Business profile - The French Seam
Last updated 9/4/2019 at 4:58pm | View PDF
Jeanne Walsh said unveiling her own alterations shop in 1987 as a 24-year-old woman was quite avante-garde for the time.
"There was a lot of talk of how young I was," Walsh recalled of the decision to open The French Seam. "There was a lot of uproar, which was good for me."
Good in that it compelled her to work that much harder to achieve customer satisfaction. And good in that she can now look back on more than 30 years in business in Hinsdale.
"The return business was shocking," she remarked. "I see people coming in more than monthly, maybe weekly sometimes. It's nice that you're able to work up that relationship."
Growing up with three brothers, Walsh discovered sewing and the fun of crafting her own innovative designs and expanding her wardrobe without paying store prices. She received a Singer sewing machine as an eighth-grade graduation present.
"I pretty much locked myself in my room and made a new outfit every day for school," Walsh said, smiling at the memory. "Not every day, but it was a very compulsive - 'I had to do this!' - kind of thing."
So skilled was she that her friends didn't believe the articles were her creations. After high school she studied fashion design at the College of DuPage under an instructor who pushed her to be her best.
"She knew that she needed to be harder on me to perfect my skill," Walsh said. "We were able to sew for ourselves and not models. That way we learned our body and different techniques that I'm still using today."
After working as a sewing teacher for Singer and in retail alterations, she decided to open a business of her own. Walsh's first space was in Clarendon Hills. Within a year she had outgrown it and up-sized to the second floor of 10 E. Hinsdale Ave., the building owned by her grandmother.
"I wanted my own bathroom and running water," she quipped. "I felt really lucky and fortunate to be in this space."
Of course, that made room for more customers.
"I was pretty much a workaholic after that. I loved it," Walsh said. "I would come in at 6 in the morning and probably work until midnight."
Some of her assignments have even had life-or-death implications, including making sure to use flame-retardant thread in repairing a race car driver's suit and taking in a professional parachuter's outfit.
Keeping pace with sartorial trends takes both a flexible attitude and confidence in her tried and true methods.
"I keep learning from designers, just taking things apart and putting things together," she said. "I have invented my own ways of altering to improve my technique and how I do things."
With internet search engines elevating her profile, her workload never ebbs.
"I'm a little bit too busy sometimes," she confided.
But the reward of delivering a repaired or renewed garment to someone who values it is worthwhile.
"If that customer is happy, that's what keeps me going," she said. "It's nice when people come up to you and compliment you on things you've done."