Dorothy Cashero has never let anything get in the way of doing what she loves.
Growing up in Massachusetts, she would often sneak sessions on her mother’s sewing machine while her brother stood watch. Her first project, at age 8, was a dress for her dolly. When she married her ex-husband and moved to California, he didn’t want her to keep sewing. So, she took a class in fashion design at Modesto Junior College behind his back. When he finally discovered her secret hobby, he told her to quit or divorce him.
“I said, ‘Get the papers ready, because I won’t quit,’” Cashero remembered.
Now 77 years old, she looks back on a successful career as a seamstress and business owner, operating costume shops in Ceres, Stockton and Merced until she retired in 1995 and settled in Angels Camp.
Then, two years ago, Cashero suffered a medical catastrophe – an extreme spike in blood pressure that rendered her legally blind. As a result, she lost much of the independence she so treasured.
“It’s very disturbing,” she said. “When it first happened, I used to tell my friend it should be against the law that a seamstress can lose their eyesight.”
Yet Cashero found a way. Utilizing her sense of touch and a lifetime of experience, she continued with her projects. One of those projects was designing and sewing two dozen aprons for her daughter’s new coffee shop.
“I can’t sit and watch TV. I have to keep doing something busy,” she said.
It was about a year ago, while visiting a family friend, that inspiration struck for her next big project. It was a unique lamp made from vintage beaded dresses. At home, she had an ample collection of old dresses from her costume shop that she hadn’t known what to do with. Now, she did.
“I love it. I found something that I can still do,” she said.
Cashero describes her lampshade creations as bohemian – an eclectic mix of printed fabrics that she pairs together with intuition and some help from good friends.
“I cannot see the difference between the blues, purples and greens, or reds, oranges and pink,” said Cashero, who has a difficult time explaining how she designs her extraordinary shades. “I don’t choose a color. When I go to make a shade, it’s (just) there. If someone has given me a piece of fabric or a sweater, I don’t know how it comes to me. I just go from there and pick up a color.”
Oftentimes, Cashero relies on her friends and neighbors to identify certain colors. One such friend is Grace Maxwell, whom she met when Maxwell was broken down on the side of the road. Cashero and her son rescued Maxwell and, the following day, Maxwell returned the favor by helping Cashero mop up something sticky on her kitchen floor. That was when Maxwell saw Cashero’s living room full of lampshades and was blown away.
“The things she can do with these lamps – it’s just amazing,” Maxwell said.
She was so impressed that she offered to help Cashero with the project in any way she needed. Now, she visits often to serve as a second set of eyes and construct the more tedious portions of the shades.
Although Cashero makes her lampshades for her own enjoyment rather than monetary gain, her home-based operation has drawn some customers due to originality of design and the sentimental value.
“One friend of mine, her mother passed away. She gave me three or four lamps that were her mother’s and some really nice clothes that were her mother’s,” Cashero said. With those materials, she turned the lamps into something truly special that could be passed down for generations. “Every time she looks at them, she remembers her mother, she told me.”
And although Cashero’s home is bursting at the seams with luxurious lampshades, she is still open to customers and commissions from those who want a functional yet dazzling way to honor a loved one or a nostalgic garment.
For more information, call Dorothy Cashero at 770-4550.