Небольшой рассказ о магазине тканей в центре г. Хомер, Аляска и его владелице — старообрядке А. Калугиной.
Kalugin’s fabric store bridges two cultures
• “Little by little, the word’s gotten out.”
By Naomi Klouda
Angie Kalugin’s lustrous, almost translucent fabrics shimmer when the light hits them through the window. The satiny reams of cloth are treasured among Russian Old Believer dressmakers, and are increasingly finding new uses by a wider audience of customers.
The culture of the Russian Old Believers incorporates a belief in dressing impeccably, Kalugin says.
“That’s how our culture is,” she must have explained many times in her life. “You can be as dirty as you want at home, wearing torn things. But when you go out of the house, you need to be neat.”
Neat means wearing long dresses and matching scarf hair coverings, if married. Single women wear their hair uncovered. For church worship, triangular scarves of flowing lace in delicate pastel hues cover the hair.
Angie’s Fabric Boutique — or Angie’s Tavar, in Russian — is a downtown Homer store at the Kachemak Center that sells fabric for these articles of clothing not only to the Russian Old Believer community, but also to a larger Homer base of seamstresses. The fabric comes from Turkey or Pakistan, which she purchases on shopping trips in the Lower 48.
In Nikolaevsk — where Kalugin lives with husband Alex and her three children — women sew all the dresses for their families. They sew boy’s and men’s shirts with long tails, belted and buttoned up to the neck, often embellished with embroidery, she said.
Kalugin’s store has been open for more than two years now, and she finds a broader demand for the fabrics that stretches beyond villagers. Wedding planners, prom-goers, dress-up occasions of all types bridge a cultural divide between those called “Americans” and the Russian Old Believers.
Kalugin makes a costume change herself in the course of each day. As manager of the Subway Sandwich Shop, she wears the requisite green Subway shirt. It tops the requisite ankle-length skirt of her culture. As she goes off shift, she travels a few doors away to take a seat at the sewing machine or ironing board at her fabric store. There, she is open for business, wearing her traditional cultural apparel as she sews dresses on demand.
“A lot of Americans are coming in. They like the jewelry,” Kalugin said, noting the sparkling ruby, zirconia and diamond-hued costume earrings that dangle nearly to the shoulder. “Little by little, the word’s gotten out,” she said.
Kalugin fills a rack with gently used Russian dresses that also find their fans. She has also added a line of backpacks made from the silky cloth for a more dressed-up ensemble, as well as scarves, sweaters and slips.
Angie’s Fabric Boutique was formerly located near the old DMV office on the Heath Street side of Kachemak Center. Now, it’s beside Kachemak Foods, marked by a sign outlined in neon pink.
Since Old Believer dresses are based on a classic design that goes back so far that Kalugin can’t place a date on it, they are made with handmade patterns fitted to the individual. These are cut from newspaper or brown paper bags, measuring shoulder and chest breadth, with the main flow of length cut without a pattern.
“It takes about 10-15 minutes to cut it out, and about an hour and half to sew it, if it’s plain,” Kalugin said, adding that dresses can be elegant for ceremonies and feast days, or simple for everyday wear. Her own mother had four girls and four boys to sew for. “I didn’t start out sewing when I was growing up; I was a tom boy. When I married, I had to learn how to sew and how to cook.”
Kalugin met her husband, Alex, as a young woman in her village of Woodburn, Ore. Woodburn is an established Old Believer community that had, in her parents’ case, moved there from Turkey in the 1960s. Alex came down from Nikolaevsk for a visit and the two met in church. About two weeks later, they were married, and she moved to Nikolaevsk in 1989.
Kalugin credits her mother-in-law Solomia Kalugin for teaching her the sewing arts. Solomia raised seven girls and five boys, where there is the need to be a proficient seamstress. And she was a good teacher, she says.
“You learn from mistakes,” Kalugin said. “When you make a mistake, you cut it out again and sew it together again. Some of the girls want to wear pants these days, but I don’t go for that. Our religion keeps from the past. Everyone wants it easier these days and I get upset about that. I think we should keep our culture as it is by not wearing pants, not changing to new ways, not destroying old ways.”
In respecting elders, history, culture and language, Kalugin is carrying on for a people who were in a religious minority from mother Russian Orthodoxy the past five centuries. Three families came to Nikolaevsk in the 1960s, including Kalugin’s in-laws, Solomia and Anisam. The community has grown to 350 people living in religious freedom. It is one of three Old Believer communities in the Homer area.
Since Kalugin’s parents came from Turkey, she’s noticed slight differences in the dresses, based on where the Old Believers moved from.
“We’re called the ‘turkeys’ and tended to like lots of bling, lots of sparkle and color,” Kalugin said, though she herself is unadorned by the shoulder-length earrings and “bling” of jewelry. “It just depends. Weddings tend to want lots of bling; the more, the better.”
Kalugin is hoping her fabric shop takes off. Often, she has worked two jobs, but among the satins is where her interest lies. The shopping trips outside the state are still something of a mystery in learning the process, seeking out the right kinds and textures of fabrics to suit the discerning tastes of women who know how to create beautiful dresses from simple, time-worn patterns.
“Whenever I come back from a trip, I write on Facebook: Come on down and check out the fabrics,” she said.
In an Orthodox world, Facebook is one concession Kalugin will make.