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Interrupted by COVID-19, local seamstress finds more work from TCF

Minerva Ramirez takes several weeks to design and create an outfit.

The La Joya-based seamstress says she often forgoes sleep when she’s making a dress, spending hours laying in bed thinking of the details she wants to add to it before waking up to complete her project.

Seamstress Minerva Ramirez working on one of the dresses a duchess will wear as part of the Texas Citrus Fiesta pageant later this month. Courtesy image.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Ramirez said. “Since I was a little girl I always saw my grandmother doing this and asked her to lend me her sewing machine to try it out but people stopped me because I was so little. This desire in me to sew has always been inside of me so as soon as I got to school, I took a home economics class and felt ready to take it. This knowledge is inside of me.”

Ramirez typically makes dresses for events such as quinceaneras and pageants, but the majority of her business comes from the La Joya school district where she designs and makes the uniforms for the district’s mariachi teams, Ramirez said.

In the last year, however, what was once a bustling shop filled with girls eager to get their measurements done has been quiet due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has infected nearly 60,000 people in the county and killed over 2,300 residents.

Several events that Ramirez usually makes dresses and gowns for have been cancelled to mitigate the spread of the disease, Ramirez said.

“The shop has lost nearly 80% of business in the last month,” Ramirez said. “Financially, I’m not doing well, COVID has changed business for me and other seamstresses and I’ve struggled to keep the doors of my shop open, but I still work. I’m hoping that things will go back to normal, that’s my hope, working here is my dream, I have to be optimistic that it will get better.”

Most of Ramirez’s business since the pandemic arrived in the county last March, has come from making and selling face masks, she said. However, a sense of normalcy returned to her business thanks to the Texas Citrus Fiesta.

For the last five years, Ramirez has made gowns for a handful of duchesses competing for the title of Queen Citrianna. This year is no different as she is making the dresses for two duchesses and for outgoing Queen Jaedynn E’Del Alaniz.

“This is always a busy time of the year when it comes to designing dresses for the TCF pageant, there’s so many details in each dress and you have to make sure each one is unique,” Ramirez said. “It can take me up to three months to finish a duchess dress and over 20 yards of fabric and several pounds of decorations from diamonds to fruits to compliment the title of the duchess wearing the dress.”

All of the girls coming in to get their measurements done have worn masks while Ramirez works, Libby Chapa – Ramirez’s assistant – said. Whereas Ramirez, Chapa and the girls would normally hang out and gossip as the measurements are made and the dress is worked on, Chapa said the threat of the pandemic is preventing that from happening.

“The girls go in and then go out as soon as we’re done with them,” Chapa explained. “We communicate through text and we rely on mannequins to model the dresses instead of the girls to limit exposure. They can’t be here all the time for measurements and when we need materials I do the shopping so she doesn’t risk getting sick because if she gets sick, it’s over.”

Ramirez said she hopes people will be able to see and enjoy the dresses she has made for the TCF pageant.

“I hope they like the work I did,” Ramirez said. “I feel proud of these dresses, I didn’t think I’d be able to make these but it’s worth it to see someone sporting it on the runway with a big smile on their face.”

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