“I have enjoyed a wonderful life in this sewing industry. I look forward to many happy years of watching it from the sidelines as I continue down roads less traveled.” – Lezette Thomason
Lezette Thomason is a name that is synonymous with sewing for children. She is considered a legend in the sewing industry with her success in the founding of her sewing business, Children’s Corner. When Children’s Corner opened in the summer of 1978 as a retail shop, the specialties were English smocking, French heirloom sewing, and classically tailored garments for little girls and boys. Custom orders kept the four original owners very busy. The first two bank loans the company acquired were for $500 each to purchase French lace and Swiss trims from M. E. Feld and Swiss batiste from H. W. Giger. After a few months, demands changed when ladies that smock and stitch wanted to sew for their children themselves. Children’s Corner evolved into a shop for fine heirloom sewing supplies and custom orders.
By the first winter, more mothers wanted to learn to smock, embroider, and stitch heirloom garments by hand. Classes became a weekly event at Children’s Corner. Ladies purchased fabric and traced off their brown paper patterns. By the spring of 1979, they realized there was a demand for classic patterns for children’s clothes—not just in Nashville but at other heirloom shops. They sold patterns at the very first SAGA convention in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. More and more retail shops opened, and they wanted new patterns, so Children’s Corner ladies were very busy putting out new designs and raising their own kids, who had beautiful handmade clothes.
Children’s Corner really started growing in the early 1980s. Lezette says, “I remember 1983 as being a banner year not only for sales but for the market as a whole as there was such a renewed interest in heirloom, smocking, and construction techniques. Classes became very popular. It was a time between public schools offering little education in the stitching arts and the time when a person can learn anything on the Internet.”
During this time, Children’s Corner also developed its incredible relationship with Elizabeth Travis Johnson, who had taught children’s sewing at Watkins Institute in Nashville for 37 years. Elizabeth had drafted all the sizes of dozens of classic designs. This began a fabulous relationship with a talented designer and teacher. “It is impossible to describe how much Mrs. Johnson taught me through those wonderful years with her,” Lezette says. The last years of Elizabeth’s life were spent as a resident in a lovely retirement center as her health had declined. On one occasion Lezette had a giant centerpiece of fresh flowers from a bridal shower and decided to take them to Elizabeth. When she entered Elizabeth’s room, she found her asleep in her bed looking beautiful in pale blue satin and lace. She placed the flowers on the tray positioned across her bed and touched her shoulder to awaken her. Her eyes popped open and got very large when she saw the flowers. Then, turning to her (never at a loss for witty words), she said, “Oh Lezette, I thought I had died and that was my pall!” Lezette’s last visit with a grand lady that she adored will always be remembered.
So many shops opened during the first 10 to 12 years of the Children’s Corner history. These new owners were hungry for information on what was available for them to sell in their shops. “People were good about sharing information,” Lezette says. “I remember when Children’s Corner first discovered Spechler-Vogel. Found in an ad in Women’s Wear Daily for Imperial Broadcloth and Imperial Batiste, it was a gold mine of wonderful fabric. We didn’t hide this information. We shared it.”
As their children grew, so did Children’s Corner. Lezette taught in Nashville from the beginning for the company, but when her daughter, Anne Friedland, was in high school, Lezette took to the road, teaching in heirloom shops, for sewing guilds, occasionally abroad, and at 49 Martha Pullen schools. “I missed one school in 1997 when I went with Bernina to teach in Australia,” shares Lezette, who stopped teaching in 2013.
“Junior High math students taught me that I better know what I was talking about and the great importance of maintaining control in the classroom,” says Lezette speaking of the influencers in her teaching. Kathy McMakin, through her own teaching, showed Lezette how important patience and sweetness are in the classroom, and Susan York McCoy taught her that the classroom needed to be a bit lighthearted with times of humor.
Advertisement was by word of mouth. It was this sharing that developed close bonds with the owners of the retail stores. The shops have come and gone over the years, but there are lasting friendships to this day that Lezette shares with so many of those people. Today she keeps in touch on Facebook: Sew Classic for Children, a group for sharing and learning.
On October 28, 2015, Lezette and her business partner of 37 years, Ginger Caldwell, sold The Children’s Corner Pattern Company to Emily Douglas and Karen Gooch. These two vibrant and intelligent women had purchased the retail store several years previously. “We passed the torch to brilliant young mothers who respected the tradition of four decades and wanted to continue this timeline with equal caring but a more modern approach by breathing new life into a treasured relic,” Lezette says with great pride. In her 37-year partnership with Ginger Caldwell, Lezette says they never had a quarrel—making that a fine legacy in itself.
“I am not sure how many patterns we produced in 37 years, probably about 200-plus books, smocking designs, prepackaged corded piping, and other dibbles and dabbles over the years. One hard thing to learn was to not get my feelings hurt if a design was not a hit,” Lezette shares.
Her favorite part of the business was the excitement that came with being part of an idea that grew and flourished. “We were filled with inspiration and young enough to have the drive to get it done,” Lezette says. Another important part through the years has been the close-knit friendships that grew within the Children’s Corner family, some even closer than family members.
Now that she is retired, there is her on-going project of reorganizing her sewing room to which she sees no end. “Michael and a friend have recently built me a Navajo loom for weaving small rugs. I have been collecting Churro wool from the Southwest and now drool over it just as I drool over my collection of Liberty of London fabrics and my cotton batiks. My husband is thrilled that I have stopped collecting china,” Lezette shares.
Read more in our Summer 2016 Issue