While the rest of the world was busy baking bread and brewing Dalgona coffee during the pandemic, New West resident Ella Cheng decided to take a course on how to become a postpartum doula.
She cleared her exams, started a business named ‘Precious Moon Care’, and signed on new clients. But her career took an unexpected turn when a certain request on the New West Moms Facebook group caught her attention — it was from a mom who wanted someone to sew a keepsake bear for her daughter.
Cheng had no idea how to make a stuffed toy, but had all the desire to help out a mom. After all, she had trained to be a doula for that exact reason. So she decided to take up the challenge — a decision that would lead her onto a path that she never knew she could take: that of becoming a stuffie artist.
Getting back to sewing through community projects
While the journey might seem random for some, Cheng believes it's all meant to be.
“I think everything happens naturally. When you are prepared, you will see opportunities coming your way eventually. You just don't know how and when, but sometimes things are already planned for you.”
Cheng was, of course, talking from experience. She had lost her job as a translator (Chinese-English) at the start of the pandemic. Being a stay-at-home mom with two boys, as young as two and four, was, she recalled, “very tough.”
It was then that Cheng had decided to dust off her mother-in-law’s old sewing machine and get busy making cloth masks for kids.
There was a shortage of masks in the first few months of COVID — it was especially challenging to get masks for kids, she noted.
She sewed tiny masks from unused fabrics in the house and newly-bought bed sheets from Walmart — for her kids, for other kids in the New West Community (through a neighbourhood grant of about $200), and also those back in her home land, Hong Kong.
She made as many as 500 DIY mask kits and placed them in boxes outside the non-profit Family Place, and a church, for anyone to take. “It was like working a full-time job,” she said.
Meeting the demand for keepsake bears
That sewing experience probably readied her to take up the challenge of making the keepsake bear.
The client loved it, she said. Soon, other moms in the neighbourhood and beyond, heard about Cheng’s bear and started placing their orders — some wanted to turn their children’s newborn clothing into stuffies, some others requested that the clothing be made into Christmas stockings.
Cheng even had a client ask her to make a keepsake bear as a graduation gift. For that particular stuffie, the parents had provided their child’s, the soon-to-be graduate’s, baby clothing, and the shirt the dad had worn while at the hospital delivery room on the day the child was born.
Yet another request that she got was to shrink a life-size teddy bear into a cushion pillow with the head and tail of the bear intact.
Every project is an experiment, she said. For, all the training she ever had in sewing was in a class that was compulsory to take in high school back in Hong Kong.
“I used to hate it,” recalled Cheng. The teacher was so strict that at the slightest misstep, the students were slapped on the fist.
But it's those lessons that now allow her to help anxious bridesmaids with their alterations, make felt props of Pete the Cat and The Very Hungry Caterpillar for New West teachers to use in school, and sew the counting blocks from the popular kids cartoon Numberblocks for her clients and kids.
Though her business Precious Moon Care was meant to be a doula service, its Facebook page includes photos of her stuffies, dress alterations and hand-made cloth purses that she previously gave away through Little Free Libraries around town (through yet another neighbourhood grant).
Cheng’s doula dreams might have fizzled out; but they were a necessary step to her new role as Mama Ella, who carefully turns old clothing into huggable stuffed toys.
Ella Cheng also offers mobile tailoring service, and pickup. Get in touch through Facebook. Cheng will also be showcasing her products for the first time at the craft fair at Herbert Spencer school in November.