Holiday memories…sights, sounds, even aromas which carry us back to precious times. Recently, I entered into Cat Griego’s home, and it was a home in every sense of the word. The décor wrapped around me and took me to days of conversations on a porch, with a slight breeze bringing in fireflies for children to chase, women quilting memories to warm their precious family through winter woes, and elders advising youngsters through story and song. The walls welcomed me into the home of a woman of strength, joy, and a heart as big as Texas.
Fifteen years ago, I went through a pretty bad divorce. I was working three jobs. I was the secretary for the principal at the prison; I worked there from 5:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. When I got off work, I would go to work at a law office from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. I had worked in law offices for 30 years. On top of that, I would clean offices on the weekend.
I was looking through the TDC ads, and I saw an opening for a Legal Assistant 2 in the Office of the General Counsel. I applied and was offered the position. I had never lived anywhere else, other than growing up in Teague, then 30 years in Fairfield when I was married. I moved down here by myself. I worked there for about a year. I was working with open records, and I didn’t want to lose my skills in the legal field. For the next several years, I worked for various law offices and judges here in Huntsville. I had experienced back problems for many years. Finally, the issues became severe enough that I had to have back surgery.
I went in for back surgery in May 2012, and I came out not quite as good as when I went in. I had no feeling in my left leg and foot. My recovery took almost two years. Since I had to learn to walk again, I ended up not being able to work. That was never something I thought I would experience in my life. While I was home, one of my friends with whom I had worked at the courthouse said, “I have a sewing machine. You said you used to sew when your kids were little. I’m going to bring you that sewing machine. What did you used to make?”
I responded, “Well, I made aprons.”
Three years ago, I started making aprons. I opened a Facebook page under Patchwork.Chic. Four or five hundred aprons later, here we are. I have sold aprons all over the United States. The last couple of years, I have held an open house. This year it was pouring down rain, and I still had over 50 people come. I open my house, and the people come in and make themselves at home and shop.
I write a daily blog, offer decorating tips and tips on sewing. I post the items I am making, or even post the home projects on which I am working. I have met so many people through Facebook. People don’t just come to shop; they come to stay. My poor husband never knows how many ladies are going to be in the house. Everybody is always gathered up around the table. I have many dear, treasured friends I would have never met had I not started sewing. It seems like the only people I knew when I was working at the law offices were crooks, criminals, and divorcees. I had a really bad habit of not being able to leave everything at work. My blood pressure has gone down immensely since I started sewing.
During my recovery from back surgery, I was limited in what I could do. Since I wasn’t really able to walk or exercise, I put on a “zillion” pounds over the last four years. Instead of having another back surgery, which is what they wanted to do, I chose to have gastric sleeve surgery. I had that on September 9, and the next week I was making aprons. I have lost 60 pounds since the surgery. I am doing more and feeling better than I have been in the past. It has been very rewarding. I can do more, go more, drive, and do things I had been unable to for several years.
Since I wasn’t working, I had no money to buy material. I decided I was going to see if I could take things I had and repurpose them. I started out by taking curtains down and making them into aprons. I cut up old dresses, shirts, blue jeans, old pillows, old blankets; I cut up everything I could find. Friends were hearing about what I was doing. Every time I opened the door, there would be someone there with a basket of thread, a box of fabric. People donated stuff to me for almost two years. By then, I had a little money where I could go and buy fabric. I don’t know if I sold any more sewing with new fabric than I did with the repurposed fabric. I’m not a believer in throwing anything away. Whatever I have left over at the end of the year, I donate to the Hospitality House.
I have always believed that if you give, you are always given back way more than you could ever give. I gave a lot of aprons away that first year. I still will do that. People gave me so much to get me started that I believe I have an obligation to give back. I will receive messages on Facebook that say, “I wish that I could afford one of your aprons. My husband has cancer, and I just can’t afford one right now.” I will ask for their address and send an apron to them. My goal for this year was to see how much I could donate and give.
A great number of people want me to pick out and make the design for them. They like the way I put colors and patterns together. People will message me and ask for Dallas Cowboy aprons, Aggie aprons, etc. One lady sent me a message that said, “Can you make me two camouflage aprons? My husband and his brother think they are in the deer processing business.” I have a friend who will do the monograms/embroidery on the aprons. I have made mother/daughter aprons, aprons for little boys…I do all sizes of aprons. My seams are all sewed with love. Sometimes people do not know what they want, and I’ll ask them to send me a picture of their kitchen. I can usually tell from that what kind of apron they would like to have.
With the aid of Pinterest, you can always find something new. I have taken several things I’ve seen on there and put together my own version of an apron. I make a half apron and a whole apron from a pattern I made myself. Generally, I can make one per hour or six a day, if I’m really getting after it. I also make all of the ties long, so if you are a little “fluffier” than others, you can still tie that tie.
Ninety-five percent of what I do is sewing machine. There is a lot of work I can’t do because of my hands. When my hands begin to hurt, I have to stop for a while. People have asked me to make baby dresses and such. There are a lot of things I can’t do with my hands, because of the intricate handwork. But, I have made many baby quilts, quilt and pillow sets, bibs, curtains, shower curtains, odds and ends, and many different things for people.
I had a couple of businesses here in town approach me about putting my aprons in their stores, but they kept telling me I didn’t charge enough. They wanted me to charge more or only sell to them. They couldn’t sell them for what I charge. I’ve never wanted to sell my aprons and people not be able to afford them. I don’t make a whole lot off each apron, but I would rather everybody have the opportunity to purchase my product.
There is something about an apron that makes a memory. All of my grandchildren have sat on that counter there from the time they were old enough to sit there by themselves. They have rolled out dough and had flour everywhere. They still come; they still want to cook.
I set up the three bedrooms with aprons in one, pillows in another, and various items in the last. This year I made Christmas ornaments, stockings, purses, and table runners. I also have Santa sacks that people are purchasing to put Christmas gifts in.
My husband also makes original items: benches, boxes for holding mason jars, chalkboards, repurposed lamps, etc. Many times I will sell out of my inventory during an open house event.
Although I’ve never been interested in selling through eBay or other internet outlets, I have made a connection with Amazon. They have a new program called Handmade at Amazon. You have to be accepted into the program, and 95% of your products have to be hand-made/machine made. I had to send in pictures of my work and write about myself. I recently got accepted to their program. I am looking forward to going that route.
For more information on Cat Griego, go to her Facebook page: Patchwork.Chic.