By Len Lear
You might not think that a simple thing like a pillow case would make much difference in the life of a child with cancer or other life-threatening illness, but it really does. For example, Handcraft Workshop, a four-year-old business at 7224 Germantown Ave., has partnered with Ryan’s Case for Smiles (formerly known as ConKerr Cancer) to help with the organization’s mission of helping sick children cope with the stress of life-changing illnesses and injuries.
The organization does this by providing children with whimsical pillowcases that give them an emotional boost and remind them they are not defined by their illnesses. This simple gift provides proven stress relievers including distraction and hope that enhances the emotional well-being of the children and their families.
Handcraft Workshop serves as a pillowcase drop-off location and also hosts an annual pillowcase making event. Last year, 30 Handcraft Workshop volunteers made over 350 pillowcases for the campaign. “This year, we’re going to try to donate 400!” said Germantown resident and Handcraft Workshop co-founder (with husband, Andre, an information technology manager at the University of Pennsylvania), Heather Hutchinson Harris. “To do that, we’re going to need the help of volunteers.”
This year’s fourth annual pillowcase making event will take place Sunday, Sept. 17, 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Handcraft Workshop. “Making a simple pillowcase for yourself, a loved one, or for a child you don’t know is a true gift,” said Heather. “I teach beginners how to sew pillowcases because something so easy as sewing a pillowcase builds confidence and provides a level of great satisfaction. It also makes you want to keep sewing more and more pillowcases! I think it is important to share our gift of sewing with others. If making a pillowcase makes you smile, just think of the smile of the child that the pillowcase is given to!”
Heather, 43, is not new to helping those less fortunate community members. She grew up in the city’s Lawndale section, attended Girls High School and received a B.A. in social work from Temple University in 1997 and a masters degree in geriatric counseling from St. Joseph’s University in 2003. She worked as a geriatric social worker for a period of time at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging but then made a career change and received a master’s degree in education from Chestnut Hill College in 2008. She taught special ed children at the Anna B. Day School in East Mt. Airy for seven years.
“I had a wonderful experience working there,” she said, “and have many friends who are still teaching there. It is how I eventually decided to start my business. My friend asked me to teach her daughter how to use a sewing machine. It was this experience of teaching someone else how to use a machine that made the business light bulb go off in my head.”
Before opening the shop, Heather, who received lots of help from Mt. Airy USA to get her started and ever since, taught sewing to teens and tweens for 2½ years at Mt. Airy Learning Tree. She also rented space and taught adult sewing classes at the Moving Arts of Mt. Airy studio.
The shop has been a magnet for area residents who want to learn to sew. “Our Sewing 101 3-week series for beginners is our most popular class,” said Heather. “I love teaching
beginners how to sew! It never gets old. Since opening in 2013, we have taught over
500 men, women and children how to sew using a sewing machine. I love the
excitement my students experience after they make their first pillowcase.
“Curating our fabric collection is one of the perks of my job. It can be overwhelming, but I try to pick the fabrics that are fun and the most eye-catching … I want our students to believe that they can make anything they want. I want them to be creative, and most of all, I want them to have fun.”
What have been the toughest problems to overcome in the business? “One of the biggest challenges I continue to face is time. There never seems to be enough time to get everything done. There are so many techniques and patterns that we want to teach our students. Sometimes it’s hard to pick and choose what to teach them next.
“Our classes consistently fill up, but our retail is not as robust as I had expected for a variety of reasons, but we are in the process of upgrading our e-commerce website to really improve our online shopping experience.”
Heather, whose fantasy is to be a costume designer for film and television, insists that her greatest achievement “is teaching myself how to sew. It is something that started as a hobby and has turned into my life’s passion … My biggest pet peeve is when I make a mistake sewing. Yes, even so-called experts make mistakes!”
For more information about volunteering and/or classes: 215-247-1440 or
email@example.com. Carole Verona contributed to this article. Also worth mentioning is the Harris’ “awesome” rescue dog, Sirius, a boxer/hound.