Carol Blaha of small shop Carrabelle is in the business of breathing new life into beloved memories. “The memory pillows started as a custom request and then grew,” she explained. “These are personal experiences for people. I have heard stories of children who have lost their parents and take my doll from dad’s shirt to daycare. I have heard how a mother cried when I made a pillow from a shirt of her son, who took his life. Goosebump stuff. I’m 65 years old, and when you are that age, you wonder, what is your purpose at this later age? Do you even have one? Then I get an email thanking me for providing a service like this – over and over, customers have called this a service. This isn’t a product. It is providing a service to create a memory, to smooth a rough time.”
Named after the maker’s tiny beach town in Florida, Carrabelle sells, among other things, keepsake pillows and stuffed bears sourced from shirts and other textiles from your loved ones. “I am pretty clear in focus that I am creating gifts for special occasions. I love the feedback of the memory items, but I am always cognizant that I am cutting up someone’s heirloom,” said Blaha. “If I make a mistake, it can’t be replaced. I really feel that, how a mistake can ruin someone’s day.” She also sews sentimental pillows featuring handwritten messages. “These are another specialty of mine. I am working on a group of four of them now. The dad died early and would draw a stick figure on all his notes. Sadly, most of my handwriting pillows honor people who passed.” This pulled at my heartstrings. One of her favorite projects was a memory shirt pillow created for a bride. “She had a photo of a tattoo with dad’s signature,” Blaha shared. “I created a heart patch that will wear on the hem of her wedding dress.”
Blaha recognizes that many of the shop’s customers approach her during times of personal grief and she runs Carrabelle with this same sensitivity. “Buying from me is often a personal experience. I invite buyers to be a part of the design process. Some of my best sellers were ideas that buyers came to me to attempt to create. I don’t do anything I don’t feel I can execute, but some customers have definitely stepped me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I am not a hobbyist. This is a business. I know a differentiator for my shop is that I do what I say I will do. I can’t postpone someone’s wedding, birthday or memorial service. I plan my week out two weeks in advance, with room for a rush order. It is definitely not me, sitting ‘whistling while I work.’ I carry the same work ethic here that I had in my day job.” Blaha left that day job and went full-time with Carrabelle in 2015. “When I started on Etsy, the site was new. Etsy didn’t know what it knows now. There were no (or few) seller tools available,” she recalled. “Today, a seller has many more advantages than we did then. Etsy became easy when you make things people are searching and buying, and get found. I think it took a few years in beginning to get to 100 sales. I took a hiatus. I made every mistake a seller could at least twice. Now, I look at designs with a very discerning eye.”
These days, Blaha is preparing for the holiday rush and spends most of her time fulfilling orders. “I got my first holiday order in mid-May,” she exclaimed. “From late August on, they come in consistently.” Order your own comfort gift from Carrabelle and check out the complete line up of designs on the shop’s Etsy page here.