LeeAnn Waddell, a tailor living and working just south of Prior Lake, is taking it easy in semi-retirement these days by working just 40 hours a week — not 80, as she did in her heyday.
“And we were still saying no,” she said.
As LeeAnn’s Custom Fit full-service tailor shop nears its 37-year mark, including 26 years near Spring Lake, its owner has narrowed her craft, prioritizing military and police uniforms instead of time-consuming wedding dresses. She had helpers in the past but now runs the appointment-only shop alone.
It’s all the perfect fit for a wife, mother and grandmother with deep respect for servicemembers and deep joy in her work, Waddell said.
“I love to sew, I love to create,” she said. “I realized how I can’t wear a uniform, but I can sure make our men and women in uniform, who keep us safe here and abroad, look amazing.”
Waddell started out as a home economics teacher before moving into women’s formal tailoring — brides, bridesmaids, flower girls. Then her son, Joshua, got involved in the Civil Air Patrol, an Air Force civilian auxiliary organization, and needed patches sewn on his shirts.
Other families noticed her handiwork, she said, so she began doing their patches, too. She kept going as her son joined the Army, and she eventually signing on for a decade as a contract tailor for Fort Snelling.
The dozens of military and police patches left at the shop by customers shows they’ve just kept coming.
Working with military uniforms requires precision and consistency; each branch can have hundreds of pages of uniform regulations dictating exact placement and alignment for every insignia and pin and for every rank and occasion.
“I don’t just slap things together,” Waddell said. “If it’s a 16th of an inch off, I’m not happy.”
Uniforms are also long-term work, given the procession of promotions, balls and other formal events that demand a well-fitting uniform, often on a quick deadline. Veterans Day kept Waddell busy for a couple weeks.
Jim Jore, a retired Army National Guardsman in Richfield, said he’s gone to Waddell for years and has always been happy with her work. Not many tailors specialize in uniforms, he said, and some aren’t even sure which colors of fabrics they need.
“She can build a suit from scratch, basically,” he said of Waddell. “And she knows all the rules and all the regulations.”
Waddell said she makes a point to treat customers of every rank, from general or sheriff on down, with the same regard.
She said she tells civilian customers they might need to wait as she finishes some urgent uniform work, but she still accepts everyday clothing, such as suits or shirts that need adjusting. One woman in her 80s came in recently with a malfunctioning zipper that Waddell fixed up with a little glue.
“I like the variety; I can do everything and anything,” she said, adding she enjoys the science-like aspect of learning how clothing is constructed and sized. “No job is too small.”
The key is to be of service, Waddell said. Beside clothing, she and her husband have adopted 1.5 miles of county highway near their home for trash pickups twice a year since early 2018.
And she still works on her son’s uniforms, even if they have to go through the mail.