Stitching success: Merritt Holloway

April 18, 2012
Filed under Features

Bakersfield College student Merritt Holloway originally began sewing over 30 years ago, after he broke up with his girlfriend at the time. He never imagined accumulating over 70 sewing machines and enough fabric to last a lifetime.

Thirty years ago, Holloway didn’t have a lot of money to buy clothes like Michael Jackson, so he began sewing beads and sequins on collars of silk shirts. Being a musician himself, he not only wanted to play the part, he wanted to look the part.

Holloway remembers buying a tuxedo shirt and adding beads to it while on a routine three-hour bus ride to the church where he played the piano. After three hours of sewing beads onto the shirt, he finally finished and decided to try it on. There was just one catch –the shirt didn’t fit. Holloway was baffled.

“I didn’t know anything about sewing, but I looked at it and one side of the shirt was higher than the other side and then I thought, I could do better than this,” said Holloway.

Shortly afterward, Holloway teamed up with a Japanese woman in his voice class. After five days and almost 40 hours of sewing with this woman, Holloway began making his shirt.

“After the fifth day, I started my third shirt. After that I was really sewing, but because I was a beginner I didn’t know how to pick the good fabric,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I was making cool stuff, but I was using the wrong fabric to make the stuff, so it looked stupid.”

To say Holloway is a professional student is a bit of an understatement. He has been in school for over 30 years and has taken classes in carpentry, welding, Chinese and so forth.

In 1985, Holloway enrolled in Los Angeles Trade Technical College and began taking classes in men’s pattern making and design and tailoring. After those two classes, long hours practicing at home and the private sewing lessons from the woman in his voice class, Holloway felt like an expert.

“After one semester of the tailoring class my sewing improved so much, the next semester my mother came to school with me,” said Holloway. “I was making clothes for my sister and I was making clothes for my mother!”

When Holloway is carpentering, welding or making clothes, he not only does it for self-fulfillment, he does it as a means to boycott.

“I took my own money and bought all of [these things],” he said. “I didn’t have no company making me [these things], but I went to school and learned how to use all the equipment.

“I’ve always been on the outside looking in, all my life. I was too young for the black power movement, and now I’m the only one that’s hardcore.  Well, I’m more like a barking dog. I don’t bite, but I will tell you where I do bite. I boycott shit.”

And by that, Holloway hardly buys anything. Almost everything in his apartment Holloway has personally made.

Granted, he does buy things at second-hand stores and basic necessities.

His apartment is filled to the brim with numerous bookshelves, fabric, tools and machinery for welding, sewing machines and books.

His most recent project was making 150 church seat covers.

Holloway wasn’t always an intellectual, though. It wasn’t until his mid-20s that he got serious about learning.

“When I was 25 I thought to myself, ‘I’m so stupid, I don’t know anything. I want to learn something,’” he said.

“Back then, people could have told me the moon was blue cheese, and I would have believed them because I was stupid.

“I didn’t know anything and so, when I was around 28, I got serious about school,” Holloway said.

“I had been going before, but I used to sit in the quad and look at the girls and get F’s in classes.”

Aside from making his own clothes, Holloway also plays piano in the BC and Cal State Bakersfield bands.

He is also a welder and a carpenter.

Holloway’s father instilled music in him as a child and would make him practice on the piano for eight hours a day.

It’s the reason he says he is so talented and would eventually go on to play in the Navy band.

“I was training to be a hydraulics mechanic to fix airplanes, but what happened was I went to go hear the band because I was looking for a part-time job, and I got an interview,” Holloway said.

“I wasn’t really trying to be in the band, but after they heard me play, the senior chief told me my playing was unbelievable, but my attitude was [holding me back].”

Holloway joined the Navy band and they would fly to places all over the world, but Holloway received the privilege of being assigned to the admiral ship and was his personal piano player.

The admiral would have dignitaries of different countries as guests, and Holloway would go to the store to buy music books of the country’s national music.

Holloway would awe his guests by playing their national music on the piano.

Holloway is a man of many trades and uses each and every one of them to his advantage.

He doesn’t overstate his abilities, though.

“I don’t think the same way like everybody else, and I’m not doing anything that other people cannot do,” said Holloway.

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