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Gear I Hold Dear: My Handsewn Puffy

When I run my hands over my red jacket—now quite grubby around the seams—a memory of my mother pops into my head. It’s the early 1970s, I’m 12 years old and my mom, Roslyn, has gotten three sew-them-yourself kits from REI, including this red puffy for me. She’s pushing the feathers out of plastic bags and into the jacket’s baffles before the frantic chugging of her sewing machine seals them up tight, crafting a portable hug that has lasted decades.

I lived in that cardinal-colored puffy through every bitter Spokane, Washington, winter of my teen-hood, and it was among the first things I squashed into my pack for a year abroad, working in South Africa and traveling in Europe. Jocelyn, my favorite travel buddy, nabbed my younger brother’s sew-it-yourself jacket and we set off together, both 21, in the dead of winter of 1981.

Kay Thomas and her traveling buddy Jocelyn sport their DIY

Kay Thomas and her traveling buddy Jocelyn sport their DIY puffies on the slopes at Achenkirch, Austria. (Photo Courtesy: Kay Thomas)

Our puffies were our armor on frost-filled days and our pillows on lulling overnight train rides crossing the continent. One day, just before Christmas, we arrived in Achenkirch, Austria, hunting for the magic of the Alps. It happened to be the same day the friends we were meeting got hurt on the slopes. They could no longer ski, so they let us borrow their gear and passes. On that bright, crisp afternoon, with our puffies zipped all the way up, I taught Jocelyn how to plow down the hills. Before long, she followed my red jacket down every hard turn.

Over the years, I’ve bought a new puffy jacket or two, but the memories stuffed into this handsewn one won’t let me part ways.

—Kay Thomas, REI Co-op member, as told to Aer Parris

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A version of this story appeared in the summer 2020 issue of Uncommon Path. Camping …

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