Bend woman turns pandemic need into passion for sewing machines

“The sound says it all. You can get different machines and you hear the different sounds, which is quite interesting,” Pat said.

It’s like a sixth sense, a sense she didn’t always have.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Pat hadn’t threaded the needle since his college days.

“The hospital needed face masks,” Pat said. “I did about 300, 400. It was therapy. It was a way to do something about COVID, to make a difference, and to relieve my own stress. I was so anxious about it.

Pat Johanson (Credit: Karli Olson, Central Oregon Daily News)

A tragic car accident left her as a single mother over ten years ago, starting over with three daughters in a new place. A skill she’s had to practice again and again during the pandemic – both in her sewing and in her personal life.

“A couple of my machines weren’t working properly, and I just googled it and found on YouTube a particular problem I was having and tried to figure out why it wasn’t working and I made it work,” Pat said. “It was amazing. It was just satisfying. Something that was dead came back to life.

She followed the thread of that sentiment, buying more broken machines to fix. So many that they ended up lining up on the stairs.

“Oh my God, mom! I thought you were going to stop this! was his daughters’ reaction to his new mission, according to Pat.

(Credit: Pat Johanson)

So the machines had to go somewhere. That’s when Rescue Sewing Machines was born. It’s a Facebook group of locals – some looking for machines themselves and others willing to help with the relocation process. Many of them also donate broken machines to be repaired. There are currently over 250 members in the group.

The repair crew itself, a much smaller group, has an assortment of colorful fabrics and colorful backgrounds.

“I taught in a public school for 25 years,” said Danielle Thalman. “I retired about a year ago and had some extra time.”

“I work as a youth volunteer on a ranch and teach sewing lessons to children,” Suzan Miller said.

“I was an engineer for a while, mostly in medical imaging,” Art Lim said.

The machines have landed in libraries, nursing homes and local schools. The list continues.

No, Pat does not name his sewing machines. Well, with one exception.

“I named one of my featherweights, I called her, oh, Meredith. Because I was watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ a lot when I had surgery for cancer,” Pat said.

(Credit: Karli Olson, Central Oregon Daily News)

A breast cancer diagnosis arrived in October 2020, just months into Pat’s sewing machine repair journey.

“You think you are going to die. Really. That’s the first thing you think of, you’re going to die. The world will go on without you. And no one will really notice, you know, after a while,” Pat said.

It was the only machine she couldn’t fix on her own.

“I knew within a week or two that I wasn’t going to die, so that was good,” Pat said. “But you know, there were all the treatments, there was radiation, there was surgery, there were all sorts of things going on. Lots of appointments, lots of stress.

Doctors caught him early. Surgery in November saved his life.

Meanwhile, sewing and fixing machines have evolved from mere therapy to heirloom preservation.

“I’m doing something productive. Something that will last. And it is also a creative activity. You create things, you think of different ways to do something,” Pat said.

She’s not the only one finding purpose in the pedal. Members of the repair team mostly interacted online until a few days ago.

They met in person for the very first time.

Together they repaired and distributed around 300 sewing machines. But it is the love of the job and the admiration for their leader that drives this team much more than skills.

“Everyone loves being with Pat, and she works hard, and she appreciates everyone. She’s really capable of doing that,” Danielle said. “

“I look up to her so much. She’s the heart and soul of all this good stuff we do, and she’s responsible for it,” Art said.

“They were great. I couldn’t do what I do now without them,” Pat said.

What started as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic has forged friendships and provided help for a good cause.

“I hope they do good things,” Pat said. “I know some of the people who get them actually use them to support themselves. It’s great therapy. And it’s productive. You are doing something good. You are doing something useful. I think more people should do it.

And so Pat watches and listens in his living room until the broken parts start working again, as they usually do.


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