MANATEE -- As Lisa Ritchey found out, there are only so many things you can wear a black pirate shirt to.
"You get a big, yucky T-shirt that I'm not ever, ever going to wear and it's how can I take this and turn it into something I can actually wear," she said inside her sewing room Tuesday.
The Bradenton resident is taking the hobby she learned as a child from her great-grandmother into a business by upcycling clothes from yard sales and thrift stores into new fashions. She calls it Altered St8 Couture. She started an Etsy store online to sell her clothes from her sewing room inside her Bradenton apartment.
It's taken awhile to get enough inventory of old clothes to stock her business.
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"I've been collecting T-shirts for three years with the idea of wanting to do this, and finally this summer, I decided I got to start somewhere to make it happen," said Ritchey, who credits her great-grandmother for getting her into sewing as a child. "If I don't have time, I'll find time to do it."
Several of her patterns feature part of jeans or jean shorts sewn into other fabric to make skirts, ideally for the beach or a night out. One of her first creations were her so-called "flirty skirts" that mash up several patterns for loungewear or for fun.
"Really just things that catch my eye that sparks a creative interest," she said.
Her items range from $18 for casual shirts, $45 for flirty skirts to $65 for the full-length skirts.
She bought a new Janome sewing machine to handle her orders and is using a Singer Serger that takes four spools of thread to make decorative seams. She's loaded with drawers of buttons, sewing needles and thread to craft the perfect piece. If she can't figure it out, she'll find a way to make a skirt or shirt, being largely self-taught to create one-of-a-kind clothes for girls of all ages.
"Some things might take a half an hour and some things especially the first time will take two or three hours," she said, admitting she will hit a dead end every once in awhile, or is waiting for the right piece to be paired.
Her time with the Anna
Maria Island Privateers has also given her a built-in customer base, she said, helping fellow volunteer pirates find new use of their buccaneer-blazoned blouses.
Ritchey's friend Kelly Sparkman has been a regular customer since they met through the Privateers. Sparkman has held onto old Levi's from high school and baby clothes from her 18-year-old son that Ritchey was able to make into new pieces for Sparkman's family.
"What I saw what she was cutting them into, I went crazy," she said. "I like the idea you can bring a piece of clothing you have and may like a certain design on the T-shirt but don't necessarily want it as a T-shirt. She can transform it into anything."
Sparkman has another order on the way reusing some Privateers garb.
For now, Ritchey is finding more sewing time because the commercial real estate brokerage she worked at is downsizing and Ritchey was laid off as an administrative assistant. While she would love to do her online business full time one day, she's out searching for leads for her next steady job. Until then, she said she'll have plenty of time to keep sewing to build her business.
"It's nice to be able to take what you like to do and make things and make people happy," she said.
Find Altered State online at etsy.com/shop/alteredst8couture.com or contact Ritchey at AlteredSt8Couture@gmail.com.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.