Dorothy Moulton Rankin, a retired federal worker who taught sewing in Africa and owned a tailoring and fashion shop in Baltimore in the 1970s and '80s, died July 14 at her home in Reisterstown after suffering a heart attack. She was 84.
Dorothy Moulton was born in Baltimore and attended St. Barnabas Catholic and Baltimore City public schools. She graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in June 1942 and married William Rankin six years later.
Mrs. Rankin became interested in sewing in high school, learning from her mother and making clothes for peers and family members, according to her sister, Lillian Wainwright of Baltimore.
"She was very creative and could put color and design together very well," said Mrs. Rankin's daughter Beverly James of Randallstown. "I would say to her, 'How did you think of that?' "
Mrs. Rankin had an early career in the federal government. She worked for the Social Security Administration after high school and also worked at various other agencies. She moved to Philadelphia in the 1950s to work for the Defense Department and retired from civil service after 25 years.
Mrs. Rankin then moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to explore Africa and teach sewing. She shipped sewing machines and other equipment to the country, and made crafts and clothing in the African style.
Mrs. Rankin became interested in learning about her African roots, family members said, and she lived there for four years in the early 1970s.
"She had really gotten into the African movement around that time because blacks were beginning to get more related to Africa," Mrs. Wainwright said. "She really wanted to go for herself and see what it was like. Her plan was to teach the people how to sew, and she probably would have made a business of some kind over there."
When she returned, Mrs. Rankin went into business with her son, Rodney Moulton. They opened a shop, The Leaf, in downtown Baltimore.
The pair made clothes for a number of occasions in the style of the day, including bridesmaid dresses, neckties for Maryland Transit Administration bus drivers, and suits for entertainers and athletes. Customers included former Baltimore Colt Charles Aaron "Bubba" Smith, Mrs. Wainwright said.
Later in life, Mrs. Rankin became interested in quilting and helped colleagues in a quilting club with their designs. She became a prolific quilter, and family members said they found a number of beautiful creations in her home.
"More recently she made quilts, and she made some gorgeous ones," Mrs. James said, "but she sewed for as far back as I can remember."
Mrs. Rankin was preceded in death by her husband and her son.
A memorial service was held Saturday at Joseph H. Brown Jr. Funeral Home in Baltimore. In addition to her sister and daughter, survivors include another daughter, Dianne Epps of Gwynn Oak; two other sisters, Pearl Moulton of Baltimore and Thelma Harris of New York; 13 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren.