MAKING MEMORY BEARS & MORE FROM RECYCLED CLOTHING
Loss, personal health struggles and a global pandemic proved the perfect storm for Warwick woman Julie Brown but who has now turned her life around with the launch of a new business. The fifty-year-old mum, who battles multiple sclerosis, recently established SEW Unique Crafts which specialises in making memory bears and cushions from recycled clothing – an idea inspired by her daughter who is about to leave primary school.
She made 11-year-old Harriet a special bear from her Kingsley Preparatory School uniform after seeing her upset about missing out on much of her final year there. Julie, from Hatton Park, said: “I had 12 weeks at home during lockdown apart from walking the dogs once a day, so I started doing a lot of sewing and I had heard about these items made from recycled clothes and thought it would be a nice thing to make for Harriet for when she finishes primary school.
“People love this idea and I have now got orders coming in from parents asking me to make some for them.”
While it started off as a hobby, Julie’s love of sewing has since become a lifeline for the self-taught entrepreneur who sank into a deep depression following the death of her beloved horse in 2018.
She said: “My partner Neil and I used to ride him at the trekking centre at Cannock Chase and it came to a point where he became available to buy.
“Caesar was a huge part of my life for nearly 20 years. I’d be with him every day. He was my best friend and companion. He was always there. Then suddenly when he died, I had this big void in my life. It affected me so much. I just kept crying all the time.
“The doctor said she thought I was suffering with a reactive type of depression brought on by grief and I was off work for 6-7 weeks and had counselling.”
She added: “Just after I lost Caesar, I needed to find something to give me a focus. I would see these little felted ornaments in the shops and thought I could have a go at doing that. Then my friends started saying, you’re really good at making these so why don’t you start selling them? So I put a small advert out and lots of people wanted to buy them. I never looked back!”
Spurred on by this interest, Julie attended a three-day residential course for needle felting and used online tutorials and magazines to perfect her crafting skills, before, in February last year, launching her own workshops. She hopes these will be able to recommence early next year.
She said: “I always start my workshops with a little story about me and what led me here, which people find fascinating.”
SEW Unique Crafts also helped fill a void for the part-time administrator who was forced to take time out from her job at Budbrooke Medical Centre. She has had to take a cautious approach throughout lockdown due to having multiple sclerosis, a condition she was diagnosed with after Harriet was born.
“I remember the first signs were when I was breastfeeding Harriet in the night and seeing double vision, but just put it down to tiredness. But after it had gone on for about three months, I went to see the doctor and he sent me to a neurologist. After having an MRI and lumbar puncture it was confirmed I had MS,” she said.
Medication helps to keep some of the symptoms under control although Julie does suffer with bouts of extreme tiredness and pins and needles as well as confused speech and memory lapses. Despite everything she’s had to overcome, the enterprising crafter is excited for the new chapter ahead.
Julie said: “I can make a sentimental bear, cushion or quilt or quilted hanger, out of recycled clothing for all sorts of reasons, including as a memory of someone who has passed away – or make something out of old baby clothes that don’t fit any more but which they want to keep. Quilted squares or quilted hangers. They can also be personalised with names.”
She added: “I’m absolutely convinced that me focusing on something like crafting really helped me get better. I just genuinely feel that doing something where you have to concentrate really helps if you’re going through some sort of depression. I think it got to the point at the end of my counselling where I needed to do more. Now I’m a big believer that crafting helps your mental health.
“A very negative point in my life became a very positive point in my life. And now it’s something I really enjoy.”
If you’re interested in ordering one of SEW Unique Crafts creations or are interested in taking part in a workshop, then you can email Julie or reach out on Facebook!
Written by Amanda Chalmers