Reweaving favorite garments to life New entrepreneur preserves old craft

JACQUES KELLY

May 28, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

A venerable downtown cloth weaving business seemed headed for the rag pile until Helen Sarafidis came along.

This resourceful woman has given her Baltimore Weaving a new life in new quarters in upper Fells Point.

Thanks to the care and patience of her staff, many a prized overcoat, pair of pants or cherished tablecloth is almost as good as new.

"People are so relieved to find out that this nearly extinct service is still available," she says at the cozy neighborhood shop she opened at 2029 Bank St. several months ago.

She rescued a specialty business established in 1919 in the 200 block of W. Saratoga St.

That firm, something of a downtown landmark, was known as Reliable Weaving.

It was owned by Bud Weiner, who decided to retire in 1992. He sold the business and customer base to Ms. Sarafidis.

"It was a funny thing," she recalls. "I had been laid off at Westinghouse.

"A close friend, who was a lawyer and who was a customer of Mr. Weiner's, suggested I take over his business. That is how it started."

After a brief tenure on Broadway, she relocated to her present shop, a former dry cleaning establishment, paneled inside with knotty pine, at Bank and Castle streets. It is a classic East Baltimore store, with a Formstone facade -- there's a metal plaque from the 1940s at testing to the Formstone -- and painted screens on some of the upstairs windows.

"People like to come to this neighborhood. It is safe and there is parking," Ms. Sarafidis says as she glances westward along Bank Street and waves to several elderly women who have placed lawn chairs on the sidewalk and are conversing in their native Polish.

Neighbors still drop off their dry cleaning here -- the actual cleaning is done elsewhere -- and she accommodates the local trade with small alteration jobs as well.

"I'm not in a position to turn down any income," she says.

A typical weaving customer, she says, is a man who has a favorite suit or coat that he just won't discard.

She says she has rewoven World War II Navy topcoats and repaired wallet holes.

"Men's wallets literally wear holes in their pants," Ms. Sarafidis says. "That is a common repair for us."

She rewove a pair of drapes chewed up by a dog. The owner brought the drapes back again when the dog lunched on them a second time.

For so many years, this curious service business has been the refuge of last resort for snagged sweaters and moth-eaten trousers.

Clothing store owners seek its help when customers accidentally rip garments while trying them on.

Garment manufacturers use weaving firms when a completed

suit is found to have a flaw in the fabric.

People who buy a new outfit and rush to rip off the price tags often find they tear the fabric too. Ms. Sarafidis does a good business repairing the threads snagged by overly aggressive tag-yanking.

"It is very tedious work and needs concentration and to be able to sit on a chair for long periods of time," she says.

"My husband compares it to computer programming. Only everything is done by hand.

"Weaving takes time and is not cheap. I'd like to find some more people who I could train to work. When they find out how much time it takes, they often leave and become waitresses."

Ms. Sarafidis has lived in the United States since 1965, when she came to this country as a student from Greece. After studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she worked for Price Modern, an office equipment firm, Maryland Casualty and Westinghouse.

She and her husband, Gani Houahri, an appliance salesman who was born in Damascus, Syria, reside in the Medfield neighborhood off Falls Road.

"It's funny how things come back to you," Ms. Sarafidis says. "I acquired skills that I didn't know I had. I recall the seamstresses that came to our house in Greece.

"I helped out as a child. I never learned weaving at home but I was familiar with the process."

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