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Cedar Mill News

Volume 10, Issue 11
November 2012

extFeatured Business
The Madhatter GHQ
by Virginia Bruce

Imagine starting a business two weeks after graduating from high school, and continuing in the same location for nearly 30 years! That’s one way to describe Ramona Ruhr’s The Madhatter Custom Sewing, Mending and Alterations. The small shop, located in the Milltowner Shopping Center courtyard (near Walgreens) is a fixture in Cedar Mill and a favorite of everyone who needs to get a little sewing done.

One of the Bazoongi Kids play structure prototypes

Ramona started the business as a gift shop. She’d been making jewelry for various boutiques around the area while she was still in school. Two weeks after graduating from Lincoln High, she rented the space from Odus Bales. Bales Thriftway was still located in the large building that’s now occupied by Walgreens, and Foster’s Dinette (later the Hobbitt and various others) was next door. “Mr. Bales didn’t want to rent to me at first because I was so young, but my father came in and talked to him and assured him I could handle it,” she recalls.

She sold consigned items in the gift store, which continued for about ten years. “One of my customers found out I could sew, and asked me to do some work for her. I just started doing more sewing, and eventually I bought a professional machine for the shop.” She acquired other, more specialized machines to be able to accomplish the professional-quality work she insists on. Eventually the gift part of the business just didn’t seem important.

She handles almost every kind of sewing. She can create original designs from photos or patterns for most types of clothing. She can repair almost anything, including upholstery, stuffed animals, purses and belts. She does all kinds of alterations, including “about 13 hems every day!”

Buttons the Clown outfitted by Ramona

She creates prototypes for manufacturers, and has helped several local people getting started in business. One local business that got started with her help is Bazoongi Kids. An entrepeneur came in with an idea for a line of fabric play structures and sleeping bags. Ramona made up the prototypes, and the company took off, now selling their products worldwide.

When Norm Thompson headquarters was located in Hillsboro, they brought several huge projects to Madhatter. One involved removing and replacing incorrect labeling on 1000 items of clothing. The labels had the wrong washing instructions, and had to be corrected and taken back to customs for approval. Another time, she and some helpers sewed about 2500 snaps that were falling off.

She has taught upholstery, and can renovate and recover furniture, boats, RVs and other applications. She created all the upholstery for the renovation of the Hobbitt restaurant in 2004. She also makes custom duvet covers and other bedding.

Customers sometimes come in with sports apparel that they want to modify. “They get ideas about how to make something work better,” she says. “Maybe a shorter zipper, or another fastener, or letting out or taking in a seam.”

Her prices are very reasonable. Hemming for a pair of jeans is $10, pants with cuffs are $15. Lengthening or shortening coat or jacket cuffs is about $20. There’s no extra charge for a rush job, but “people often tip me a little something if they appreciate the quick service,” she says.

Specialty machines allow Ramona to perform high-quality work: at left is a cover-stitch machine for hemming and stitching on knits and fleece; center is a commercial blind-stitch machine for nearly-invisible hems; right is a serger that creates bound seams.

Over the years she has created hundreds of wedding dresses, prom dresses, christening gowns and costumes. She can also make expert alterations to these special-occasion items so that they fit perfectly and are comfortable to wear. “I had to cut down the bodice for a wedding dress for a customer who was 4’9”. It came out great and she looked lovely,” Ramona recalls. “I try to be conscious of the little things, such as the way a wedding dress looks from the back, because that’s what people will be looking at during the ceremony. You also have to be careful not to make the bridesmaid dresses too short, so that they can be comfortable moving around in them.”

got patches?

It’s gotten a lot harder in recent years to find fabrics for original designs. “JoAnn is good for craft materials, and there’s the Mill Ends Store, and Fabric Depot. For specialty items, I used to use Oregon Tailor Supply, now I get upholstery materials and sports fabrics from Rose City Textiles. If I still can’t find what I want, Britex is a mail-order supplier,” she explains.

In addition to the flexibility she enjoys by having her own business, and the variety of projects that come in, Ramona really enjoys her customers. She’s kept up with many of them as they grow up, get married, and have families. And people often stop in just to chat as she works. “We’ve really been part of each others’ lives over the years,” she says.

She’s often accompanied in the shop by one or more of her dogs, a lab, and a rescued lab cross. The lab cross sometimes barks ferociously when you approach the shop, but is very friendly once you enter.

A fleece shirt finished with the cover-stitch machine

At home, she also has a couple of rescued cats, and a quarter horse and a pony. She has always loved animals. “My grandfather had burros and horses. When I would visit, he’d give me a bucket of grain and a rope halter and show me how to catch a horse to ride. I remember riding when I was only six years old. My mother was appalled when she found out, but I loved it!”

Her family moved to a rural home on Springville Road when she was young, and she still lives there with her mother, who now has failing health and requires 24-hour care.

Madhatter GHQ is located at 12505 NW Cornell in the courtyard area of the Milltowner Center. The shop is open Monday to Saturday, after about 1 pm and until 6 pm. Occasionally Ramona needs to care for her mother, but there’s usually a note on the door explaining her absence. Call Ramona Ruhr at 503-643-3772 for more information.



zippers   indian
She buys zipper tape in 300-yard rolls and inserts the tabs as needed   The wooden Indian was a Christmas gift from her mother


Ramona created all the upholstery for the Hobitt



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Published monthly by Pioneer Marketing & Design
Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291
© 2012