Michael Bradwell, Business editor
UNIONTOWN - She's been a teacher, an actress, corporate writer and a cable television producer, but Judy Soccio's decision to open a business in her Monongahela home designing and installing draperies has brought a lifelong love of sewing to the forefront.
Her latest career move also has brought her not one, but two international awards in window design from "Window Fashions" magazine. Both awards were for projects she did for Uniontown businesses developed by Joe Hardy and his daughter, Maggie Hardy Magerko.
Soccio operates SR Design with her husband, Juan Rodriguez, who creates stained-glass installations for residential and commercial clients.
Judy Soccio, of SR Design in Monongahela, stands infront of one of her drapery designs at 30 East Main Street., a restaurant in Uniontown. Soccio along with her husband, Juan Rodriguez, recently won two international awards for window design.
In March, she received the "Workroom of the Year" in the Ingenuity Workroom Competition for her fabrication and installation of draperies at 30 East Main, a Uniontown restaurant; and also captured first place in the Designer Debut category of the Envision Design Competition, a recognition for a window-fashion designer who has been in business for five years or less. That award was for her drapery installation at "The Nemacolin Collection," an upscale men's and women's clothing store just down the street from 30 East Main.
For the restaurant, Soccio worked with designers who were creating an eating establishment across the street from a recently restored theater.
"30 East Main is directly across the street from the State Theatre and a logical site for pre- and post-theatre dining," Soccio said. "The restaurant decor maintained the theatrical illusion with lush gold drapes swagged back on either side of oversized banquettes and three 12-foot-high columns draped and lit to look like champagne glasses."
At Nemacolin Collection, which actually contains three unique specialty clothing shops, Soccio was faced with a different challenge.
"We had to create a treatment that looked as good from the street as it did inside and provide as much display space in each window as possible. The shops flow into each other, so we maintained the cornice shape in all the windows, even though the fabrics are different in each shop."
In both cases, Soccio said, she and her husband, who helped her with the installations, were valued as "problem-solvers" by their clients. Juan also created the stained glass panels for the doors and transom that are the interior entrance to the men's shop.
In the case of the restaurant, Rodriguez worked with metalworkers who created an inner rod from which to hang the fabric on the columns. Soccio also created the curtains for the dining room windows and walls in fabric of gold, red and blue that picks up the colors used in the banquettes and carpet.
While Soccio's career path to award-winning drapery designer doesn't follow a straight line, there is a constant when it comes to her creativity. She can also trace the time line from when she started her business to her winning of the award.
A couple of years ago, after opening her design business, Soccio said she attended a Women's Economic Development Outreach session at Washington & Jefferson College. While she was somewhat intimidated by speakers who were offering suggestions for landing government contracts, Soccio said she asked how a one- or two-person workroom could benefit from some of the suggestions made that day. After the meeting, another woman who had an interior design business asked her for her card. While no job materialized, Soccio said she later was contacted by another woman who was designing a home for Hardy Magerko's in-laws in Farmington. She asked Soccio if she could design and make the draperies for the house.
That job eventually led to the work in the Uniontown businesses that won her the awards, she said.
"When you do networking, it's (not a simple as) handing out business cards and getting a job," Soccio said, adding that although she always found sewing to be a relaxing pasttime, she never dreamed of it becoming a business, until her husband suggested she try it.
While she designed and made all of the draperies for their Monongahela home, she said, her first break came when a client of her husband's came to the house to look at some stained glass he had commissioned. While there, he saw Soccio's curtains and immediately told her he wanted her to create the draperies for his home.
Prior to forming SR Design, Soccio, 55, who graduated from Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh, taught speech and English in high schools in Chicago and in the Watts section of Los Angeles. She also produced programs of local interest for a cable television company's local access channels in Chicago. While in California, she also landed a three-month part in television's "The Young and the Restless" soap opera. When she and Juan decided to move back to the Pittsburgh area, she took a job with Mellon Bank's retail division, writing a newsletter for the bank's branches. When Mellon sold its retail arm to Citizens Bank several years ago, Soccio said she received a buyout offer that got her started thinking about the drapery design business.
"I didn't think I could make a living at it," she said, adding that while she has sewn since the age of 10, learning from her mother and grandmother, she never thought much about the value of the craft.
"We don't always value something like this because we learned it from grandma or mom," Soccio said. Now that she's had success, she said, she sees the importance of earning a living from sewing.
"It's a woman's industry," she said. "I'm very proud to say, `This is women's work.'"