UPPER WEST SIDE — Sewing is Jill Heller's profession — but it's also a hobby that she's incorporated into her volunteer work.
Heller, who works as a seamstress for Broadway shows, leads the group "Sew Far Sew Good" in her spare time, uniting local students with isolated older adults and young cancer patients to work on sewing projects.
"Sewing is Zen," said Heller, a Harlem resident. "It is therapeutic."
Heller teamed up with P.S. 87 parent Jillian Hollmann earlier this year to launch the group. For the first project last spring, kids visited the Esplanade, a senior center on West End Avenue, to make felt bookmarks with the seniors. The kids helped with tasks like threading a needle, which is hard on aging eyes, while seniors held the fabric steady and offered tips, Hollmann said.
In the summer, Hollmann brought a group of local children to the Ronald McDonald House — which hosts the visiting families of children receiving cancer treatment in the city — to make a burlap banner with all of the participating kids' names sewn on it.
Now, after several months on hiatus, Heller is planning a workshop on making braided coasters at the Esplanade in January.
Seniors love to feel needed, said Heller, who has experience caring for her own 94-year-old mother.
"They love young visitors. It’s exciting. [The kids are] there for a couple hours and then go away," which keeps the workshop from feeling like babysitting, she said.
It's also helpful for kids to work together when starting a new project, Heller said, noting that sewing is a lost skill.
"Kids don’t learn it anymore. They don’t have home ec anymore," she said, adding that learning to make something simple by oneself "is magic."
Hollmann felt that magic when she was confined to her bed for medical reasons a couple years ago and said she was growing depressed. Sewing helped boost her spirits immensely, she said.
"It’s creative and expressive. It’s repetitive, but it’s soothing," she said. "I just found that...it just sort of lit me up at a time when I was really depressed."
After she recovered, Hollmann decided she wanted to share sewing's therapeutic benefits. But, with a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old at home, plus a part-time job as a middle school tutor, she quickly realized that she couldn't run Sew Far Sew Good alone.
She found a kindred spirit in Heller after connecting through a mutual friend earlier this year.
Both women feel passionately about incorporating sewing into community service.
"Most places have some kind of arts and crafts program, but they don’t have sewing," Hollmann said. "It’s something you can do anytime...all you need is a needle and thread."
"It’s portable," she said. "It’s amazing what you can do with hand sewing."
To contact the group, email sewfarsewgoodnyc@gmail.