Wind Beneath My Wings: Turn of the Century Seamstress
This past February the producers for the NBC pilot "Frontier" ordered a significant amount of 19th Century clothing from a Montana woman, Elaine Bridge. The filming is taking place currently on location in Australia. The Corvallis resident sewed four buckskin coats, seven buckskin pants, belts, shirts and 16 aprons as well as other miscellaneous items for the producers.
At a picnic table outside in the spring sunshine Elaine shared her story. Elaine's story and style are so similar to pioneer diaries that give a glimpse into real authentic women that persevered against the odds.
The book More Than Petticoats, about remarkable Montana women, by Gayle C. Shirley could also contain Elaine's story and pioneer spirit. "There are unwritten chapters in the history of every new settlement, which no pen will ever write, but could they be written, they would tell of many heroines as well as heroes, women as brave and deserving of credit as those who landed from the Mayflower. They have had much to do in "winning the west," and a higher civilization has always followed closely in the footsteps of the woman pioneer." - Lucia Darling Park 1839-1905.
"I was born in Chicago, but it never felt like home to me. I was born in the wrong century and the wrong place and I knew it." she admitted. Elaine is a devoted wife to her loving husband Loren Bridge. The couple resides in the Bitterroot Valley. Elaine feels blessed with her second chance at life and love. Her eyes light up when she speaks about her husband. "Loren encourages me, supports me and wants me to be everything God wants me to be," Elaine acknowledges "I'm flying. He is like the wind under my wings," she continued.
Their home includes modern conveniences, electronic technology and 11 different sewing machines that operate around their 19th Century clothing business- but they both look like characters from the old west. They prefer dressing in turn of the century style clothing from 1800-1899. The Bridges were married on October 22, 2005 in historic period clothing. Elaine wore a Civil War era jacket and skirt of burgundy moiré trimmed with black Venice lace and braided gimp. Loren wore a pinstriped frock coat and trousers with a white standup collar shirt, vest and burgundy cravat tie and black stovepipe boots.
Elaine Christine (Panos) Bridge is quick to say, "to God be the glory" when telling her story. She and Loren share a deep faith in God. She was born in 1951 and is a first generation American on her paternal side. Her paternal relatives escaped and then immigrated from Hlomo, Albania, near Greece, after the war. On her mother's side, she is a second generation Greek American. "I'm very proud of the fact my family came here and made it "their" country.”
Elaine was raised behind Andy's Shoe Repair on Fulteron Ave. in Chicago. She lived in a small apartment behind the family business. Elaine has fond memories of her grandparents Andrew and Daisy Chresaidos. Elaine explained that making a pattern and sewing shoes is very similar to sewing clothing from a pattern.
Elaine's maternal grandmother, Daisy, raised her from the time she was 17 months until she was 9 years old. She remembers sitting on her grandfather’s knee and being told, "You can be anything you want to be, you are an American," she recalls. Elaine remembers how that statement gave her the confidence to study, learn and prepare to do something with her life. Grandmother Daisy was later diagnosed with Multiple Scoliosis and Elaine was removed from her home to live with her biological mother. Under difficult circumstances young Elaine grew.
Elaine said, "I come from hardy stock," when you hold onto God and don't quit you will prosper. Elaine strives to be a Proverbs 31 woman. "She (Proverbs 31 woman) sewed, was a business woman but also kept her household clothed in fine garments and in order."
Elaine was a bright child- so bright that she taught herself to sew at a young age and skipped the fourth grade. By age eight she remembers picking up a needle. When Elaine was 11, her mother purchased a sewing machine that came with six free lessons. After two lessons her mother was frustrated with sewing. She insisted Elaine take the remaining four lessons. "I am completely self taught. I see a pile of fabric and see the garment," she finished. "I made all my own clothes," Elaine explained. The first piece Elaine sold was a christening gown for $100 when she was 13 years old. Her launch for the rest of her life came through her first job at the Common Wealth Edison after graduating high school. CWE was an electric company where she was an Accounting Clerk at age 17 years old. Her love and passion for sewing continued on the side.