Jessica Blair of Napa says that though her sister is gone now, a cute keepsake made by another Napa woman helps keep her memory alive.
Blair said she had more than a dozen Memory Bears made by Jessica Rockwood of Jean and Louise Handmade.
“I got 15 bears around Christmastime,” Blair said. “My sister passed away in Jan. 2018, and I’d saved a lot of her frequently worn shirts, and had bears made out of them and gave them to all my family members. I love them.” The bears typically cost $80 to $100.
A Salinas native transplanted to Napa three years ago, Rockwood, 34, found a way to make sure any message or design the clothes had was maintained in the bears, Blair said.
“She really made sure to keep the designs/graphics intact. Everyone really loved them. I have mine displayed in the house and it’s a nice reminder of my sister. Even though she’s gone, her shirt is still in the house. It’s a nice reminder of her,” she said.
This is what Rockwood says she has in mind with the Memory Bears – a concept she didn’t invent, but one dear to her heart.
“I started making patchwork teddy bears that are meant as a keepsake, when my mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly two years ago,” Rockwood said. “She had eight grandchildren, and my father-in-law gave me a box of her clothes (including lots of colorful vests with chickens on them) and from those I made eight patchwork teddy bears — one for each of her grandchildren, including my daughters.”
As friends and family members started to notice them, it became clear there was a potential business opportunity there, she said.
“Sometime later, a friend asked on social media where she could find someone to do such a thing. And then another asked, and I started to do custom orders of those,” Rockwood said.
But Memory Bears is only one of the items Rockwood creates through her 2-year-old business – named for her 5-year-old and 3-year-old daughters’ middle names – she said.
Jean and Louise is a mom-owned, handmade, Napa-based business that transformed a sewing hobby into a fun side project, Rockwood said.
When she’s not working as a consultant with an educational technology firm, (and home-schooling and parenting her daughters during the COVID-19 quarantine) the former third-grade teacher creates a variety of handmade goods, inspired by the seasons of her life, she said. Her most common custom creations, besides the bears, include “twirly” children’s dresses, matching sibling and Mommy & Me outfits, and head-wraps which are given to new mothers in the local community in collaboration with MomSquad Napa Valley, she said.
Though she learned to sew at her mother’s knee at the tender age of seven, Rockwood said she didn’t get into it in earnest until her oldest daughter was born.
“I make girls’ clothes, mostly,” she said. “I started sewing for my girls from the start, and started doing matching things for myself. People started asking about where they came from I stated taking orders and it developed into a little side business.”
Like her husband of seven years, Casey, a Napa County home support program manager, Rockwood used to travel to school sites several times per month. But the pandemic of 2020 has confined her work to her home, she said. Her professional life consulting with teachers and administrators on educational technology has been in high demand since the coronavirus outbreak required most, if not all, education go virtual. This has kept her even busier than her children, husband and side business already had, but she’s OK with that, Rockwood said.
“And we are a small team, but we love what we do,” she said.
Besides the bears and dresses, Rockwood also specializes in head wraps for new moms.
“The MomSquad Napa Valley gives a gift basket to new moms, and I make head wraps/headbands for that,” she said. “Self-care sometimes has to go by the wayside for lack of time for new moms. Also, often there’s postpartum hair loss, so these are useful for that.”
While sewing is a creative outlet and relaxing activity for Rockwood, she said she feels a special responsibility when creating a Memory Bear.
“The bears are time-intensive and there’s some pressure being trusted with so important a thing,” Rockwood said. “I find myself thinking about the recipient of what I’m making. The bears especially. It’s wonderful to be able to give people those memories in a way that they can put it out and see it.”
Rockwood said her daughters have started to pick up some of their mother’s creative habits.
“Since I started making dresses for other children, and doing craft fairs and stuff, my girls now feel quite entitled to shop through my stock, or walk right into my sewing area and place orders,” she said. “When my oldest was 4, she put a huge pile of fabric on the floor and told me these were her new school clothes. She will also get out her crayons and design her own dresses. We’ve been able to actually create some of what she’s designed.”
The process to order something from Rockwood starts with a conversation on Facebook about what the buyer is looking for, she said.
“I’ll post things in stock,” she said. “I take pre-orders for holidays. Just send a message.”
For information, go to Instagram @_jean_and_louise — and on Facebook, to Jean and Louise handmade.
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