At the age of ten, under the watchful teachings of her grandmother, Terry Barton learned to sew. She never gave it up. She even managed to make a career out of it at Britten Banners, in Traverse City, Michigan.
Her career started in Frankenmuth Michigan at the Bavarian Inn, making doll clothes and dirndls. Now, twenty years and nine grandkids later, she can sew 500 banners and go through a whole spool of industrial thread in a single day.
Terry makes the difficult look absolutely easy in a way that only a master craftsman can. Her arms move in only calm, free swipes as her sewing machine eats yard after yard of banner. She acts almost distracted as her precise, ruler perfect stiches fit into the material. To her, sewing is breathing. It is walking. The machine has become only another extension of her body. It became woven into her description of self such a long time ago, that no part of her acknowledges a period when there was any distinction.
In her free time, she leads horse-riding camping trips (her horse trailer is actually decorated with recycled country-western themed banners) and sews. Among other things, she creates cinches, chest straps, blankets, and any other stitch-inspired project she can think of. When pressed about this—after all, it seems like anyone who goes through that much thread during the week would pursue different hobbies—Terry responds with an almost bashful smile. She says, “I really like to sew. When I retire, I’m going to take my sewing machine and my horses with me, and just go.”
Saving concerns aside, she proudly claims that she puts off that retirement because of the people at Britten. She says, “Everyone I work with is great. You need anything, they are right there.” An example of the company showing this came recently, when her 101 year old grandmother was sick. Terry found herself out of sick leave, out of personal time, and struggling for options. She didn’t know if Grandma was going make it to the next week. Terry went to her department head, not quite sure what to ask. She says, “And they told me don’t worry, family is everything to us too. We understand. Go and see your grandma. Thankfully, Grandma ended up being fine, but a different company might punish me for something like that. Not Britten. Real people work here.” There’s no formula for that kind of compassion. It is something a company only does when it looks at employees and sees actual humans—Americans with the same fears, struggles, and mortality as the rest of us—instead of means to profitable ends.
So the next time you look at your Britten made Banner, look at the careful threading. Every single stich was put there either by Terry, or another seamstress of comparable mastery. Try to visualize the person who has made a life of putting stiches where they need to go and committed themselves to that dying art. When you picture it, is she riding her favorite horse? Is the sun just about to dip below the horizon? One can only guess. All we know for sure is that any sunset Terry rides into, she is sure to have a bridle in one arm, and a sewing machine in the other.