manager finds the right fit as a dressmaker on the side
by Andrew Shurtleff
her booth at the Charlottesville City Market most Saturday
mornings, Edith Conti displays her colorful, hand-made garments.
marks the busy season at House of Edith Contis 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.
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 Universitys Interdisciplinary
Studies in Women and Gender program.
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 its a status symbol,
said Conti, who is from Ghana.
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.
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 didnt return to it in earnest until she started working
at the University almost six years ago and needed clothes for
always enjoyed arts and crafts, she said, adding that she
also knits and does needlepoint.
takes three to four hours for her to make a dress from cutting
to finish. Conti doesnt like to be rushed, however, and
usually requires two weeks to fill an order.
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 Farmers Market. Shell 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.
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,
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 womens
resource center in town, and at U.Va.s International Center.
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.
like the difference. I enjoy working at the Studies in Women and
Gender office. Then I cant wait to get home, back to my
sewing. That keeps me going, and then I dont mind going
back to the office. But the business is me. Its what defines