Barbara W. Ball, 76, designed, sewed and altered clothing


Barbara W. Ball, a clothing designer and seamstress whose handmade garments were esteemed by four decades of customers, died of emphysema Sunday at Northwest Hospital Center. The Reisterstown resident was 76.

She was born and raised Barbara White in Seal Cove, Newfoundland, one of nine children. She learned sewing from her mother, and it became a pastime to offset the long, dreary Canadian winters.

In the late 1940s, she met and fell in love with Shirley P. Ball, who was serving with the U.S. Air Force in Newfoundland. They married in 1948, and five years later moved to his hometown of Baltimore.

They settled on LaPlata Avenue in Medfield, where in 1960 Mrs. Ball began designing and sewing clothes for women and men.

"She would take a measure, put a sheet on the floor and cut a pattern. She worked that fast," said her daughter, Maggie "Frankie" Ball-Fask, owner of Spirit of India, a Reisterstown shop that specializes in textiles, clothing, jewelry and architectural salvage from India.

"She handmade exquisite wedding gowns and enhanced the wardrobes of many clients who were fortunate enough to stumble upon the best-kept secret in Baltimore. Her handwork was meticulous, and she relished the creative process in every piece of work," the daughter said.

"Her work was incredible. She'd walk into a boutique, have them show her wedding gowns, and then go home and draw a pattern and make it," said Rosalie Corliss, a friend of 50 years. "She would hand-bead wedding gowns which took hours and hours. She had that much patience. People heard about her work by word of mouth, and once they came, they came back repeatedly."

The final arc of Mrs. Ball's needle was to sew into the back of each of her dresses, suits, wedding gowns, skirts or men's suits a label that said: "Barbara Creations."

"She was very creative and could do anything," said longtime customer Patricia T. Lombardo of Mount Vernon, for whom Mrs. Ball made suits, skirts and jackets. "She could design the most elaborate wedding gown or fix a garment after you gained 15 pounds. What she did was design and make classic clothes, and the quality was exceptional. And as far as she was concerned, everything had to be just perfect."

Mrs. Ball was an avid gardener. "She dragged boulders twice her weight to encircle her beloved gardens. Motorists would slow down in front of her LaPlata Avenue home to enjoy the sight of her amazing bank of purple phlox in spring and her circle of tulips and grape hyacinth around the dogwood trees," her daughter said.

Mrs. Ball ended her dressmaking career five years ago when emphysema began taxing her strength and she was no longer able to sit for hours at her sewing machine.

"The last dress she made was my wedding dress," her daughter said.

For the past two years, Mrs. Ball had lived in Reisterstown with her husband, a retired Domino Sugar heavy-equipment mechanic.

Mrs. Ball was a communicant of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, Hickory Avenue and 37th Street in Hampden, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Also surviving are a son, Phillip J. Ball of Westover; two brothers, Adain White and Raymond White, and a sister, Eileen White, all of Newfoundland; and a grandson.

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