The Journal Gazette

Home Search

Ugly job but somebody has to do it … we guess

Fremont shop fills worldwide demand for gaudy sweaters

Starting in September, things start to get ugly in Fremont. At least when it comes to sweaters.

Ugly sweater holiday parties have been all the rage for the last few years. It was just such a party that got Debby McClain started making ugly sweaters five years ago, turning a small Steuben County sign shop into a worldwide mass producer of gaudy, unstylish holiday fashion. So far this year, her shop has shipped more than 800 sweaters.

McClain made her first sweater when her daughter, who was in college at the time, had planned to attend an ugly sweater party and found that all the sweaters she liked were too expensive. After that McClain made sweaters to sell on eBay – they were a hit.

The sweaters are made in a little shop just doors down from McClain’s sign shop. She says four women come in and sew items onto the sweaters. No holiday items are off limits. The sweaters have feathers, lights, flamingos, Santas, and even Rudolph’s head and rump (the head on the front, rump on the back).

Most of the items for the sweaters are found at thrift stores, rummage sales and “wherever we can find parts,” McClain says.

McClain gets orders from all over the country and worldwide. She says she just sold one that will be on “The Ricki Lake Show.”

The women will keep making sweaters until February and then she closes up shop for the season, McClain says. After that, well – “We work so hard until Christmas … after Christmas, an ugly sweater is the last thing I want to look at,” she laughs.

Her sweaters, which cost from about $30 and up, can be found on eBay at and on Etsy at

McClain says many people go to the websites just to check out the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the sweaters. There’s the “Granny Got Run Over Christmas Tacky Ugly Sweater Big Bear Candy,” which describes it as “Granny got run over by the reindeer, and we got her Christmas sweater to sell! … And you can always give it to grandma when done as I am sure she had one just like it.”

And all those models on the websites? They’re McClain’s son and his friends. But even after a while, her son loses his holiday cheer, she says.

“After he models 450 sweaters,” McClain says, “he gets grumpy.”

Pretty ugly

Area readers have gotten into the spirit of the ugly-sweater phenomenon. They shared photos of themselves in their holiday sweaters.

Copyright © 2014,