“I did home economics classes in high school but I am not a good sewer,” said Freeberg, owner/designer of the Stevens Point business. “However, I am an embroiderer.”
It’s a calling Freeberg heeded a few years ago after admiring a friend’s embroidery work on some towels and baby blankets. Freeberg went shopping a week later at a sewing store and invested in her first embroidery machine, dabbling in embroidering a variety of items including can koozies.
By January 2019, she thought about making something out of the clothing belonging to her deceased son, Derek, who died in a car accident in 2007. She was inspired by a bear with someone’s Grandpa’s name on it on etsy and set about making a bear in Derek’s honor.
“I was just playing around, and when I finished, I posted it on my Facebook page,” she said. “It just took off from there.”
She renamed the business Beyond Thread Memories at that point, seeking to capture people’s memories, be it of their own milestones, friends’ and families’ milestones or nowdeceased loved ones.
“Through the bears, I can be a part of whatever kind of memories they are,” she said.
Before the bears took off, she did custom embroidery of can koozies — thousands of them — after sharing some examples on her etsy page. One customer comes back every year to order themed koozies for her annual trip with friends with the name of the trip.
The bears allowed for a lot a variety of items to be repurposed into a bear: children’s blankets, bridesmaid or wedding dresses, baptismal gowns, clothing from a loved one who has passed on, dog blankets and, as noted in Beyond Thread Memories’ nomination for the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest, even bears made from the velvety cases in which Crown Royale is often sold. She’s also embroidered messages, actual signatures and patches from uniforms onto bears as well.
“My approach is, ‘Got a memory? I can make a bear from that,’” she said. “Every bear I do is made from the heart and is always made to the best of my ability, incorporating every aspect of the memory as I can.”
Along the way, Freeberg’s work on Facebook went viral and allowed her to rely on that word of mouth and referrals, allowing her to keep her etsy page simply as a way to her name out there. Within a year, she had to upgrade to a larger machine to accommodate a larger hoop size for the embroidery area. Orders tend to come in numbers — one woman recently ordered 18 bears in one swoop. Freeberg has been tasked with working with everything from a jacket to denim jeans and handkerchiefs to gymnastics Tshirts. Touches may include a simple heart on the chest, a heart with angel wings or customized messaging or imagery on the bear’s belly. In every case, Freeberg makes a point of talking to the customer.
“It’s important to find out what’s important to them about this person and why they picked the piece of clothing,” she said. “I want to make sure I incorporate whatever is most important into the bear. Because of my loss, I am able to deal with parents who have lost children. There’s a bond there; they know I have been through it, and they trust me with their children’s things.”
My approach is, ‘Got a memory? I can make a bear from that’ Every bear I do is made from the heart and is always made to the best of my ability, incorporating every aspect of the memory as I can.
— Carrie Freeberg, owner,
Beyond Thread Memories,
That’s no small feat. Freeberg said it was almost painful cutting into her son’s clothing the first time, knowing he would never wear it again. On the other end of the spectrum, bears made from wedding, bridesmaid and baptismal gowns or sports team shirts trigger nostalgia and happy memories for people.
Bear sizes range from teddy-bear size you see on kids’ beds everywhere to miniature ones 4-inches tall with two more sizes in between. They’ve been mailed everywhere from Florida to North Dakota to Nevada, although the majority of Beyond Thread Memories bears are for customers in Northcentral Wisconsin. Each bear is carefully wrapped in tissue paper and a gift bag before being placed in the mail to their final destination; “It’s important to make sure my customers are happy,” she said.
Word of mouth, especially being tagged on Facebook, is Freeberg’s strongest piece of advertising, keeping her busy including through the fall/winter season of Christmas last year. “I was really backed up last winter, to the point that people were waiting a few months for their bears,” she said. She fell and fractured her shoulder and neck in March, which has slowed — but not stopped — her bear creation. However, when urgency is at play — one woman wanted a bear made of her son’s clothing to hold throughout her son’s funeral — Freeberg made it happen. “I got her bear done that night,” she said. “I make the bears in the order received, but sometimes, I will stay up until 3 a.m. if I have to get something done for somebody like that.”
Along the way, machine embroidery has brought peace, and even joy, to Freeberg as well. She said she felt lost after her son’s death in 2007 and while it took a while, she answered a calling in the process. “He was my only child. After that loss, I tried to find my purpose and do things to help other people,” she said. “It took a while but I have found my niche.”