NEW BETHLEHEM –For eight years, until it’s closing in October of 2008, Joe Belfield worked in the sewing room of the Sealy Corporation’s mattress factory in Clarion. During that stint, Belfield learned how to use the different sewing machines employed in the production of mattresses. This past March he parlayed that knowledge into a small business, Simply Sewing by Joe, located in the basement of his New Bethlehem home.
“Back in March it was like a pastime. What started this was my wife had a purse she had bought probably 10 years ago and it was starting to fall apart. She wanted to know if I could try and make her one. So I sat and figured it out and made her one.” said Belfield.
“Her friend saw it and wanted one and somebody else wanted one and then another friend wanted one. They said, ‘you could probably sell these.’ So I started a business page on Facebook to say ‘hey, this is what I have’ and people started asking me to make things for them. It just kept evolving into what it is now.”
Belfield’s hand-sewn product line currently includes not only purses, but also tote bags, masks, potholders, hot pads for table centers, diaper bags, and Bingo bags. At the request of various people, he has also begun the trial-and-error process of making baby and receiving blankets.
Trial-and-error best describes the evolution of Belfield’s sewing abilities over the past several months, especially as he does not use patterns to make his items.
“In the beginning there was a lot of, like anybody else, trial-and-error,” he said. “The first few items weren’t that great, they were just kind of practice items. I just kept tweaking it (his sewing) from there until I got it to where I thought it was right.
“I guess I think it (the design of the item) up in my head and try to transfer it on my own. If I got into a rough spot or couldn’t figure out what was going on I’d do like everybody else and watch a YouTube video.”
Everything Belfield sews is made from 100% cotton, primarily for ease of cleaning. “Like anything else, things get dirty. If it (the item) gets dirty you can throw it in the wash and get pretty much all your stains and dirt off, that way it’s reusable,” he noted.
Belfield primarily sells through requests made on his Facebook page or via broadcasts using Facebook’s Live function. During these broadcasts, Belfield interacts with his customers, not only taking orders, but also working with them in the selection of the fabric to be used.
“I try to let them (the customer) choose the print they want. That way they can choose the pattern or print and it’s (the item being made) custom to them, not just something you can pick up at the store. It takes a little more time, but it’s what the customer wants and they know what I’m giving them,” Belfield said.
From August through the end of October, Belfield has used his sewing business exclusively for the purpose of fundraising, earmarking all money earned, with the exception of that used to purchase supplies, for a donation to the Butler Health System Clarion Hospital Cancer Center. On Nov. 10 he presented a check for $800 to representatives of the cancer center.
“Because of COVID, businesses weren’t doing donations to all these nonprofits this year. I wanted to keep it local and decided the cancer center because we all know somebody that has been affected by cancer, whether it is a friend, family member, loved one, whatever. That’s when I thought, ‘this is how I’m going to be able to give back.’ Because in these times any little bit of donation is going to help them,” he said.
Tracy Meyers, nurse manager at the cancer center, appreciated the donation and knows the money will be put to good use assisting patients. “We’re grateful for every donation that we get because there’s a huge need to help patients in Clarion County. He wanted to help patients locally. His contribution will help patients’ bills be paid – bills that their insurance does not cover or they can’t afford to pay.”
For his part, Belfield is fairly low key about making the donation. “I’ve had a few people say how amazing that it was. It wasn’t that amazing. It was just an ordinary person stepping up at a time and didn’t think of himself, just thought of helping somebody else.”