabric, and go over there, and I would cut it in their home, and bring it home, and make it, and I would take it back. And I never had but one woman who didn't pay me. Just one woman. Always got my money.
These days, people don't sew as much as they used to, do they?
They sew, but they sew in a store somewhere somebody's getting' a lot of money, and they gettin' a little bit. So the way I was doing, I wasn't gettin' a lot, but you know at the same time I was workin' in the factories and doin' things I was gettin' enough to pay my bills. But if I had just been working on these checks that people had given me, I wouldn't have had enough to pay my bills. Although I was able to do things for myself. Like I said, my daughter's clothes I made them all. And different things like that. So that helped a lot. `Cause you go buy a dress I could go downtown and get a little piece of material for two, three dollars, and make her a dress, you know?
When I came here to live, Delores was young, and I would tell her what to do and everything I didn't leave nobody with her. Sometime I'd go out to work in the morning, and I would work from 7 to 4, or something, and then I'd go from that job to another job, and sometime I'd be late comin' home, and I'd tell her what to do, and I'd call her, I'd say, "What are you doin', honey?" "Watching TV," or something like that, and she was happy as she could be!
But now, they would take her away from me, if they knew it. But they didn't know it then, because I'd tell her, "Don't let nobody in this house. This is your house while I'm gone."
They'd take the child away from me now. Instead of taking a young mother's children away from her when they are decent because I know I was a decent person I think it would've been a shame for them to come in and take my baby. And I think they should try to help people, if something's not goin' right you shouldn't take a child.
When you worked for people, how did they treat you?
Oh, people treated me wonderfully! I went to see a lady one time I had worked all day, and I had a job to do for her, and I went out and did her job, but when I got there, she said, "Miss, I know you haven't eaten anything. Come right in here."
She took me to a table, and set me up in her dining room. I never had no color problem with anybody. Everybody treated me nice. When I'd go out to people's houses, most of `em would call me Mrs. Evans. I think the only thing that makes people have a color problem just like if you have a mother, and she teaches you a lot of foolish stuff. Then you hold onto it, call people "niggers" and stuff like that. But I didn't ever meet those kinds of people. I met the nicest people in the world. Everybody treated me nice, when I went to their homes.
Mrs. Robinson was my buddy. She lived over in Georgetown. When we got short of work, Delores would say to me, "Momma, why don't you call Mrs. Robinson?" Every time when I was low of work and needed some money, I called Mrs. Robinson. "Mrs. Robinson, this is Mrs. Evans." I said, "You need anything done?"
She said, "Yes, Mrs. Evans! I have some so-and-so I want made." I never called her and she didn't give me something to do. But I think she felt sorry for me, `cause she knew what was going you know, what I mean she knew I was in the home by myself, with a child. She was the nicest lady. And so as far as color and stuff like that's concerned, I ain't never had none of that kind of problem. Everybody treat me nice. And I don't remember but one woman I don't even remember her name she wouldn't call me "Mrs."
She would call you what?
Minnie. But everybody else called me Mrs. Evans. But you see, I didn't pay it no mind. As long as she paid me for what I wanted to do, she could call me nothin', if she wanted to! (Laughs). But that's the truth. But Mrs. Robinson was my buddy. Now, I guess, she's dead, because she was an elderly lady, like myself. She was elderly then, and I was still real young. I was saying the other day, if Mrs. Robinson was living, I'd go see her.
How did you find clients?
I put me an ad in the paper! And people would call me!
And you would put the ad in every few weeks? Or just one time?
Just whenever I needed money. Like, if I'm working now, and I see my work was getting low, and I needed some money, I just put me an ad in the paper. I never put one in there that I didn't get an answer from it. `Cause all people wanna know, when they get to know you, is that you do nice work. That's all they want.
What's it like to sew? What's going on in your head? Does it get tedious?
No! I love to sew! I love to make things, now. I had planned to start making children's clothes. And I said I was going to start something like a college fund for the children, with the money I make out of the clothes.
Now that's what I wanted to do, and then I got sick here [congestive heart failure, last week], but I'm still gonna do it! I don't want to just sit somewhere and mold away. (Laughs.) I thought maybe I'd have a little fashion show with the children. I just figured that I would make things, and I'd try to make the money go for the education of children. That's what I had planned.
Would you ever think about teaching people how to sew? Like, they would come and pay you to learn how to sew?
That would be nice, too. That would be a nice thing to teach people to sew, wouldn't it? If I was gonna teach anything, I'd teach draperies and pillows, bedspreads, and things like that.§