Sewing has always been an important part of Kelly Kowaleski’s life. “I love sewing. I’ve loved it since I first started. It’s my outlet. It’s my passion,” Kowaleski said.
Sewing is also how she would bond with her son Brady. She would sit in her sewing room while he was sitting in the room next door. They’d chat back and forth. It was a special time for Kelly and Brady.
At the age of 15, Brady tragically passed away in a hunting accident. Kelly lost interest in sewing.
Kowaleski went months without picking up a needle or thread. It wasn’t until she started sorting through a pile of Brady’s old clothes that she had an idea. Taking the fabric from a few old shirts, Kowaleski began stitching together a new set of memories. She called them “memory bears.” Stuffed teddy bears made from the gently worn material of Brady’s favorite shirts.
It was a healing process for Kowaleski. So much so she wanted to share the experience with other people who’ve experienced the loss of a loved one.
That’s when she created Bear Memories, a small business designed to help people remember their loved ones. Soon, orders began flooding in.
“I’ve made them from sweaters. I’ve made them from jeans overalls. I can make them from just about anything. I’ve done lace, satin. You name it, I’ve done it,” Kowaleski said.
She’s made hundreds of bears for people all over Wisconsin. People like Anne Lund, who gave her father a bear made from his brother’s old army uniform. “He had tears,” Lund said. “My dad’s not one to show emotion but he had tears in his eye, and that was enough.”
For Kowaleski, it’s been a way for her to reconnect with her son through sewing.