My name is Yekaterina Boltanova, but I prefer to be called Katya.

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I have always been fascinated by fabrics, and by fashion. I started sewing at age 7, when I would sneak into my grandmother's sewing room to make stitches on her old hand-crank machine. When she discovered my persistent fascination (I simply figured out how to re-engage the machine after she began disengaging it), she began teaching me the art of sewing, and I took off with it. I guess you could say I was sewing before I was reading and writing.

By the time I was 9, my dream was to become a fashion designer. I'd begun creating wardrobes for my dolls — then creating new dolls. In Gorno-Altaisk, Russia, where I grew up, it is common for girls to take domestic arts classes in school. From the fourth grade, I began studying sewing in this way, learning to make everything from headbands (in fourth grade) to swimwear and brassieres (in eleventh grade). It seemed as though my dream was possible.

But in the ninth grade, Russian students must choose their careers, and decide whether they will head to vocational school in their tenth year, or prepare for university. I realized that it would be very hard to make a living as a custom clothier in Russia, where such workers are rather common, and chose to pursue a more pragmatic path: foreign language instruction at Gorno-Altaisk State University.

Still, I continued to study sewing, making patterns, creating designs. My school offered sewing class through the eleventh grade, when we graduated high school and left for university. I took home many projects and initiated yet more at home, bringing them to school for advice from my instructor. I spent much time with my friends who did go on to study at Professional Technical College 84 of Gorno-Altaisk, a school for sewing professionals which is considered the best in the area. My friends showed me what they were studying in school, lent me their textbooks to study, and showed me how to use all the excellent new tools they were using at the college.

In 2001, my academic studies brought me to the United States as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar at The University of Iowa. I was still studying languages, but sewing remained my passion. When I first arrived here, it was difficult for me to find clothes to suit me, which allowed me the measure of self-expression I'd had while designing and constructing my own garments. Happily, shortly after I met my husband-to-be, Steve, his sister gave me her old sewing machine. It was a simple machine, and made only two stitches, but I used it. I used it so much, I wore it out. Stitches Galore, in Kalona, was happy to repair the machine for me, but suggested that I might want to upgrade. Thinking that I might be able to create many more garments for myself, and for Steve, I took them up on their offer. I also took advantage of their complimentary sewing classes, which allowed me the opportunity to improve my sewing vocabulary and learn about some of the various sewing products that are available here.

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When the owner of Stitches Galore saw the work I was capable of, she suggested that I print up business cards and leave them at her shop. Customers were always asking her if she knew any tailors or dressmakers — or someone who might just do alterations — and they are hard to come by, she said. I considered this option as I drove home, and by the time I arrived in Iowa City, I'd decided. Sewing seems to be a dying art in America, and there are few vocational schools that teach tailoring as a profession. I grew up in a culture in which most women have personal tailors and modistes (dressmakers). A custom clothier supports the individual in the best way, expressing individual tastes and personalities while accommodating each unique body shape to ultimate advantage.

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It is now my dream to introduce the benefits of custom-made clothing to American women. I created Moda By Katya in 2003 as a way to facilitate this introduction, and for the past five years, I have been creating a wide range of garments and working with all fabrics. I make clients' designs reality, I work with clients to create a new design together, I interview clients to understand their personal tastes and present them with individual designs I have created specifically for them. I have also begun to take on students, providing one-on-one instruction to clients who wish to learn to sew, and I offer apprenticeship opportunities to clients, as well as to women who need help getting an education toward a profession. (Please see "Educational Opportunities" for information about such possibilities.) I returned to Professional Technical College 84 of Gorno-Altaisk for two summers of intense, individualized study with a team of three instructors.

As I continue to grow my business, I wonder if I might one day open an atelier, a shop where I would provide my services, as well as train and hire seamstresses, modistes, tailors. I wonder if eventually I might open a school for sewing professionals, where custom clothiers would train while creating beautiful garments for the people of Iowa City area. I feel comfortable dreaming such dreams, as I have learned that they sometimes become not just dreams, but possibilities.