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Peggy’s Alterations celebrates 20 years in Oxford

When Peggy Miles was a little girl in Abbeville, Miss., her grandmother let her pull the needle through the fabric of the flour-sack dresses she made.

That small introduction was all it took to start a lifelong fascination with sewing, Miles said. Today, she owns her own shop, Peggy’s Alterations, an establishment that’s kept Oxonians perfectly tailored for 20 years this summer. Miles has fitted garments for the likes of local farmers and international celebrities, but she’ll admit being a seamstress was not what she wanted to do with her life at first.

“I worked at Emerson Electric for 10 years, and I just decided I wasn’t going to work there anymore. In my mind, I always felt it was God’s plan for me to not be at the factory,” Miles said. “After 10 years, I left the factory and decided to go back to school. I left and went to Northwest to get a business degree, and my plan was to work at the university as a secretary, but that’s not what happened.”

After completing her degree, Miles got a job at Rainbow Cleaners doing alterations. Although she’d never done it before, and wasn’t very good, she said she adapted quickly. It wasn’t long before she opened her own store, Golden Spool Alterations, in 1986. Miles then worked from home for a year before being hired on by Virginia Blackwell’s Alterations.

Miles spent a couple of years learning from Blackwell, whom Miles said was a great teacher. Then, she got the opportunity to become a seamstress to the stars.

Her first brush with Hollywood came with the 1992 movie “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag,” which filmed in Oxford. The film starred Alfre Woodard, and Miles still has a story she said she loves to tell.

“I always have this joke I tell, because I did some of Alfre Woodard’s personal clothes and she left town without paying me,” she said. “So every time I see her on TV I always say, ‘You still owe me money – plus interest.’”

After her work was done with “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag,” Miles got a phone call from the costume designer for a movie called “A Time to Kill.” Based off John Grisham’s best-selling novel, “A Time to Kill” filmed primarily in Canton, Miss. and starred Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd and Kiefer Sutherland. According to Miles, all of them were good people to work with.

Miles also traveled to the Delta to work on the set of “The Chamber,” which starred Gene Hackman, Chris O’Donnell, Bo Jackson and Faye Dunaway. Because it was wintertime, Miles said one of her main tasks was making sure Dunaway’s silk long johns were washed and dried before filming began each day. She also worked on “Ghosts of Mississippi” with Whoopi Goldberg and Alec Baldwin. Although the actor has a famous temper, Miles maintains that Baldwin was a kind man who appreciated her work – even when she had to iron wrinkles into his shirts instead of ironing them out.

While meeting celebrities was fun, Miles said the biggest takeaway she got from her experience was the knowledge she learned from the rest of the costume team. No one was stingy with their sewing secrets, she said, which made for an educational environment that prepared her to open her own shop.

Peggy’s Alterations first opened its doors in May 1998, with encouragement from her husband, Willie, and a whole lot of prayer, Miles said. She employs women from all backgrounds in her shop, some hailing from countries as far as India and Sri Lanka.

One, she said, even learned English while sitting at her sewing machine with the other ladies there.

“I want everybody who works with me to learn everything that I know. I’ve had people who’ve worked for me for years, and when they left town, they were able to go right out and get a job doing alterations,” Miles said. “It doesn’t matter where people come from. We’re all still willing to help each other. We’re a little family. We cook together and eat together.”

On most days, customers at Peggy’s can walk into the shop and find women humming away at their sewing machines, listening to the latest news on daytime television in the corner, swapping recipes and deciding which stitches to use on which garments.

Miles mans the front, hand-marking each garment that enters the shop and tailoring each piece to her customers’ exact specifications.

“When somebody comes in and brings a wedding dress, something special in their lives, or just a pair of jeans that has a hole, we want to do our best,” Miles said. “There’s a ministry in doing what the good Lord wants us to do – the best-quality job we can. It shows our heart, our passion, the love for the people we’re doing this for. When they put the garment on and it fits just right, you feel like you’ve accomplished your mission.”

When she’s not at the shop, Miles said she can be found visiting her daughters, relaxing with her husband at their log cabin off Highway 7 or in a pew at Providence United Methodist Church in Abbeville.

Looking back on her life, Miles said she never imagined the girl wearing flour-sack dresses in her school photos would go on to own her own business and work on movie sets. But through it all, she said, trusting God has never failed her.

“It seems like there was always something inside me, and I attribute it to the Lord. That voice saying, ‘There’s something else. There’s something I’m meant to do. You’re here at this factory, and you’re going to use this to move on out,’” she said. “I just trust in God for whatever I need, because I know whatever I go through, it will help me to grow and move forward.”