The Auxiliary Sewing Team: Always finding ways to repair, repurpose and give back

One of Alexis Barr’s earliest sewing memories was when she was eight years old and received a toy sewing machine for Christmas.

“I cried for three days because it wasn’t a real one,” shared Alexis, volunteer in the Arnprior Regional Health (ARH) Auxiliary’s Sewing Department. “By the time I was around nine, my mom started to teach me how to sew.”

“My mother’s number one piece of advice: sew with an iron. When you iron before sewing, it makes it a much more professional job.”

Wasting very little

Alexis Barr working in the ARH Sewing Room.

The Sewing Room is how the Arnprior Regional Health Auxiliary first began. Today, its Sewing Department is run by two dedicated Auxiliary volunteer members, Alexis Barr and Helen Dean, who replace or repair seams, hems and holes in smocks, lab coats, bibs, pillowcases, bedding, curtains, bedspread, pyjamas, towels and whatever else comes their way. They also put heat seal stamps on Operating Room linens (e.g. drape sheet, gowns) to ensure there are no tiny holes or punctures that blood could travel through.

“We’re always finding ways to reuse materials like sewing damaged towels into facecloths or old towels into dishcloths,” said Alexis. “We waste very little and help ARH save money.”

Incredible dedication

Helen has been volunteering with the Sewing Department for about 18 years. Since the pandemic started, she sews approximately 50 hours a week for ARH out of her home. Bags of items are delivered to Helen’s home for repair and picked up when they have been completed.

By chance, Alexis began with the Sewing Department 23 years ago. At the time, she was working the night shift as a custodian at Arnprior District High School but was getting bored during the day when her son was at school. Alexis decided to help at the Hospital as a porter.

“I was going through multiple porter smocks because a button would come off or the hem would come loose,” reflected Alexis, who now volunteers about seven hours a week in the Sewing Department. “I asked if I could do the repairs myself and I was brought up to the Sewing Department. I’ve been here since.”

Special projects

The Sewing Department also takes on special projects to help support patients and residents. They have made cancer caps, tablecloths for special meals at the Grove and comfort pillows for palliative care patients.

“We make the comfort pillows smaller to support the neck, chin, arm or just to hug,” said Alexis. “One gentleman had all of his family members sign his pillow and when he passed away, his young grandson asked for Grandpa’s pillow. Stories like this one make it an honour and privilege to be able to help.”