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One stitch at a time

Whether it’s creating a quilt or a cabin, Sarah Ridgway loves to create
Whether it’s creating a quilt or a cabin, Sarah Ridgway loves to create. (Matthew Allen / The Northern View)

Sarah Ridgway knows how to work with her hands.

Whether it’s designing and building a shed or putting the finishing touches on a quilt, Ridgway has shaped her life around making things from scratch.

It’s a philosophy that she always tries to pass on to those around her.

“You can give someone a fish or you can teach them to fish, right?” she said in between customers at the Sew it Yourself shop that she manages. “Everyone’s capable of doing something. It’s just learning not to be afraid.”

Ridgway helps people with their sewing projects, but she is only teaching the lessons she was taught as a child.

Originally hailing from Lillooet, B.C., Ridgway came from a family of doers. For example, her grandmothers both had considerable skill sets.

“My grandmother could tan hides, she could tack, she could make lace with string, she could do quilting, she could go pluck a chicken, she was very versatile,” Ridgway said. “My other grandmother could grow just about anything. You give her a seed and she could grow it about 10 feet tall.”

It was a figure-it-out-yourself kind of family, the type where the process of learning is often more important than the end result.

Ridgway recalls being thrust into the perils of cow milking on a one-legged stool with cold hands. The combination made for a perilous morning’s work.

“It was not a good scene,” she said. “I was freaking out.”

Ridgway discovered a passion for sewing by watching the family’s matriarchs and by experimenting with her own creations. She would pull sticks out of sheep wool, and watch as her grandmother fluffed it, layered it and then layered the quilting on top.

“You would see the light coming through the quilt,” she said. “It was kind of neat.”

When Ridgway was eight years old, the family took a trip to Kamloops. Ridgway recalls this being a big occasion for the small-town family, and while her mother bought her some nice clothes, she didn’t have exactly what she wanted.

“I really wanted a jean-jacket so I chopped up a pair of jeans and made myself a jean coat,” she said. “The arms were legs and that’s how I got into it. My mom freaked out.”

Ridgway continued to sew. She received a sewing machine as a gift from her grandmother and would have friends over for sleepovers and they would make outfits together.

She said she would chop up her father’s shirts to make dresses, and even made a moose-hide coat and her own grad dress.

She found work as a seamstress until she was 18 years old.

Ridgway said life circumstances pulled her away from her passion for a few years in her early twenties, but she was reintroduced to sewing when here husband’s relative invited her to a quilting event.

“I said that I would go and it was like ‘wow, look at what these ladies create,’” she said. “And then I just fell back into it and never looked back. I just take fabric and make stuff.”

Ridgway moved Prince Rupert in 2000, her husband is a fisherman. Like many young families who moved to the city during that time, staying for the long haul was not the goal.

“Everyone has the five-year plan, and so did we,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a lot longer than that. The place won us over.”

Over the years since moving to Prince Rupert, making stuff and enjoying the outdoors has continued to be an integral part of Ridgway’s life. She built a cabin on Digby Island along with her husband, a place that remains a family getaway to this day. And she still loves to design and build, even if it’s not for herself.

“I’ll always come up with a drawing and say, ‘Hey, let’s build this’ or I’ll help my friends design little layouts for their houses,” she said.

The sewing bug is still strong. Ridgway has designed, created and donated dozens of quilts for charitable auctions and fundraisers throughout town.

She has been involved with the Prince Rupert Arts Council for the past several years as a volunteer and one of the organizers for the annual Creative Jam arts festival. She said doing all of these things helped bring her closer to the community she has come to call home.

“At the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to reach out to people and say you’re interested in helping out,” she said.