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Crafting a career one stitch at a time

1/20/2013

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

It's fashion on the farm for Crystal Armbrister, who balances her alteration business with family and a rural lifestyle in eastern Trego County.

A career in fashion design was a dream for Armbrister. But, at age 18, she put her goals on hold to learn the ins and outs of farming when she married Mark Armbrister.

From the farmhouse where five generations of Armbristers have grown up, Crystal Armbrister -- with a winning smile and a seemingly endless supply of energy -- recalled the path that brought her to start her own alteration business nestled amid rolling hills and cattle pens.

Mother of Logan, 10, and Morgan, 6, Armbrister traced her sewing career to 2006, when she informed Mark she wanted to make use of her sewing talents by pursuing a job with A Timeless Tradition Bridal Boutique in Ellis.

"I spent 14 years out here helping you get where you want to be, and I want to do my thing now," Armbrister said she remembered telling her husband. "So I did."

She found her niche at the boutique, altering bridal and bridal party dresses, rediscovering a joy for sewing she had experienced earlier in life. Although she took some sewing classes in high school, most of her expertise has been acquired by hands-on experience.

"I made most of my formal dresses in high school," she said. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, my friends are spending a couple of hundred dollars on their dresses. I can spend $50 on fabric and make my own, and I don't have to worry about anyone having the same dress.' "

When she put on her first creation, a navy blue satin one-shoulder knee-length dress, with a touch of hot-pink material peeking out the bottom of the skirt, she was hooked.

"I knew after I made this that I wanted to do it more," she said. "It was challenging, and the final result was so worth it."

With a self-described "short fuse," Armbrister said she is puzzled she has patience enough for sewing. And, to her, dealing with sometimes emotional brides is just part of the job.

"I understand they want everything perfect," she said, "and I don't blame them."

She left her position with the Ellis boutique more than a year ago, after the death of her father.

However, she was drawn back into what appears to be her destiny when a relative was making preparations for her August 2011 wedding. Armbrister pitched in to alter Sarah Couse's gown -- and through word of mouth her alteration business began to blossom.

Armbrister hemmed and added a lace-up back to Couse's dress, later finding other alterations needed to be made.

"She actually had to do a last-minute adjustment three days before the wedding, because apparently I had lost weight and it didn't fit," Couse said of her dress. "But it was awesome."

Working around a busy farming schedule doesn't seem to be a challenge for the flawlessly organized Armbrister, who makes it a point to keep harvest season open for her combine-operating duties.

Pointing out Belle and Cinderella princess gowns she created for her daughter and a sparkly snowball dress she is shortening for a client, Armbrister seemed in her element in her basement sewing room.

"I guess it doesn't feel like a job to me. It really doesn't," she said, laughing. "I don't know how to even explain it. It's just something fun for me to do, and if it's helping you out, then I guess you're happy, too."