If you've met Dean Gray during a coronation of Maid Silvia, you probably already know his daughter Sheila Scott is one of the seamstresses behind transforming yards of velvet into gowns for the Mountain State Forest Festival. Scott knows her father is proud of her work and always receives words of appreciation from family members of the royal court for her creation. But she feels "blessed" to have been given the opportunity to piece together the dresses so many cherish and look forward to seeing on coronation day.
Her work for the MSFF encompasses much more than the elaborate dresses for the royal entourage. Scott is also one of the local women who creates hats and clothing for other events attended by the minor court. On Monday, Scott's sewing machine buzzed to finish embellishments for the young girls' wardrobe and the small hats crafted from moleskin were nearly ready for their first public appearances.
Tiny hats for small heads aren't a staple in local stores, especially ones made just for fall celebrations, so Scott uses a pattern that was created for fleece hats. To give the hats a little more stability she'll add batting. The overall process is not difficult, she says.
(CU and The Inter-Mountain/Carra Higgins)
TAGGED — Each item created by Sheila Scott receives a tag noting its maker. In addition to Scott’s signature label, the dresses created for the coronation have a special tag. These unique tags are made by Lola Collier and note the custom-designed piece has been made for the Mountain State Forest Festival, the child’s name as well as their position in the court.
Although those outfits were laid out in full view, there was no indication she's also finishing dresses for flower girls, the crown bearer and princesses. These guarded secretes are tucked away so that not even Scott's daughter, Missy, can catch a glimpse of the gown her own daughter, Korri Evans, will be wearing when she walks down Coronation Hill.
When Scott was young she grew up sewing with her sisters and mother Wanda Gray, who passed away and with whom she wishes she could share the MSFF experience. After Scott's own daughter was born she purchased her own sewing machine to make her clothing. By 1995, she was commissioned to make her first MSFF princess gown. The following year, Dr. Craig Hyre added her name to the list of princess gown seamstresses and the costume committee for coronation day. Beginning in 2002, Scott, working with designer Connie Linger, has been crafting the regal garb for jesters and flower girls.
The process of bringing Linger's sketches to life begins in May, shortly after the minor court is announced to the public. The hours Scott has spent perfecting the royal court's wardrobe can't be counted. Even within the last week, she has been working on the finishing touches of the crown bearer and flower girls' gowns.
"I'm blessed with a talent ... why not use it," Scott said.
The months dedicated to measuring and stitching are most fun when the young girls are having a good time together. Scott documents those memories with disposable cameras that are given to parents just before the coronation begins. She also has a fun way of helping curious minds. Each year Scott has the girls come up with a color to tell those in the public who ask them what their dress looks like. This year, the girls dresses are pink with polka dots, Scott said with a laugh.
After spending so much time with the girls, Scott says she always cries when the group gets ready to descend the hill. Over the years she's watched groups of children grow into young adults, who often visit her at the top of the hill before coronation.
As a member of the princess gown check-in committee, her work doesn't end when the court's dresses are finished. When princesses begin arriving in town Thursday, Scott assists with checking the dresses to ensure they have been made correctly because mistakes have been made.
To make sure coronation goes off without a hitch, Scott has found herself burning the midnight oil to fix dresses that aren't like the rest. One year, Scott recalled, a velvet princess gown had been ironed and the committee discovered the flattened fabric less than 24 hours before coronation.
Around 6 p.m. the day before coronation Scott was cutting velvet and worked all through the night to make a new dress. Running on a 30-minute nap, she arrived at Davis & Elkins College Friday morning and finished the hemline by hand as the dress was being steamed.
When secrets Scott's been keeping are finally revealed, she still has to make the scaled-down versions of the dresses for dolls. Although Scott does not craft the headpieces worn during coronation, she does make them for the dolls. The seamstress is also somewhat of cobbler, making small ballet slippers to cover the doll's bare feet.
After all the long hours and memories, Scott says she's appreciate of the of MSFF office for giving her the opportunity to sew year after year, and of Linger, who always teaches her something new and incorporates her techniques into designs.
This week Scott is looking forward to participating in and sharing the events with her granddaughter and family.