YORK, Maine — In the middle of summer when everyone is wearing shorts and tank tops and thinking about hitting the beach, Marilyn Robertson is thinking about sweaters; more specifically, turning old sweaters into new winter-wear.
Robertson's season lasts all year long at Jack and Mary Designs, where she creates patterns for scarves, hats and mittens - with a focus on preserving the memory of lost loved ones.
"It started when a friend of mine handed me her mother’s sweaters," Robertson explains. "Her sister had been an Olympic ski racer and the mom used to wear these sweaters to her sister's ski races. She was like, 'Can you do something with these?'" She cut the sweaters into a pattern, and sewed together a pair of mittens.
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"I have kids who ski so I know what it’s like to stand on the side of a mountain freezing, so I was like, here are these beautiful sweaters and they didn’t want to wear the sweaters, so I was thinking what could be better than a pair of cozy warm mittens?"
Memory Mittens. Customers can reach out for more information, which she sends in a box. "Inside is a card that explains the process and what they need to do, and then they fill out this Memory Mitten form and it’s just asking for details about what they want to have made up, what size, are they okay if we use some of our own materials, do they want the materials returned; and then they send that back to us in this bag," Robertson says.
Almost always, Robertson will call the customer directly and have a more in depth conversation about who the sweater -- or sometimes pajamas or an old shirt -- belonged to.
"When people started sending a sweater, they also started sending us these notes and some of them were heartbreaking like children passing away. A lot of it has to do with a loss." Robertson wasn't expecting just how much this aspect of her business would grow; she also wasn't expecting the thank you notes.
"It made me realize when I’m working with this just what a special garment this was and what it meant to someone," which can often add to the pressure of getting it right.
A big piece of Robertson's business is wholesale. She buys sweaters in bulk and turns them into headbands and scarves, even bun warmers to wear over leggings in the winter, selling them in stores all over the country. But by far her most meaningful venture has been the Memory Mittens, which were even featured on the Today Show's Holiday Gift Guide.
An idea that sparked from a friend's loss, and the need to preserve something once so meaningful. An idea for mittens that continues to spread, no matter the weather.
For more information on the Memory Mittens, click here.