We at Central Oregon Daily News have been thrilled to bring you the stories of the High Desert and beyond these past 12 months. We wanted to look back and not only re-share with you some of our favorites, but tell you why we love them so much.
“Pat Johanson exudes joy, kindness, and a can-do attitude despite all life has thrown her way. She’s chosen to take her painful experiences and turn them into something good — a service to the community and to her close friends. It was an honor to tell her story!” — Karli Olson, Central Oregon Daily News storyteller.
“The sound tells you a lot. You can get different machines and you hear the different sounds, pretty interesting,” Pat said.
It’s like a sixth sense — one she didn’t always possess.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Pat hadn’t threaded the needle since her college years.
“The hospital needed face masks,” Pat said. “I made about 300, 400. It was therapy. It was a way to do something about COVID, to make a difference and relieve my own stress. I was so anxious about it.”
A tragic car crash left her a single mom more than a decade ago, starting over with three daughters in a new place. A skill she had to practice over and over again during the pandemic — both in her sewing and in her personal life.
“A couple of my machines weren’t working right, and I just Googled it and I YouTubed a particular problem that I was having and tried to figure out why it wasn’t working and I got it working,” Pat said. “It felt amazing. It was just satisfying. Something that was dead came back to life.”
She followed the thread of that feeling, buying more broken machines to fix. So many, they ended up lining the staircase.
“’Oh my gosh, MOM! I thought you were going to stop this!’” was her daughters’ reaction to her new mission, according to Pat.
So, the machines had to go somewhere. That’s when Rescue Sewing Machines was born. It’s a Facebook group of locals — some in search of machines themselves and others ready to help the rehoming process. Many of them also donate broken machines to be fixed. There are currently more than 250 members in the group.
The repair team itself, a much smaller group, has an assortment of colorful fabrics and colorful backgrounds.
“I taught public school for 25 years,” said Danielle Thalman. “I retired just about a year ago and had some extra time.”
“I work as a youth ranch volunteer and I give sewing lessons to kids,” said Suzan Miller.
“I was an engineer for quite awhile, mostly in medical imaging,” said Art Lim.
Machines have landed at libraries, retirement homes and local schools. The list goes on.
No, Pat doesn’t name her sewing machines. Well, with one exception.
“I did name one of my Featherweights, I called her, oh, Meredith. Because I was watching a lot of “Grey’s Anatomy” when I had surgery for cancer,” Pat said.
A breast cancer diagnosis came in October 2020, just a few months into Pat’s sewing machine repair journey.
“You think you’re going to die. Really. That’s the first thing you think, you’re going to die. The world is going to go on without you. And nobody will really notice, you know, after awhile,” Pat said.
It was the one 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 was all the treatment, there was radiation, there was the surgery, there was all sorts of stuff going on. Lots of appointments, lots of stress.”
Doctors caught it early. Surgery in November saved her life.
During that time, sewing and fixing machines went from just therapy to a preservation of legacy.
“I’m doing something productive. Something that will last. And it’s also a creative activity. You’re creating things, you’re thinking of different ways of doing something,” Pat said.
She’s not the only one finding purpose in the pedal. The members of the repair team have mainly interacted online until a few days ago.
They met in person for the very first time.
Together, they’ve repaired and distributed around 300 sewing machines. But it’s the love of the craft and admiration for their leader that drives this team far more than skill.
“Everyone likes being around Pat, and she works hard, and she’s appreciative of everyone. She’s just really can-do,” Danielle said.“
“I admire so much about her. She is the heart and soul of this good stuff that we’re doing, and she is responsible for it all,” Art said.
“They’ve been great. I couldn’t do what I’ve been doing now without them,” Pat said.
What started as a way to cope with the stress of the pandemic stitched together friendships and provide help for a good cause.
“I hope they do good things,” Pat said. “I know that some of the people who get them are actually using them to support themselves. It’s great therapy. And it’s productive. You’re doing something that’s good. You’re making something that’s useful. I think more people should do it.”
And so Pat watches and listens in her living room until the broken pieces start working again, as they usually do.