Fabric Reweaving: From Kings to Career Women

Vada’s Reweaving is a secret that one Little Rock resident shares with another, but only if the person is worthy.

Have you snagged your $2,000 suit, custom-made in Hong Kong? Vada’s can tame those loose threads. Do you want to rehabilitate your grandmother’s linen tablecloth? Vada’s can do that. Have moths munched holes in The Perfect Cashmere Sweater, the one you bought when M.M. Cohn was really M.M. Cohn? Vada’s can keep it presentable for decades — she’s that good.

Vada is actually Mary Jane Grimmett, who has been upholding Vada Cohen’s legacy for almost 40 years, longer even than Vada. During that time, Grimmett has achieved what she set out to do.

“When I bought the business, I was told that it was a rather exclusive clientele,” says the Carlisle native. “Actually, reweaving originated in kings’ courts. Every king had a reweaver and it was considered only for royalty. And then as the years passed, it was used mainly by people who bought very expensive clothes and were professionals. 

“When I took over, I said, ‘Everybody spends enough on clothes in this day and time to make it worthwhile.’ My goal was to get it to the general public and let them know that it wasn’t too expensive for their clothes. So I think I’ve accomplished that.” 

Vada Cohen started the business in 1942, working out of what is known as the Peay Cottage at 1416 Spring St. in the Quapaw Quarter. Grimmett bought the business in 1974, and has operated it at its current location, 1318 Center St., since about 1977. She is the fourth owner in the business’ 71 years.

Grimmett trained as had the previous two proprietors: learning from her predecessor. The skills, and some of the equipment, needed to rescue the $2,000 suit or The Perfect Cashmere Sweater have been passed down directly from Vada.

Grimmett does not do alterations or other seamstress work. She focuses entirely on reweaving, which is just what it sounds like: Working completely by hand, she repairs damaged woven fabric, using either material from a hidden place on the suit or sweater or replacement threads. 

Grimmett charges fees commensurate with her skill, but her work can be the difference between tossing an expensive or cherished article and getting years of additional use. 

Grimmett’s needlework supported her family and sent her daughter to private school. Her husband, who had helped with the business end of things, died in 2003, but Grimmett’s work continues to provide her with a good living.

As Grimmett is being interviewed at her shop, a longtime client enters, takes off the houndstooth sports jacket he has just snagged, and places it on the counter. Grimmett’s work, he knows, “ain’t cheap … but that jacket probably cost $1,000.”

Other customers are people who like vintage clothing and “young career women,” Grimmett says, who snap up slightly damaged pieces of quality clothing on Ebay to take to Vada’s for repair.

She doesn’t drop names, Grimmett says, but her clients include famous Arkansans and former Arkansans, as well as people throughout the country. One client mails pieces to be mended from Framingham, Mass.

Grimmett doesn’t plan on retiring. She likes the work, misses it, in fact, if she has to go four or five days without needle in hand. 

If the right person of “good character” came along a few years down the road, Grimmett would consider training her or him to take over the business. It’s just that “I’d hate for it to fall into the wrong hands.”