Thirty-nine year old Erin Retelle’s resume reads something like a game of “one of these things is not like the other.” She’s a geologist. She’s a seamstress. And … a ballroom dancer?
“I just have a lot of ideas and a lot of things I’d like to do,” she says, laughing.
Originally from Ypsilanti, Mich. – the town is named, puzzlingly, after a Greek general – Retelle went to college in her hometown, but when she came to the University of Wyoming for graduate work in geology, she “fell in love with the West.” Upon graduation, she knew where she wanted to be.
“I had about a seven-state radius, which didn’t include going back to Michigan,” she says, “but did include Idaho.”
Retelle went to work for the Department of Water Resources in Boise, where she conducted field examinations and reviewed applications for new water appropriation projects. She then did similar work for SPF Water Engineering – until the bubble burst.
“It was 2008, and I was laid off because the entire economy crashed,” Retelle says.
Faced with finding a new job, Retelle found herself at a crossroads. The only options for geology work at the time, she says, were with conglomerate oil companies, and as a “tree-hugging liberal,” Retelle didn’t want to “blacken (her) soul” by working for Exxon. So she thought to herself, what am I good at? The answer came easily: sewing.
Retelle now spends her nine-to-five creating intricate, beautiful masterpieces, but it started as a hobby. She learned to sew in middle school and made her own Halloween costumes and stuffed animals on “The Beast,” a Kenmore machine “with great metal guts” her parents got as a wedding gift that Retelle still uses today. She comes by the skill naturally: both of her grandmothers were excellent seamstresses. Her maternal grandmother even made her mother’s wedding gown and “those rainbow-colored 1968 bridesmaids’ dresses.”
Retelle started small, renting a space inside Boise’s Caledonia Fine Fabrics (now closed), where she taught sewing classes for all skill levels and worked on the sales floor. Today, she is owner and director of sewBoise, a full-fledged business offering alterations, custom design and sewing classes. She’s taken people “all the way from zero to bridal gowns” with her instruction.
“As rewarding as being a scientist was, it was in a different way,” Retelle says. “I’ve always liked creating things, and it’s really rewarding to create something tangible with your own hands.”
Among the endless “nutty things” that fall into her lap at the shop, Retelle has made a person-sized denim pocket for a Blue Cross promotion, a motorcycle jacket made from alligator skin and an elk- and buffalo-hide coat. Something else she enjoys making, though, is close to her heart: ballroom dancing costumes.
Retelle began ballroom dancing in college as a way to relax amid the tough science classes she was taking, and she never stopped. She taught the sport in graduate school in Wyoming, she says, just to train up more people to dance with. She’s the former president of the Boise chapter of USA Dance and currently serves as a regional director.
“Wherever I am on Earth, there’s going to be some dancing,” Retelle says.
Retelle recently learned that she’s been accepted to the executive MBA program at Boise State University, starting this fall, and she’s thrilled at the opportunity to brush up her management skills. She and her partner, Frank, live in Boise with a bevy of pets, including a cat named Pythagoras.
Most memorable airplane trip: “It was the first flight I ever took, and I was 21. It was a chartered flight to Mexico. It was the late 90s and there was lots of room, free food and drinks, very ‘ooh-la-la.’ So that’s how I thought all flights were. The second time I flew, it was a rude awakening!”