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Seamstress gives history new life

By Ed Brock

Arcadia Simmons of Jonesboro learned the art of sewing at her mother's knee in Puerto Rico.

"I would help all week long but I wanted a dress by Sunday to wear to church," Simmons said.

Those years under the tutelage of her mother Concepcion Candelario transformed Simmons into a professional seamstress. She lived in South Carolina and then North Carolina in the 1970s and became a corporate trainer for Jasper Textiles, a job that took her around Central America training workers for the garment industry.

But on Thursday she was still nervous as a kitten about the premiere of her latest work, a recreation of the dress worn by actress Ann Rutherford who played Scarlett O'Hara's sister Carreen in "Gone With the Wind." Not only will the reproduction be on display at the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro as part of this weekend's celebration of the movie's 65th anniversary, but Rutherford herself will be in town to inspect the dress first hand.

"I'm scared," Simmons said.

But Stacey Dickson, president and CEO of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has the utmost confidence in Simmons' work.

"She's just been meticulous," Dickson said, pointing out some of the little details Simmons added even though nobody else would notice them. "I'm sure Ann is going to love it, she's going to have a real flash back moment."

The antebellum style dress was a big challenge for 45-year-old Simmons who specializes in designer draperies, upholstery and pillows, but she's used to it. She had to make prom dresses for her three daughters, and sometimes their friends who often requested the dresses on the night before the prom.

They would be up all night sewing.

"I kept telling them if you know somebody (who needed a prom dress,) come early," Simmons said.

She remembers another time when she was applying for a job with an upholstery shop though she had no experience with that particular kind of work. She had to keep calling the owner of the business who asked her why she should be hired over more experienced candidates.

"I said how hard can it be," Simmons said.

The upholsterer hired Simmons and after a while she let the other two workers go and kept Simmons.

So when Dickson asked her to make the dress reproduction without a pattern, Simmons asked "How hard can it be?"

Using photographs, film notes and footage from the movie, Simmons made her own pattern and spent 250 hours assembling special fabric, ribbons and notions to create the dress.

The work was an honor, Simmons said.

"I really never thought that I would have the opportunity to make something like that," Simmons said.

Simmons' love of sewing goes beyond just the act itself. She also has a passion for the tools of the trade.

"If I go places and I see an old sewing machine I just have to buy it," Simmons said.

Her collection of 10 sewing machines includes an 1891 push-pedal model.

While her husband Mike Simmons is a fellow sewing fan, and in fact works is the director of quality assurance/America for Williams Carter Company, Simmons' daughters did not take up the tradition. But that doesn't bother Simmons.

"I just love to sew," Simmons said.