Ly­dia D. Arm­stead

Self-taught seam­stress at­tracted a large and loyal clien­tele at her Tiny Tailor shop on Read Street in Mount Ver­non

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Jac­ques Kelly Bal­ti­more Sun reporter John Fritze con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Ly­dia Dar­lene Arm­stead, a seam­stress who made a le­gion of friends among cus­tomers at her Tiny Tailor shop on Read Street, died Nov. 11 at her Mount Ver­non home. She was 58.

Fam­ily mem­bers said no cause of death had been es­tab­lished.

“Peo­ple would come to her from near and far to get cloth­ing al­tered,” said Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings, who was among her cus­tomers. “I have known Ly­dia for at least 15 or 20 years. She was just a woman who was an ex­cel­lent tailor.”

Born in Bal­ti­more and raised on Went­worth Road in For­est Park, she was daugh­ter of Al­bert Arm­stead Sr., who owned liquor stores and clubs, and Janie Arm­stead.

She was a 1976 grad­u­ate of Paul Lau­rence Dun­bar High School.

“She de­cided al­most im­me­di­ately that be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur was the life she wanted,” said a sis­ter, Linda Frost of Bal­ti­more. “Her tal­ent at her craft was ab­so­lutely ge­nius.

“She also had a unique per­son­al­ity,” her sis­ter said. “She had an en­gag­ing wit and big heart that would en­sure her cus­tomers’ re­turn.”

An­other sis­ter, Lillian Arm­stead of Atlanta, re­called that her sib­ling be­gan sewing at about age 10, when her fas­ci­na­tion with fab­ric and fash­ion be­came ev­i­dent to her par­ents.

“When she re­ceived her first sewing ma­chine, she be­gan sewing up a storm,” said Lillian Arm­stead. “Ly­dia started off mak­ing cur­tains for the kitchen, then she made the tran­si­tion to drapes for the liv­ing and din­ing room. Be­fore long, Ly­dia was de­sign­ing cloth­ing for her younger sib­lings.”

Fam­ily mem­bers re­called that as a child, she was her fa­ther’s pet — he bought her a se­ries of sewing ma­chines that were even­tu­ally stacked in the fam­ily garage. They said she was a nat­u­ral at the craft and had not taken ad­vanced sewing classes.

She be­gan vis­it­ing Bal­ti­more’s fab­ric shops, in­clud­ing Harry Guss Fab­rics and Blank’s. She found but­tons and zip­pers at Mor­ton Schenk & Co.

“Silk, Ital­ian wool, linen, cot­ton, charmeuse, fur, mink and other ex­quis­ite fab­rics — all em­body the per­son of Ly­dia Dar­lene Arm­stead,” said Lillian Arm­stead.

“She was as soft as cot­ton. At times, she was as smooth as silk. She could be as warm as a mink coat,” she said. “Ly­dia’s name — given to her by her fa­ther — orig­i­nates from a woman in the Bible also named Ly­dia, who worked as a trader in pur­ple fab­rics.”

While in her late 20s, she started her busi­ness, the Tiny Tailor Shop, at 218 W. Read St., near Tyson Street in Mount Ver­non.

“She fell in love with the streets. It was quaint,” said Lillian Arm­stead.

“The shop was very small, but it was noth­ing un­usual to see peo­ple lined up on Satur­day just to get to see her,” said Mr. Cum­mings. “She had a very di­verse clien­tele, and it’s be­cause she was an ex­cel­lent tailor.”

Asked if she had tai­lored his suits, Mr. Cum­mings said, “Yeah, she used to. But then she got too busy for me.”

A fel­low Read Street busi­ness op­er­a­tor, lock­smith Scott Roberts, said she was al­ways ready and will­ing to help chil­dren who needed cos­tumes for recitals.

He also said she “was al­ways one to tell you what she thought. She had her opin­ions.”

“My sis­ter was the type of per­son that you only meet once in a life­time,” said Lillian Arm­stead. “She is one of those eclec­tics that seem to have shuf­fled into the 21st cen­tury from an­other place and time. ... Ly­dia rarely sought ad­vice, pre­fer­ring to dis­pense it in­stead.”

Fu­neral ser­vices will be held at 11:30 a.m. to­day at Agape Chris­tian Cen­ter, 4601 York Road.

In ad­di­tion to her sis­ters, sur­vivors in­clude her hus­band of many years, Dino D. Mer­rick; four brothers, McKin­ley Wat­son Jr., Ty­rone Arm­stead and Dwayne Arm­stead, all of Bal­ti­more, and Al­bert Arm­stead Jr. of New York; an­other sis­ter, Vicky Sloane of Bal­ti­more; three neph­ews; and two nieces. Among Ly­dia Arm­stead’s many cus­tomers was Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings.

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