Seamstress is part of the fabric of small-town life
SARANAC LAKE — Spring is springing, students are looking ahead to prom, and brides are planning their weddings. If the bridesmaids haven’t quite made it to the bikini bods they were planning for summer, or prom-goers are going to be tripping over their hemlines, a few sartorial adjustments may be in order. For many in the Tri-Lakes, the fairy godmother of alterations is Sylvia Cecunjanin, who has a shop downtown on Broadway.
“She’s the only place to get tailoring done and have it look beautiful,” said Audrey Draper, a freshman at North Country Community College who is attending the prom in Lake Placid with her boyfriend. She ordered her blue floor-length dress online, but when it arrived, it didn’t fit.
The dress arrived May 1, leaving Draper little time to get it fixed. She brought it to Cecunjanin to alter.
“She was my only hope,” Draper said.
Several proms in the Tri-Lakes happen on the same night, said Draper, which puts stress on the students to choose which one to go to if they have friends or partners in other schools. Saranac Lake’s prom is Saturday. Lake Placid and Tupper Lake high schools are holding their proms the following weekend.
“This is busy season,” Cecunjanin said.
Her shop is full of glittering floor-length gowns, from Cinderella fantasies to ’20s-style flapper dresses with lots of swinging beads. During the winter a steady stream of customers come to her for alterations, whether it’s putting a new zipper on a favorite coat or adjusting clothing bought off the rack so that it actually is ready to wear.
“I’m the cousin of the mother of the bride,” said Amy Sweet, who was visiting Cecunjanin’s shop to get some pants and a shirt altered, as well as checking on the dress she will wear to a wedding.
“She’s good. She knows what she’s doing,” Sweet said. “She’s quick, too.”
Cecunjanin started sewing in sixth grade, altering hand-me-downs from her sister-in-law.
“She’s bigger than me, so I take her skirts, make tight skirts for myself,” she laughs. “It’s 38 years I’ve been doing this.”
She went to college for nursing and became a registered nurse, working for a year at the hospital of her hometown, Plav, in Montenegro. But with the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992 and the war in Sarajevo, the Cecunjanins, like many from that region, fled to the States.
Her husband came first, in 1992, helping his cousin open Jimmy’s 21, a restaurant in Lake Placid. The family has become a vital part of the community.
“Now this is our second home,” she said.
“This is like my hometown,” Cecunjanin said. “Plav is a word means ‘blue.’ It has mountains, lake in the middle. It’s a small town.”
To practice nursing in the United States, however, she would have had to pass all the licensing tests in English, so she turned to sewing.
“For the sewing I don’t need the language,” she said. “I just look at you. I measure.”
She doesn’t use patterns.
“You tell me what you need,” she explained. “If I close my eyes, I know what you need. It’s going to be perfect — I don’t make a mistake.”
As she speaks, another customer walks into the shop. A man has brought in some pants and a jacket to be altered. Everyone who comes in seems to have known her for a long time, but Sylvia is very private. She doesn’t talk about her personal life, and she doesn’t talk about her customers. She’s always very careful not to offend people’s feelings. After all, her mission is to make people look good.
And though getting girls’ dresses ready for prom is fun, her favorite projects are weddings.
“That’s my pleasure, to work with the bride,” she said.
She places her hands over her heart.
“I want to do the best I can do, because this is the dream of every single girl. The bride is really special to me, to work with her.
“If I am spending all day, I don’t care. I will charge you how I charge you, but not by the time. I want first that you look beautiful and you are happy, because that is the bride’s special day.”