When Pam McRae’s daughter made the Azalea Trail Court, the proud mother had no idea how her life would change. Thirty years later, she is still sewing colorful Southern belle dresses. Underneath the hoopla, she has also formed lifelong relationships and special memories.
How did you get started creating these dresses?
I began with my daughter’s dress. Since then, I’ve had a continuous list of girls. If the maids and moms are happy, that’s the best advertisement.
What sets you apart from other dressmakers?
I have been on both sides of the fence. I treat the maids the way I would have wanted someone to treat my daughter and me. I have a small get-together, so the mothers and girls know each other. When they come to view the finished project, I put the maid’s dress near the front door, so they see it through the window when they arrive. I also host a tea at my home, and each girl invites 15 people to see her dress for the first time.
Take us through the creative and approval process.
I listen to what the maid wants and make samples, if necessary. For each dress, I use 75 yards of organza, 12 to 15 yards of taffeta, and approximately 10 yards of broadcloth for the hoop. We receive the standard color numbers for the required ribbon, and most dresses use at least 600 yards. Once I get the material, which the maids purchase from the Trail, I start with the hoop and pantaloons, which are required at first dress check. For second dress check, I create a slip, dress top and gauntlets, and I have their shoes dyed. At final dress check, I’ve added a skirt, cummerbund, bow with sash, dress skirt, hat, parasol, a second pair of pantaloons and cape.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve encountered as an Azalea Trail Maid seamstress?
Shortly after I started, I had identical twins. Each girl’s measurements were identical, and they wanted the same dress. One was blue and the other was lavender, but they were made just alike.
Is the job stressful?
I make five dresses in four months. You have to really love it to do it. It requires working many long hours on a deadline. You can’t have much of an outside life in the months leading up to final dress check. But I find it very rewarding to watch the material turn into a beautiful outfit and everyone is so excited. Once it gets in your blood, you don’t want to quit.
What’s the best dress advice you could give to prospective young Trail Maids?
I’ve helped four dressmakers get started, but being able to sew doesn’t make you qualified. The girls should get on a dressmaker’s list as soon as they go out for Trail, not after they are picked, because, by then, they are all booked.
Christy Dobson Reid