Newburgh woman sews ‘twirl factor’ into little girls’ dresses

Photo by Ardeana Hamlin Sue Hopkins of Newburgh, in the basement of her house where she does her sewing, shows two of the dresses she makes for little girls in sizes 2 to 5.

Photo by Ardeana Hamlin
Sue Hopkins of Newburgh, in the basement of her house where she does her sewing, shows two of the dresses she makes for little girls in sizes 2 to 5.

NEWBURGH, Maine — When Sue Hopkins of Newburgh retired last April from her job as secretary in the Hampden Academy guidance office, she had no problem figuring out what she wanted to do next. She wanted to sew.

At her retirement party at the school, her colleagues, knowing of her love of sewing, showered her with gifts of fabric and items related to sewing, which helped add inches to the fabric she already had stored in neatly folded stacks on shelves in her basement sewing room.

Hopkins recently launched her custom handmade children’s clothing sewing business, called Little Loves in honor of her two granddaughters and one grandson. She refers to her three grandchildren, with a fourth on the way, as her “little loves.”

“I always sewed for my daughter,” Hopkins said. And before that, as a teenager, she sewed for herself making her own prom dresses in the 1970s and even the gowns her bridesmaids wore at her wedding.

“I still have the Singer sewing machine I had in high school,” she said. She still sews with with Singer, this time with a Singer Talent machine.

Hopkins sews dresses for little girls in sizes 2 through 5, though she will sew larger sizes by special order.

“All my fabric came from Marden’s,” she said. “It’s good, good fabric, one hundred percent cotton. The clerk’s at Marden’s are so nice. They always ask me to bring something I’ve made to show them.”

The line of dresses Hopkins creates are made according to Simplicity, McCalls or Butterick patterns. Some of the dresses have pantaloons that coordinate with the dress fabric — fine stripes might be paired with a floral print, for example. The dresses have an exuberant flair that is both playful and little-girl elegant, with colors in orange, purple, green, pink, blue and black and white.

Most of the dresses have a “twirl factor,” Hopkins said, meaning that the skirts are flared enough so that when a little girl, spins in a circle, the dress sails out around her in a pretty swirl.

Currently, Hopkins is in the planning stages of making new dresses for her granddaughters to wear on Thanksgiving Day and on Christmas Day, a total of four. The dresses will have incorporated into them lengths of tulle that once was part of the underpinning of Hopkins’ wedding dress. Some the remainder of the wedding dress was cut up  a while back and made into a christening dress for one of her granddaughters.

Because her sewing room doesn’t have room for a cutting table, Hopkins cuts out the dresses on the pool table  which occupies space in another part of the finished basement. She cuts multiple dresses at a time so there is always one waiting to be sewn.

“Somedays I sew all day, or part of the day, depending on the weather,” Hopkins said. When the weather is fine, she likes to be outside gardening or doing yard work. Thus, her sewing schedule is shaped on her own terms.

It takes approximately 2 yards or less of fabric for each dress Hopkins creates. Her inspiration for what the dress will look like when it is finished comes from the fabrics. The skirts of the dresses are fashioned with French seaming so that no raw edges are visible. The bodices also have finished seams to keep ravels away. Some necklines and sleeves are gathered using baby elastic. Other bodices have little straps that thread through buttonholes and are knotted in place. Hems are machine stitched, making the dresses durable enough for summer romps on the lawn. Yet, the dresses are very feminine — many are embellished with ruffles, gathers and interesting buttons.

“I’m not one to throw away [leftover] fabric,” Hopkins said. “I never know when I might need a little piece.” Those little pieces might become ruching or ruffling at the hems of the pantaloons, for example.

Hopkins is in the process of making purple and white dresses in a zig-zag print. These are for little girls to wear to Hampden Academy basketball games. Each dress sports a basketball button. Purple and white are the academy’s colors.

“The biggest influence on my sewing was my grandmother Evans who worked at Sears in Bangor making custom draperies,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins will be a vendor at a craft fair that will be held 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the former Newburgh School on Route 9 in Newburgh.

Photos of her dresses can be viewed on Facebook.

For information,  call 207-234-4356 or email