Tillery native Doris Davis is known in Halifax County for her leadership at the Area Wide Health Committee, her work with the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, and her craft as an expert seamstress. She shares the skills gleaned from many years of sewing professionally and privately with fellow community members.
Davis’ family moved from the Scotland Neck area to the resettlement community of Tillery in 1938. Doris was one of the younger of her parents’ 13 surviving children. Her mother had been a talented seamstress, and Davis remembers her cutting patterns from paper bags to make clothing. As the younger children were growing up, though, their mother was in poor health and was unable to teach many of her sewing skills to her children.
Doris Davis moved to New York in the 1970s, where she worked for a shirt manufacturer in the Empire State Building. Though she worked in finance rather than with garments, she took home fabric that the company gave away to its employees. As her stockpile accumulated, she used the scraps to use in hand-sewing projects, and learned tips and techniques from friends.
Davis eventually saved up enough money to buy a sewing machine—a classic black metal Singer. “When I got home and got myself together to open up that machine,” she muses, “it was just like a kid under the Christmas tree.” Her mother-in-law taught her how to use it, and her first garment was a smock top blouse. When a coworker drew Davis’s name in a Secret Santa pool, she asked Davis to make a blouse similar to that first one, and she happily obliged. She’s been sewing for friends, family, and in professional settings ever since.
In 1975 she came home to Tillery. In addition to her community leadership, she has offered several popular sewing courses over the years at the Tillery Community Center. Davis says that the classes have been rewarding for the fellowship they provide and the lessons she’s learned from her students. “By me teaching the class, I didn’t just teach it,” she asserts, “I also learned.”
Davis makes dresses, skirts, blouses, underwear, overcoats, tote bags, slipcovers, drapery, and much more. The hallmark of her work is a fine attention to detail and subtle ornamentation. “Detailing, to me,” says Davis, “is what puts the flavor in the garment.”