How We’re Coping

After a Health Scare, This Portland Tailor Is Sewing Again

‘When you sew, you can always find some work, even in the worst pandemics,’ says Earl Marson.

By Margaret Seiler May 22, 2020

A native of Jamaica who moved to Portland in 1997, Earl Marson has lived here as a “poor artist” for most of the time since then, he says, as a musician performing for years with Earl and the Reggae All Stars. In 2012, he turned to a new career when he opened a tailor shop out of his apartment on NE Killingsworth Street, rechristening himself “The SewingMan.” In addition to alterations and custom work (“I tackle everything,” Marson says), he’s kept up plenty of nontailoring creative pursuits, from solo projects on GarageBand to playing drums and harmonica to inventing recipes for egg-and-veggie muffins. We talked to Marson about how a tailor (with diabetes) meets a pandemic.

“When the shutdown started, everything just stopped, like you turn the tap off and the water stops flowing. I have Type 2 diabetes, and for about a month that kind of put me down. I was gearing up to make masks and trying to finish the projects I had already. Before corona, my business was on an upsurge. Then I had a lot of work to do to catch up.

“With the stress level in the pandemic at the beginning and everybody shutting down, you start to, I won’t say worry, but you’re concerned about your livelihood. It’s a serious thing. That kind of threw me off, and my blood sugar went up really high. Usually what I do if I’m in a situation where I can’t get hydrated, I go to the hospital, but I decided this time there’s no way you’re going to catch me close to any hospital. So I had appointments with the doctor online, and I said, hey, how do I take care of this, because I’m not going to the hospital? They told me to take some medication that I had, the next day I was violently ill. Another time before, I was sick for six months, and it was the medication making me worse. So I asked the doctor, what else can you do? He told me to have some seaweed, some bananas, eat some crackers, and immediately I was able to start going over the hump. I’ve gained some weight back. I’d lost about 30 pounds. I just couldn’t think about anything else but to get my immune system up.

“When you sew, you can always find some work, even in the worst pandemics. People still have to wear clothes. We just have to adapt. Work is trickling in. People are calling me again. I’m being very particular about the kinds of jobs that I take. If I can do something without any contact at all, that’s my first option. Like if you have a hem and you know you want two inches off, you just bring it in, I mark it, I do it, and you pick it up. If I have to fit it on you then it gets complicated. But I’ve figured I can do FaceTime, WhatsApp, and get the job done. I get them to [measure themselves] and figure it out with my help.

“I still get people calling me acting as if there’s nothing going on. I’m like, 'Don’t you realize that we’re in a pandemic?' Some people just don’t get it, or they just don’t care. They’re not taking precautions. I’m taking all the precautions. I don’t let anybody in my house. I work from my apartment, so if I meet somebody I meet them downstairs, or I meet them outside.

“As you know, our lives have changed: financially, physically. Who knows what will happen? Who knows what the next trend is going to be? I made an investment in buying sewing machines earlier this year, and I think I made the right move.

“[Work] is pretty much whatever I create. Now that I’m feeling better, calls are coming in. I’m less reluctant to answer the phone because I feel more positive, my health is better, I have the feeling I can talk to people again. But during that time I did not want to talk to anybody.

“I’m kind of like a loner type. I like being by myself. So this lockdown stuff is no big deal for me. I could cruise through it forever.”

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