Pegg Johnson has been sewing her own show clothes since she was 10 years old.
“My parents bought my western clothes but we didn’t have a market to buy a saddle seat. I had to make my own,” she said. “That got me into making them. I stopped when I had kids.”
In her championship days, “If I wanted to show it, I had to make it — hunt seat, saddle seat, dressage. By that time, I was a single mom, with not enough budget for the clothes. I refused to get rid of the horses or give up the shows.” With three daughters competing and a son in rodeo, she made all their clothes.
“People started asking me to make custom clothing, and asked me where I got all my silks and rhinestones, and patterns.” Based in Brown City, MI, she started her first business, Pegg’s Custom Clothing. Going on the road as a vendor for 15 years sprouted her interest in helping small business owners create their own clothing. In 2000 she segued into her second business, Show Clothes Unlimited.
She gave a presentation on Sewing Your Own Show Clothes and What is Required at November’s Equine Affaire.
“When I started sewing my kid’s clothing, people wouldn’t show me how to do it. They told me home machines wouldn’t do it — that’s a lie. You need to sew a straight seam,” said Johnson. All people need to get started is a basic, no frills, sewing machine.
“My first machine doesn’t do zig-zag. I’m still sewing with the machine my grandmother gave me when I was 10 years old. It’s a standard household machine, with a walking foot, straight stitch.” Now she’s 64, and her beloved Nelco brand machine is also used by her own granddaughter.
“Start with what you can afford, build up to what you want.” Basics are scissors, seam ripper, thread and tape measure. Add in fabric, zippers, rhinestones, applique, interfacing, and sewing pattern. No matter your beginning, basic sewing skills are transferrable to western wear.
“Everything you do with show clothing has to be based on measurements,” with no fudging. “It can be done and done economically,” said Johnson.
“My first word of caution: never skimp on your clothing. Start with a good base; if you have a good fabric, you have a good garment,” said Johnson.
The fabric speaks for itself. With fabrics that come already glittered, beware. You can buy already glittered fabrics, but with some of them, the glitter falls off by the time of the show. “If you pick it up and tons of glitter drops on the floor, don’t buy it.”
With gluing, the aim is to have the glue adhered well and last a long time. She recalled one jacket where the jacket was shot, but it had been glued with, “tons and tons of amethyst rhinestones. I hand-picked off the rhinestones, couldn’t bear to throw them away.”
Clothes and their color can increase the rider’s chances in the ring. Recalling one rider, “She went from never being seen to coming in 1st and 2nd by changing her chaps. Don’t fade into the background; she changed her dark colored chaps to light blue.”
In April 2016, Johnson launched her own pattern line under Show Clothes Unlimited, added to her instructional books and DVDs, flat-backed crystals for better adhering, a line of glues, and sewing retreats planned next year in Michigan and in Bentley, MA. Her first pattern was western show chaps. Since then, she’s added a back-zip horsemanship shirt, front zip pleasure shirt, vest and a soon-to-be-released showmanship/all day jacket pattern.
Though people shy away from it, Johnson works with spandex.
“I’m a very tactile person, have to feel the fabric,” and maintains a continuously updated book of fabric swatches, noting each swatch’s components, such as containing 97 percent polyester, and three percent lycra. Maintaining such records, “Can save you a lot of heartache.”
With applique, she might use overlapping layers to create a certain look. Ultra-suede leather and vinyl are the most popular. She stressed that you need a fabric that won’t fray. For a vinyl transfer, cut it out and affix it with a household iron. She likes to sew hers down.
Rhinestones need to be put on with epoxy, best used in a syringe, with gauge controls controlling the amount of glue that goes onto the garment. Many people put glue on toothpicks and then put the rhinestones down. As glue needs 24 hours to dry, allowing time to let it dry is sometimes tricky if you are running on deadline and your show is the next day.
The key is to get the glue into the fiber to get the strongest adhering, plus you want to glue the flat-backed crystals, or any gems, on only once.
Johnson is patient, easy to understand and wants everyone to succeed.
For more information visit www.showclothesunlimited.com or call 810-346-2305.