Stitched Together: A fun tote bag

When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, her treatment began with a difficult regimen of chemotherapy.  Normally a take-charge woman, at a family picnic that spring my sister was too tired to join in any activities and spent the afternoon sitting in a lawn chair browsing through a knitting magazine. At one point I sat with her and looked over her shoulders as she flipped through the pages. She paused at one of the back pages and pointed out a small advertisement for a knitting weekend in northern Wisconsin scheduled for shortly after Labor Day.

My sister’s knitting bag was
her constant companion.

 “Let’s go to that,” she said. “I need something to look forward to.”

The very next day I signed us up. And that fall, we packed up and drove the four hours north from Chicago to Neenah, Wisconsin. We spent the weekend deeply involved in our craft with other knitters, fantastic instructors, and a charming, well stocked shop. For those three days, cancer did not exist.

Throughout my sister’s well fought battle with breast cancer, we never missed our knitting retreats. When the shop started offering them in the spring and the fall, we jumped at the opportunity to double our outings. During the drive north, she often would talk about her fears and the struggles, but when we arrived at our destination, the joy and delight of creating, learning, and simply being together overpowered the presence of cancer for the entire weekend.

My sister lost her battle to breast cancer in the spring of 2006. Her death was a tremendous loss to not only me, but to her wonderful husband, handsome sons, my mom, and my other two sisters.

However, I am so grateful for the craft that allowed her a refuge from cancer, and for the common thread that bound us together during difficult days. This same craft became my refuge as I struggled with my grief.

We all have our stories, and I’d be honored if you would share yours. When has sewing, knitting, or other handwork helped you through difficult times?


Stitch on,

P.S. I’m grateful to work for a company that is investing in the fight against this horrible disease. From October 1-5, 30% of all proceeds from the Sew Daily Shop will be donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc® ( Every bit helps.


Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Sew Daily Blog

32 thoughts on “Stitched Together: A fun tote bag

  1. I am a writer and during the last weeks of a first cousin, who had been an outdoorsman, and my husband who was very ill, I wrote a book entitled, God’s Messenger. It included a great bull elk that came down from the mountains at the death of my cousin. The elk became a symbol of God’s presence during difficult times for the characters of my book.

    I’ve used the book to help other patients and their families as they deal with the dreaded “C”.

    Anita L. Allee, from Missouri

  2. What a beautiful and sad story! What remains are the weekends spent with your sister on which you enjoyed your favorite craft. You’ll never forget those times! My wonderful, talented Mom also struggles with breast cancer and we share a love for all things crafty, epecially knitting, crochet and sewing. She is my inspiration and I hope she will be there for a very long time.

  3. I am the mother of 4 wonderful children,all adult now. My son started having tonic-clonic epileptic seizures when he was 14 years old. The first time, I rang for an ambulance and we were rushed off to hospital where I sat for 5 hours watching screens of equipment monitoring him whilst he slept. I then decided that if this happened again I would have a bag ready to take with me holding some hand sewing/embroidery/crocheting that I could work on whilst he slept. Each time he had a seizure I took my bag with me, whether it was to the local hospital or further afield after he left home. Remi was determined it wasn’t going to rule his life but he would manage it and still do the things he planned. He travelled from the UK to Japan, USA, North Africa, etc. He moved to Canada to work and then on to New Zealand. Unfortunately, he died as a result of an epileptic seizure in Auckland in 2011.

    He was very supportive of me when I started teaching dressmaking and other needlecrafts. During the last year which has been very difficult for all of us my faith and my work have helped me tremendously. I was planning to make a quilt for Remi at the time he died – its design has changed and will now be a wallhanging commemorating his interests and skills.

    My sewing, embroidery, etc, have helped me greatly during this time and the wallhanging will contain some of the pieces I worked during the hours I sat in hospitals, along with memories of the things we did together – watching tennis, snooker, football, etc.

  4. I have Autism. Social situations are a nightmare for me. I’m intelligent and well-educated but struggle with things that are so simple for most people – supermarkets, clothes, walking along a busy street.

    But when I am with a group of crafty people all the barriers come down and I am just one of the group. The shared skills and interest means so much to me.

    I can’t communicate my emotions easily so the Prayer Shawl Ministry has been a god send (literally). When someone is ill I don’t mess up trying to say words of hope and comfort: I sew or knit or crochet something for them and we both know they are wrapped in my love.

  5. Knitting. My mom passed almost 3 years ago and one month after, my dad sent me all her knitting needles. I tried knitting once before but just couldn’t get the hang of it. This time I was determined because I knew, she knew, I could do it. After mastering the purl stitch with the help of a friend, I quickly moved on to learn cables and lace through youtube videos. Within 6 months a discovered a mistake in one of my new Vogues magazines! I have designed my own sweaters as well as a dozen afghans.
    I cannot put the needles down!
    Thanks mom! 🙂

  6. My husband has been chronically ill since 2006 and I began a Chinese Quilt kit during one of his hosital stays. That quilt was my constant companion for 3 years only worked on while he was in hospital. Ergo, “my hospital quilt”. I now have something beautiful to show for a tumultous time. L

  7. Rose
    your story touched me deeply. I am a breast cancer “thriver”. A woman told me that she felt like a “thriver”so i use that term now. I am doing the walk on the 20th for Breast Cancer research so there can be more women who are able to say as i can “i am cancer free”. God walked every step with me, my husband and my family. I have drawn a picture about my journey . PS: 91:4 UNDER HIS WINGS.
    May God bless you for sharing your beautiful story.
    Darlene Bengsch
    springfield, Mo

  8. On May 26th this year I got a call from my younger sister about 9 pm to let me know that her husband was going into emergency surgery to remove a tumor in his colon before it ruptured. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his liver. About 9:30 my father, who is in the early stages of Alzheimers, called me to let me know that the blood in his urine, which the doctor a few days earlier had attributed to an infection, had gotten seriously worse. We decided that I would take him to the ER first thing in the morning. At 10 that same evening, one of my brothers called to let me know that my 55 year old sister in Chicago had suffered a heart attack and was on life support. At that news, my husband and I rushed to the hospital where my little sister was waiting on the surgery for my brother-in-law to be with her when she received the news of our older sister. The next morning, while getting dressed to take my dad to the ER we got the call to let us know that my sister was being pulled off life support. We decided to wait until Dad was in the hospital to let him know of my sister’s passing, as we did not know how it would effect him. Dad’s situation turned out to be a much more serious situation than an infection – his kidneys were bleeding, and he was admitted to the hospital for 8 days. Because of the Alzheimers someone had to be with Dad most of his waking hours in the hospital to be able to explain things to him, and to answer the medical professionals questions. This responsibility fell to me. I always had knitting with me – it is what kept me from going crazy and being swallowed up in the grief, fear and worry that our family found itself in that weekend! Needlework (I crochet, knit and quilt) has such a calming effect on me – I truly do not know what I would do without it in my life.

  9. Rose- your story brought tears to my eyes. God Bless you and your family. The loss of someone special never gets any easier. I am glad for you to have such fond memories of time spent with your sister. I lost my mother to Ovarian Cancer in 1996. My niece (Mom’s only grandchild) was born 7 months later. I learned to quilt so that I could make a quilt for Gabby out of Mom’s favorite nightgown. Quilting has since become a big part of my life. I am now working with the MD Anderson Ovarian Quilt Project for Ovarian Cancer Awareness, Sarah Jimenez

  10. As I read your post and the comments that followed, I was amazed at the strength and compassion of all of these women! I lost my mother to cancer 3 years ago after a fierce, but all too brief battle. She lived with our family the last 6 months of her life which was wonderful, although heartbreaking. A few months before Mom was diagnosed, my sister had her first baby, a girl. All the time Mom was ill, I knitted toys, clothes, other small items for my new niece who was, and is, a joy to us all. I will echo what many have said here, knitting helped keep me sane. Funnily enough, my “new career” is not working in a wonderful local yarn shop! Keep the faith! J

  11. My hairdresser was just diagnosed with breast cancer and will start her chemo next week. While experiencing some really difficult situations (divorce, demise of parents and loss of job) knitting has always helped deflect the stress -allowed me to channel that energy in a positive way. So, as soon as I heard about her cancer and that the chemo would soon claim her hair I immediately found a site with chemo caps and knitted that for her (it took all of 4 days to complete) and am now midway through a prayer shawl. She’s not a knitter, but always enjoys hearing about my projects, so I hope that when she wears the chemo cap and prayer shawl she will feel the love, peace and positive thoughts that are sent her way.

  12. Sewing & creating with fabric is such a joy for me. I had a heart transplant in May 2008. Both, prior to that when I was dealing with heart failure (over the course of many, many years) and since, sewing has saved my sanity more times than I can count. Since then I have discovered making art landscape quilts is a blast! I am so very grateful for every day and the wonderful opportunity the gift of a new heart has given me. Patty

  13. We are in the midst of some extremely difficult family circumstances now, as our adult daughter, (one of our 5 children) is making some very poor, life altering decisions. My relationship with Christ has been my primary source of comfort and strength, and my husband and family have been ever so caring. But the more difficult this becomes, the more I realize that I need my creative outlets. There is just something wonderful about creating something beautiful in the midst of suffering that brings light into the darkness of pain. I have been able to do some blogging, make some cards and scrapbook a little, too, but not enough, I think. My biggest problem is finding the time and then not being too tired to do something. But I know I need it, so I have to carve out more time. It is essential to my sanity! Thanks for sharing. It confirms what I already know. It is necessary, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking time for “me”. Sometimes, we as moms worry so much about everyone else’s well-being, that we forget about taking care of ourselves. That looks different for everyone, but even my Dr. told me I need to take time every day for creativity. In fact, he even wrote me a prescription for 30+ minutes of crafting every day!!! Really!! But I have not been doing it, making excuses why I cannot. I am going to start today and just do it!!
    If you want to read my blog about my journey, it is

  14. In 2006, a very dear friend died suddenly from a heart attack; no one knew this until I discovered his body a week later, and the shock and loss threw me into a deep depression that nothing could help. After five months of misery, a friend back east suggested I learn to knit socks so I could help her when she had questions (by e-mail). Even though I was reasonably certain that she would have figured them out on her own, I agreed, simply because as a Type-A person, I hated having NO control over anything I did at that time, and figured that if I could master one silly little sock, maybe my life would return to a more normal point. Thankfully, that friend was right. I did learn to knit the socks, and as I became more involved in creating them, I found myself thinking of life and joy once again. Of course, no one expected that I would become so obsessed with knitting socks that after the first year, I’d knitted over 50 pairs, but the fact that I finally could once again enjoy doing my favorite things and think with love of my friend without the depression showed me that even taking control of one little sock gave me my life back. Now, once again I am creating all sorts of needlework (not just socks!), and I think my friend would approve.

  15. My quilting bee, the Variegated Threads, kept careful watch over me as I went through a year of breast cancer surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. They are a diverse group of strong, creative women who fed and nourished me, not only with food, visits, notes, and calls, but also with the faithfulness of their friendship during a difficult time for my family. At the end of my treatment, they presented me with a beautiful quilt, stitched by the entire group, that I will always cherish as testimony of their love.

  16. My best friend of 30 years also passed of cancer. We worked together and ate lunch nearly every day of those years often times including others on our lunch & shop, hour plus journeys. I loved gardening and making things,of every kind of craft out there and was good as most, She had some fabric she bought and didn’t know what to do with it. It was canvas type background with loose watercolor type Roses and leaves. Not real pretty on its own but I machine embroidered the phrase “I have a Garden of friends but you are y Rose”. She touched so many lives and had many wonderful friends and had a way of making everyone feel good about themselves. So this was fitting for her guest bedroom where she proudly displayed it for all those who stayed overnight. Her husband passed it on to her granddaughter.

  17. It wasn’t knitting but quilting that got me through a very difficult time in my life. I was in a very horrible car accident and had a brain injury and multiple broken bones as well. After spending months in a rehabilitation hospital learning how to walk and talk again. I went home to the stark reality that my life would never again be the same. However, I could either wallow in self pity or do something to make my life more enjoyable. My rehab nurse suggested I take up sewing or knitting to try to improve my coordination between my brain and my hands. I took up quilting. My mother in law is a wonderful quilter, so I knew I would have a great wealth of information if I needed it…boy did I ever! Well it has been three years as of September and I am still quilting and even making my own clothes. I still can’t do a lot of things I used to, but I am happy, and that is what matters at the end of the day.

  18. My Art is crochet. I started crocheting hats for children dealing with cancer while I was bald from chemo. I had received many hats from loving people and was overwhelmed by the love and comfort offered by their gifts so I decided to pay it forward. The hats developed into shawls and pretty soon I was involved in starting a prayers shawl ministry at my church. Over the past 5 years we have been blessed to be able to offer comfort, warmth, prayers and love to approximately 250 people. Crochet constantly challenges me. I keep learning new things and meeting new people. It was also been a source of comfort to me as I watched my beloved sister fight and lose the battle against Dragon Cancer. I know that crochet will continue to be a method of dealing with sorrow and illness for me.

  19. The most traumatic event for me was the passing of my Mama Kitty in 2004. She had been with me for 16 years, and was probably 5 years old when she came into my life. I was numb for a year after she passed, but I knew I had to weave to keep from falling in a black hole from which I would not suvive. I tried a new technique in an old structure, mixed warp and weft in 4H Bronson Lace. After the first few shuttle passes, I knew it was good and became the most beautiful fabric I have woven. I since wove another piece in a different weave structure when my dad passed in 2007. I had intended for it to be for me. It became the grieving cloth, when it gave me so much grief that I decided when it was finished, I would also be finished with grieving. Not quite, but weaving saved my life and kept me from falling apart. I look forward to weaving again when I am finished with a lawsuit against a big corrupt bank. Keep weaving and creating a new earth where there is only beauty, Light, peace and prosperity.

  20. I lost my daughter to skin cancer in 2009. She was only extremely sick for 6 weeks. During that time they put two titanium rods in her back because it had already gotten into the bones. If I had not had my sewing and knitting while I was just sitting there and not being able to help her I think I would have lost my mind. It really hurts to lose a wonderful child like her. She had two grandchildren ages 2 and 4 and she wanted desperately to be the favorite grammy and didn’t get the chance. Now I am trying to fill her shoes and also tell them all about their grammy.

  21. When I had a heart attack which resulted in the discovery of a lung mass which put me on a path To biopsies and more. First it was lung cancer and loosing 1 lung, then my drs telling me I had a rare disease amyloidosis. It is a rare terminal blood disease which attacks the organs. One can only buy time.

    My fiber friends have been there for me: sending me flowers, feeding me, taking me to fiber events, visiting me , bucking me up. My treatment to give me some remission time is chemotherapy and my fiber friends are here every step. Just like my family. I will feel better in a year or. My faith sustains me but those friends are keeping me positive.
    I wish all of you have the same positive feelings!

  22. When has handwork helped me through difficult times? ALWAYS
    I have some experience with cancer (most members of my family have suffered some type of it with different grades uf success so I’m kind of mentally “prepared”) and specially with time spent in hospitals with other people. And I guess that was when I started using my time for something more than worrying and complaining.
    Nowadays I’m unemployed and it helps me getting the problem out of my mind (and hopefully to start a new business).
    Whenever I go into a project, be it beading, decoupage, cross stitch, crochet or whatever you may think I get into a special peaceful state of mind that help me relax and wash away “the bad things”.
    I think it was Jen VanBeschoten from Beading Daily who once said in a post that beading could become a way of meditation for some people. Well, I must say it’s true for me with all the handwork.
    So, I hope all our stories can help other people. And I pray for all the people suffering from cancer and their families. A big hug for all of them from Spain.
    Raquel, from Valencia, Spain

  23. Knitting… It’s my “zen-happy-place” If something is bugging me, leave me be and let me knit. And, in the last few years, more people are asking me to help them learn how to knit, and I’m happy to pass along my “thing”.

    But, I believe I created a monster when I taught my friend, Pavlina, how to knit. She dove in, head first, squishing yarn in her LYS, picking out complicated patterns… her 3rd project was learning to knit socks! SOCKS?!?!? I’ve been knitting since I was 7 and still struggle with using 4 needles! She’d call me from the airport, on her way to Europe, to have me explain an oddly worded set of instructions! MONSTER!

    And then she got sick… And her knitting fell to the way-side, as mine went into overdrive, knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help her with her fight against cancer, but be there, over the miles of phone line – be a sounding board, laugh when she wants to and listen to her crying when she needed that, too.

    And then my funny, knitty monster passed away, just over a year ago. She knew it was coming; her doctors were blunt and honest, and I think she was ready to be done with the fight and the pain and the stress.

    She told me months before, when things didn’t look so bad, that she had made sure that her family knew that she wanted all her knitting “stuff” to be given to me and my mom, after she was gone. Little did I know that it would result in 3 huge Rubbermaid plastic bin-sized cardboard boxes, being shipped from Oklahoma to Ontario (Canada)!!

    She was all over the spectrum when it came to yarn – acrylic, silk, wool, cashmere… some were only partial balls, some were matched sets… you name it, there was a little be of it in there!

    At the same time that this was going on, another excellent friend was living in the far East and baking a little boy bun in her oven 😉 So, in going through all the yarn, I found a manly variegated colourway (white, grey, brown, black) in acrylic, and decided that I would make the little one a special cardigan, from Auntie Julie and Auntie Pavlina.

    I found perfect little buttons, that looked liked vintage braided leather ones, and so hoped that the couple and baby would love it. They moved back to Ontario 11 months after Pavlina passed away, and I presented them with “our” gift. They loved it and they sent me a picture with their little one wearing it – looking so stylish.

    Knitting keeps me sane and kept Pavlina out of trouble (those stories for another day!) It became another layer in our friendship, and I’ll always treasure it.

    Julie B.

  24. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I found myself going to the craft my mother taught me at age 5. She was a fiber artist and taught all her children to knit, crochet, embroider, etc. My cancer is lymphoma and thankfully I am in remission. I knitted and crocheted at least 36-40 hats of all kinds of colors for me. I matched hats, socks, blouse and jewelry to match. I made earrings and bracelets to match the outfits. Now, I have given away at least 200-250 hats made in hair colors with the Lionbrand Funfur and other yarns. It helps me to keep my thoughts positive and gives someone, who is where I was, a bit of bright color to brighten their world. I take my work with me when I or my family have dental or medical appointments, and usually end up giving away finished hats to people who have family members who are battling cancer.

    Marie G. Lake City, Arkansas

  25. After a difficult year of breast cancer, treatment and then hysterectomy, I took a leave of absence from my job and was frantic about how I would be constructive during the year of leave.
    I took a basic hand quilting course at my local quilt store and have never looked back.
    I have progressed from hand quilting to machine quilting to art quilting and adore the relaxation, creativity, companionship and productive hours I have spent for the last 11 years.
    Sadly, I have endured 2 more bouts of very different cancers but through it all my sewing has kept me connected to many wonderful facets of the craft.
    I will always want to be busy on exciting and innovative ideas and bless the day I signed up for that one quilting class.

  26. Your story instantly brought to mind my mother.

    Mom was an energetic, hardworking, independent, fiesty woman who taught her children to be the same. She also excelled in most of the traditional home arts, and taught them to us at a young age. She didn’t believe in idle hands, and would allow TV viewing only if we were doing something useful. I learned to knit before I started school, and made my first garment, and apron on 1/4″ gingham, at about age 8.

    One of the first noticeable signs of the Alzheimer’s which eventually claimed her life was when she couldn’t follow a knitting pattern that I, a much less accomplished knitter, had done. When we recieved the call that she didn’t have much time, my sisters and I gathered at her bedside, each with a knitting project in hand, a testiment of the legacy of industry and service that she left us.

  27. Thank you so much for sharing your story Rose.
    For me, knitting has been a great solace. In Sept 2009 I attempted suicide. I was hospitalized for 2 weeks while the psychiatrists explained that I wasn’t ‘crazy’ – I had severe major depression. As I recovered in hospital, they allowed me to have my knitting with me. The sweater I finished in that two weeks I call my “recovery sweater”. I wear it often.
    I now belong to a knitting group in my home town – most of the women have battled their demons, some mental health issues, some other health issues. We’ve all used craft has our comfort and escape.
    Now, as I sit by my husband of 22 years while he is severely ill with kidney disease, it is knitting that comforts me in hospital, and my knitting friends who support me emotionally.
    God bless crafters!

  28. About 5 years ago, I had a very difficult surgery in my home town, not where I lived at the time. 4 days later my Father had a massive heat attack which required a 14 hour open heart surgery. One of my best friends came to visit before the surgery and said to me “what are you going to do to distract you during the surgery? You can’t walk around (I was in a wheelchair) and you will never be able to concentrate on reading anything. She out a ball of yarn and needles in my hands and taught me to knit.

    I said that I could not and didn’t want to knit, but during that long and tense day I made the worst looking, longest strip of yarn ever.

    Since then it is my constant, my calm, my passion and the thing I look forward to every single day. I will always be grateful to her.

  29. My sister lost a 19 month battle with breast cancer in September of 2007. It is a loss I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from, but the memories of her and the beautiful impact she had on my life will be with me forever. She dealt with this disease with grace and a willpower that was amazing to see (she continued to work until about a month before her passing). The first afghan I ever made was for her, and she would nap with it on the couch after a session of chemo. Since knitting is such a relaxing, meditative and focused activity, I taught her how to knit – I’m so glad she was open to that. We went to a few shops to find the right yarn for her first project. She then taught her best friend to knit, who then started a little group. She brought me yarn back from Italy, a trip her best friend/husband was determined to take her on no matter what the cost. I started a special bra for her with SeaCell yarn (supposed to have anti-inflamatory properties) but she never got to wear it, and I have finally been able to unwind it and use it to make each of her daughters a matching cowl.

    I sincerely hope one day a cure is found – Cancer is such a horrific and devastating disease.

  30. My sister lost a 19 month battle with breast cancer in September of 2007. It is a loss I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from, but the memories of her and the beautiful impact she had on my life will be with me forever. She dealt with this disease with grace and a willpower that was amazing to see (she continued to work until about a month before her passing). The first afghan I ever made was for her, and she would nap with it on the couch after a session of chemo. Since knitting is such a relaxing, meditative and focused activity, I taught her how to knit – I’m so glad she was open to that. We went to a few shops to find the right yarn for her first project. She then taught her best friend to knit, who then started a little group. She brought me yarn back from Italy, a trip her best friend/husband was determined to take her on no matter what the cost. I started a special bra for her with SeaCell yarn (supposed to have anti-inflamatory properties) but she never got to wear it, and I have finally been able to unwind it and use it to make each of her daughters a matching cowl.

    I sincerely hope one day a cure is found – Cancer is such a horrific and devastating disease.

  31. I really sometimes have a really hard time stitching my outfits together cause of the way i sew. But now i sew really well and i have been sewing ever since i was 6 years old and i have allot of help from my sister she is really sportive though

  32. I am going over emails and came across one that led to this site. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer 16 years ago and thought I had been cured. Almost 2 years ago I found myself undergoing emergency surgery to remove tumors in my spine. My BC had metastasized to my bones. My doctors say I am lucky because it is a slow growing cancer and it is not in any vital organs. My life had been in turmoil for several years topped off with this and I needed to “get away from it all.” Out of strength and out of money to take a vacation I got out my knitting needles, bought some yarn and began to make hand warmers for my granddaughters. I became so relaxed that I fell asleep. I awoke to find my needles bare. Over the past year and a half I have made many attempts to make those hand warmers only to find myself waking to bare needles. I suppose you can say knitting is my tranquillizer, my sleeping pill if you will. My strength has returned for the most part and one day soon I hope I will see at least one completed set of hand warmers. Try to find something to laugh about each day, be kind to each other and make lemonade out of lemons.