Rina Antonucci, owner of Rina’s Alterations, greets a customer walking into her North Oracle Road shop. Antonucci learned how to sew when she was in Italy.

Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

When country singer Willie Nelson needed his tux altered during a Tucson visit several years ago, he went to seamstress Rina Antonucci.

For 13 years, Rina’s Alterations has done business from Casas Adobes Plaza. Antonucci, 59, does not advertise, but her clients find her anyway.

Stores such as Brooks Brothers, Tommy Bahama and BCBG Max Azria, among others, recommend Rina’s Alterations to their customers.

The woman who called Antonucci about alterations for Nelson found the business online. She told Antonucci she had a “special client” with a Zegna tuxedo and Prada shirt. She instructed Antonucci to meet them at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort. Antonucci agreed — but only if her husband could drive her.

“It was always texting and emailing, and we had to be there at 3 p.m.,” Antonucci says of the logistical headache. “Not before 3. Not after 3.”

Not prone to stress, Antonucci was more excited than nervous when she boarded Nelson’s tour bus.

In a usual business week, Antonucci deals with 50 to 70 clients, putting in workdays that often stretch into the nights. She works on intricate projects such as wedding gowns after hours. She needs to concentrate.

Antonucci charges by garment. A basic hem, for example, might cost $15, but that can go up with hand-stitching and hem width. Suits, jeans and leather jackets all end up on the hangers in Antonucci’s shop. She will not take a job if she knows she cannot do it, but that’s rare.

Years ago, doing alterations for a Tucson Lillie Rubin store, Antonucci resized a beaded gown by hand, bringing it in to a size 2 from a size 10 or 12, she says. The dress was fully beaded.

She learned to sew growing up in southern Italy, with two older sisters and a mother handy in needlework. When her oldest sister married, Antonucci began spending summers with the new bride.

“She lived near the ocean, and she had a little baby and would ask my mother, ‘Let Rina come. Let Rina come,’” Antonucci says. “That’s how I started — helping her sew.”

After Antonucci’s own marriage, she moved from Italy to her husband’s home in New Jersey. Speaking little English, she did what she knew, sewing home goods such as curtains and duvets for her in-laws and new home. Eventually, she made Halloween costumes for her two children.

“When you get married and you’re young, you cannot afford much,” she says. “You have to build everything.”

She got her business started when her mother-in-law mentioned her skill at a favorite boutique.

“In Italy, knitting, sewing, cleaning, cooking — it’s something that every woman should know how to do,” Antonucci says. “I wanted not just to be a housewife. I wanted to do something.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.