Who We Are: Sewing Through Grief — Sally’s Story

Trigger Warning: chronic illness, loss of a child, loss of family members.This is a “through post” that is under the author of Jacinta, but is written by a guest author, Sally.

Grief touches us all, as it is part of the human condition. In this “Sewing Through Grief” series, we will be sharing stories from Sewcialists who have sewed through separation, death, illness, and recovery.

Sally smiles at the camera. She has blonde shoulder-length hair and glasses, and wears a blue tee.

I’m one of 7 children, coming in at number 6, and we are all creative in one way or another. I started sewing when I was a child when my 12 years older big sister Gill taught me. We spent a lot of time together and she was someone I really looked up to and loved very much. 

I was 21 years old in 1983, when my first baby, Naomi, was born. That same year, Gill was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Two years later, my daughter Jo was born, very ill at birth, having a bowel blockage and subsequently diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. By this time, Gill had deteriorated rapidly and required care-giving. Because our daughter Jo required intensive chest physiotherapy 3 times a day and regimen of medication to help keep infection at bay, I had very little opportunity to sew because it was exhausting looking after such a sick child. This would prove to be a losing battle.

Sally and Gill in a photo from around 1980. Sally wears a white shirt and me-made capris, and Gill wears a dress. They're standing on a rocky outcrop with trees in the background.
Gill and me about 1980 I’m wearing some me made ‘peddle pushers’ as they were called back then.

I had another baby, Samuel, in 1989, when Gill passed away from MS. I started to sew again after Sam was born, for the girls, for my mum and for me; I loved it. It brought me joy, helped with my creativity and gave me an outlet. Jo’s health was very up and down. With each down, she didn’t come back up to where she had been before; it was heart-breaking to watch. We tried to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible, but that’s tough when you have a child who is in and out of hospital, receiving constant medical treatment, while you’re also taking care of two other children.  

My mum died in 2007. 18 months later, one of my sisters was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer. Soon afterwards in June 2009, at 23 years old, Jo died. We were all devastated. I, in particular, was lost. The whole of Jo’s life I had been her full-time carer.

A shot of Jo in a dark sparkly dress with a fur or faux-fur collar. She has dangly earrings and a huge smile.
Jo organised a fashion show for Oxfam where she volunteered a day a week. Some of the models backed out and she had to step in; she loved every minute of it and looked stunning.

Unable to face work — I had taken a part-time job — I eventually went to see a bereavement counsellor. After many weeks and many conversations, the counsellor asked what I’d like to do in the future and I had no idea. He asked me what I used to enjoy doing and the only thing I could think of was sewing. He suggested I contact a local college and see what they have available. I was terrified; I felt very vulnerable and isolated. Going somewhere on my own was very daunting, but I enrolled for a 10 week course. Accomplishing that, I enrolled for the next 10 weeks. I also did another course in bridal and evening wear. It was at this point that my sewing instructor suggested that I set myself up working from home. I was both astounded and delighted. Deirdre, my instructor, was such an encouragement; she helped me get back on my feet through sewing, bringing out the skills I already had learned, teaching me new techniques and boosting my confidence. I am so grateful to have been in Deidre’s classes. 

A peek over Sally's shoulder as she sews, peering through a magnifying glass to see the detail of her work.
Sewing on my Pfaff.

I set up my business from home. Tentatively at first, becoming more confident as time has gone on. As the work came in, I have been able to fund both equipment and courses. I completed City and Guilds Pattern Cutting and Design level 2 a couple of years ago, and I have recently bought a lovely new Pfaff sewing machine.  My son has set up my work room twice now. He did the first one in previous house and when we moved home, he did it again for me and it’s beautiful. I am much busier than I had ever imagined possible. My family and friends have been so encouraging and supportive.

A photo of Jo, aged 21. She sits on a boulder on a beach, wearing a navy coat and a green cabled hat.
 Away with Jo aged about 21 years old, for Mother’s Day. Taken on the beach at Happisburgh, Norfolk.

It will be ten years this year since Jo passed, and 30 years since Gill passed.  Who knows what life will bring? I remember saying to a friend I thought I’d given Jo the best years of my life. My friend challenged me by saying, “Who says that’s so, who knows what’s to come?” And she was right. What I do know is that I am thankful for those who have come into my life and made an impact, who have been supportive and encouraging, who have taught me new skills and techniques. There’s always something new and exciting if we’ll only look for it. We love those who we’ve had the joy to know along the way and those who we have lost too, we won’t forget them, we hold them in our hearts. I have good days and not such good days, but I can go into my sewing room and lose myself in the latest project and I am content. Having thought I’d never smile again, that’s a great place to be. 😊

Sally is 57 yrs old, married to Steve, with 2 living children, 2 grandchildren & 2 more on the way. She has 2 dogs. Sally loves to walk, knit and sew and spend time with family and friends. She works from home in her lovely sewing studio her son designed. She lives in the East Midlands UK 

Sally can be found on Instagram here and has a Facebook page for her work here.