Sewing a thread through Beth’s life

Some of beth's work for Angel Gowns Australia.

By Tania Phillips

Rockhampton’s Beth Johnson and her husband Alan have owned a lot of different businesses over the years but she believes sewing is her true calling.

Which is just as well because she has been sewing since her teens and now at 72, she is showing no sign of slowing down – working for not one but two charitable organisations – Angel Gowns Australia Inc and the Christmas Shoebox appeal, making hundreds of garments a year.

All this is done from her back shed in Rockhampton which is now converted into a sewing room with a purpose-built cutting out table made by her very Alan.

“I started off in a workroom in Brisbane when I was 15 for my first boss and I was there nearly five years and I left to get married,” she said.

“I got married and had a few years when I didn’t sew for too many people – just a few.

“Many year’s later we moved out to Mundubbera. I had a little cottage built and I used to make wedding gowns for many years for all the local girls. We were in a hardware shop at the same time.”

When they moved to Bundaberg seven years ago a segment on the news alerted her to Angel Gowns Australia and after making a couple of trial gowns to be assessed, she was selected.

Angel Gowns Australia is a 100% volunteer organisation. Through the dedication, love, and compassion of more than 350 volunteers Angel Gowns Australia has been very successful in it’s mission to offer an angel gown garment to anyone around Australia who needs it when their baby or child passes away.

Volunteer dressmakers re-purpose donated wedding dresses to create small Angel Gown garments for babies who are born prematurely, are stillborn or don’t come home from hospital.

These gowns are then donated free of charge to hospitals, funeral homes or directly to families.

She said she suddenly went from making wedding gowns to deconstructing them.

“At that stage of my life, we had lost an adult daughter with Ovarian cancer so I know what grief feels like and I just thought I can do this,” Beth said.

“If I can help one mum cope with the loss of a baby, I know what it was like to lose a daughter.

“I have had people say to me – isn’t that sad doing that. Yes it is sad, it’s a sad job but it’s very peaceful and very rewarding to be helping someone else.

“So since 2015 I’ve been making Angel Gowns and at the moment I’m making a lot of little baby boy gowns because there is a big demand from the hospital and funeral homes for Angel Gowns for little baby boys.”

Beth has now made hundreds of the gowns which are then collected by Toll Transport and taken back to Brisbane. The wedding gowns are collected in Sydney and Brisbane with members who don’t sew, deconstructing them to be sent out to sewers like Beth.

She said they usually accept Wedding Gown donations around this time of year however donations are closed for this year with a backlog of gowns in storage.

As well as the Angel Gowns she has sewn a couple hundred shorts, little girls skirts and shoulder bags every year since 2007 for underprivileged children overseas for the Christmas Shoe Box charity.

“I do hundreds of these every year – I don’t need any fabric for them this year as a friend has given me 12 big plastic storage boxes full of fabric and they are sitting in my loungeroom as we speak,” Beth laughed.

“They came in from a very dear friend from Roma – she came in for the bull sales and dropped them off last night.

“I’m 72 – I’ve been sewing a long time. I really think I’m the happiest in my own self when I’m sewing. We’ve been in and out of businesses all our lives, we had a newsagency and I had a drapery and a hardware store with my husband but I always had time to sew.

“I just feel that this is something I can do, at home in my own time.”

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