May 10-16, 2002
Back Issues
U.Va. study reveals suburbs more dangerous than cities
Library acquires historic Cabell family papers, creates Web site highlighting the collection
Vendor fair set for May 22
Lyons named Guggenheim Fellow

Off the Shelf -- recently published books by U.Va. faculty and staff

Book puts architect’s work in focus
McGann receives first national award for digital humanities
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Interns to aid class tech projects
Milken Institute recognizes Turner
In Memoriam
Hot Links -- Summer Language Institute
Graduation weekend May 18-19
After Hours -- Edith Boateng-Conti
After Hours
Edith Conti
Office manager finds the right fit as a dressmaker on the side
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
From her booth at the Charlottesville City Market most Saturday mornings, Edith Conti displays her colorful, hand-made garments.

By Anne Bromley

Spring marks the busy season at House of Edith Conti’s Fashions. Her specialty is loose-fitting linen — dresses, blouses, pants and skirts. Conti also fashions casual business suits for women, which include a sleeveless shell of light handkerchief linen, with a long- or short-sleeved jacket. Spruce up the outfit with one of her tie-dyed silk scarves.

Edith Boateng-Conti is a dressmaker who keeps many women at U.Va. dressed in comfortable, bright-colored clothes suitable for work and after-hours. As office manager and the only full-time staff person, she is also the thread that holds together the University’s Interdisciplinary Studies in Women and Gender program.

“My goal is to make women as comfortable as possible in their clothes. As women, we have been so restricted in our clothes, holding this in or that in. I was raised in a culture where bigger (not necessarily fat) is better for women — it’s a status symbol,” said Conti, who is from Ghana.

She wanted to name her company The Comfort Zone — indicating her preference in style — but the name was already taken. Most of her clothes are made of 100 percent linen from the Garment District in New York, which she likes for its soft, slightly wrinkled look. She favors bright colors reminiscent of her homeland – turquoise, yellow, iridescent blue.

When she was a child, her aunt, Nana Karle, taught her to sew and gave her fabric scraps to practice stitches and make doll clothes. Conti didn’t return to it in earnest until she started working at the University almost six years ago and needed clothes for the office.

“I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts,” she said, adding that she also knits and does needlepoint.

It takes three to four hours for her to make a dress from cutting to finish. Conti doesn’t like to be rushed, however, and usually requires two weeks to fill an order.

After a while, people who complimented her clothes and found out she made them herself asked if she could make them dresses too. Now, in addition to word of mouth, Conti attracts customers by displaying her fashions at the Farmer’s Market. She’ll work steadily through spring and summer on roughly three orders at a time for clients in England and France, as well as those closer to home and in Northern Virginia. She also makes fleece baby blankets and winter accessories, plus toddler-size jackets in quilted cotton.

Her artistic talent lies in her bright colored tie-dyed silk scarves. In addition to creating long, rectangular ones tied-dyed in traditional African style, she prefers the shibori method, a Japanese style of tie-dying, where the material is folded over and over into about an inch square. Then dyes are injected into the folds, creating starburst patterns. She also makes scarves using fabric embossing, in which she stamps images such as seashells or flowers on a rayon material called silk velvet. She likes to keep learning new things, she said.

Over the years, Conti has held a wide range of jobs, from nanny to staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, and lived in Germany, Colorado, Honduras and Pennsylvania. She was an international studies major at UNC-Chapel Hill and has volunteered at Focus, the women’s resource center in town, and at U.Va.’s International Center.

The girl who grew up in the bustling city of Accra prefers the small-town life of Charlottesville. For now, she likes the balance of doing her two jobs.

“I like the difference. I enjoy working at the Studies in Women and Gender office. Then I can’t wait to get home, back to my sewing. That keeps me going, and then I don’t mind going back to the office. But the business is me. It’s what defines Edith.”


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