As the founder of Keepsakes by Betty Jane, Betty Jane Dykstra creates handmade items such as pillows and teddy bears — called Memory Bears — made of loved ones' clothing.
“I sort of stumbled into this business after my father passed away (in 2021),” said Dykstra.
“After he passed away in later summer, it occurred to me to use his clothing to create something that would bring comfort to Mom. She suffers from mild dementia, and Dad’s absence was — and still is — confusing for her. They enjoyed 70 years of marriage together so adjusting to life without him has been difficult.”
“I created a pillow from one of his favourite flannel shirts and with some help from one of my daughters, we applied the following poem … ‘Don't remember me with sadness, don't remember me with tears. Remember all the love and laughter we shared throughout the years.’ It also included his name and significant dates,” said Dykstra.
Though Dykstra officially launched Keepsakes by Betty Jane last year, she was surprised by the response she received when she placed an ad offering custom handmade pillows on Facebook Marketplace in 2021 after she purchased a Cricut machine.
“(I) currently create various keepsakes from fabric items customers bring to me. The most popular are memory bears and pillows. All items are custom-made and can be personalized with either heat transfer vinyl or machine embroidery,” she said.
“Keepsakes are typically created to commemorate the life of a lost loved one, but I also receive requests to make bears and other items from baby clothes after a child has grown. As a pet lover, I now offer pet memorials as well and will be adding more options to accommodate those requests,” said Dykstra.
Memory Bears are among the most popular items that Dykstra creates. Each one takes five to six hours to make.
“There are several steps involved in creating a finished bear, beginning with an evaluation of the clothing provided and ending with a hand-sewn seam to close up the opening used for stuffing and some final touches. My focus has been on quality rather than quantity,” said Dykstra.
Dykstra says health limitations prevent her from working a regular job, so running her own small business gives her the flexibility to work at her own pace.
Jennifer MacNeil’s father passed away last year. After seeing Dykstra’s creations on Facebook Marketplace, she contacted Dykstra to make a pillow and three Memory Bears from his clothing. She surprised her mother and her brother with their own Memory Bears last Christmas.
“(Dykstra) does something very special. It was like my father was there for Christmas. I can’t believe how it affected them,” said MacNeil. “It was amazing.”
Dykstra has lived in Innisfil since 2019.
“I continue to meet beautiful, friendly people from the community and enjoy living in the area," she said. "I consider it a privilege to provide a service that helps others, especially during a time of loss. The heartfelt appreciation and feedback from customers make my efforts meaningful and rewarding.”
When asked what her favourite creation is to make, Dykstra said, “I sometimes say my favourite item is the one I am currently creating.”
To contact Dykstra, visit the Keepsakes by Betty Jane Facebook page.