When Sandra Grimm was about 11 years old on a road trip in New Orleans with her family, she stumbled upon a stack of Archie Comics.
“We found a creepy little antique shop covered in dust and stopped in. I found a stack of old Archie Comics, and they interested me. I took some up to the guy at the counter to see how much they were and he gave me the whole stack for $20 or so,” Grimm said.
That first youthful impulse buy sparked a lifelong interest and habit for Grimm. Since then, she’s faithfully collected Archie Comics. She occasionally sells them—but only to make some space, not a profit.
“I probably have close to 2,000 of them. I can’t bear to sell them all yet! I half joke that they’ll be my son’s legacy. He’s going to inherit my sewing studio and my Archies,” Grimm said.
So what was it about the Archie Comics that stood out to her so much?
“I was drawn to the storyline because it portrayed simple American life. I was born in a small town. I saw myself in it, I could relate to it,” she said. “I liked that there weren’t superheroes, you know? The characters were just normal, American kids, living a wholesome, American life.
“And Archie was a do-gooder,” she added. “I was drawn to that.”
That part is important.
Like with most childhood stories, the Archie Comics look different through an adult lens.
“Then I grew up and I was like, ‘No, that’s not life at all,’” Grimm said of the comic series, laughing. “But it’s still a nice, perfect fantasy.”
Even with the shift in perspective, Grimm’s life was colored by that initial spark of interest. The Hebron native went to college in Colorado before marrying her husband Jerry 12 years ago, relocating to Fish Lake. The studio she jokingly mentioned leaving behind for her 10-year-old son Jackson houses her own business, Patched Perfect. Grimm makes everything from quilts to baby clothes. Her popular specialty is gothic home decor. “Very tasteful gothic decor,” she quipped.
But without even realizing it, Grimm is naturally inclined to hitch her wagon to projects that need a strong push, using her talent for sewing to contribute to causes that make a difference. Take, for instance, her current project. With the global COVID-19 pandemic altering the world, Grimm has spearheaded an initiative to create face masks for essential employees working on the front line. Make A Mask: A COVID-19 Project has 250 members and counting on Facebook, and invites people from Lake County to St. Joseph County to contribute. Some people, like Grimm, sew the masks, while others donate materials.
“I’m so proud of these women, because it is a group effort. I’m really passionate about this project because I feel the community is coming together right now as a whole. We’re all working together,” Grimm said.
“We’re spread across five counties and we all have one thing in common, whether or not we sew or donate, and it’s that we really want to see this project be successful, because we want our essential workers to get the supplies they’re entitled to.”
Even before the pandemic inspired her to create for a cause, Grimm was finding ways to make a difference through her work as a professional sewist. For instance, she sews maxi pads to donate to the homeless community and to contribute to care packages sent through global initiatives, like one that St. John’s Lutheran Church and School of La Porte organizes every holiday season.
“I like to make a lot of eco-friendly products, like fabric napkins and reusable grocery bags, which is how the maxi pads started. I realized I didn’t really have to go without, like some people do,” she said. “The homeless community is often at the mercy of paper towels in public bathrooms, and those are becoming frequently eliminated. And girls of a certain age in impoverished countries have to go without, and they have to miss school when they’re on their period. That’s something I’ve never had to deal with, and it’s one thing I realized I could help with.”
Never one to hoard attention for her success, Grimm began using Patched Perfect’s social media accounts to spotlight a different small business owner in Indiana every day. Her next community project was going to be pillowcases for foster kids. Then the pandemic hit, and she felt called to serve a more immediate purpose.
“If it’s a hard luck case, I like to be involved,” she said simply.
Of course, the act of sewing means a lot to Grimm on a personal level, too. She credits her husband’s grandmother, Nancy Grimm, as the person who introduced her to her passion.
“I was really struggling with postpartum depression after my son was born. She turned me on to sewing, and it offered me so much clarity. There was something so great, so satisfying about creating something tangible, something as real as a blanket. It cleared my head and allowed me to focus on other things.”
Grimm studied to become a certified aircraft mechanic for general aviation, and she finds that her mechanical background comes surprisingly in handy during sewing, lending her a certain knack for the kinetic task. The instinct came naturally, and she eventually turned her passion into a career.
“Nancy Grimm, my mentor, she’s an amazing woman,” Grimm said. “If it weren’t for her, I don’t know where I would be right now. I love that woman a lot.”
As for channeling her part of her career into charitable purposes, Grimm said the decision wasn’t entirely without meditation.
“I was a...well, a troubled youth isn’t quite the picture I want to paint, because that’s not necessarily the truth. But I was a wild child in my teen years,” she said, with a laugh. “I have very great parents, they were very patient with me and loved me. But I was a loud, abrasive kid. And I slowly realized, as I matured into adulthood, that that wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be a more compassionate person, I didn’t want the focus to always be on me. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to be a more caring person.”
That desire has fueled a desire to leave that kind of legacy for others.
“I feel like every time I help someone, it encourages them to help someone else. It’s like you’re paying it forward. With this [the COVID-19 project], my son is often right at my side, ready to help me turn the masks inside out. He knows that one step cuts down a lot of time for me, and in turn helps the community around him. I try to encourage him to give back to the community in other ways. By helping our medical staff, I remind him they are our front line. We need them, and we need to support them,” she said.
Grimm said her husband and son have been some of her biggest supporters throughout this initiative.
“My husband has been picking up the slack that I’m dropping as a person, bigtime! I don’t think I’d be able to accomplish all of this without his help. Being a parent and a good person requires a lot as it is. They both know how it is with this project, it can’t be ignored,” she said.
While Grimm is a champion for many causes, she doesn’t necessarily see herself as one. She more sees herself as fulfilling the role she was designed to play.
“I like to do good, but I guess I like to do it quietly. I don’t join online groups, except this Facebook group because that was the fastest way to get the materials out there,” she said. “I’m a really simplistic person. I don’t need much. I feel I should stress this: I’m really not a do-gooder, or anything, even though I feel like I’m trying to sound like one or something. I just like to get involved.”
“I mean, I don’t know, I wear black tee shirts and blue jeans,” she continued, “I have a ponytail. I’m just a basic...girl. I’m basically a Betty Cooper.”
Grimm was quick to point out that she is more of an original Betty Cooper, not the Betty Cooper of a certain popular television show inspired by Archie Comics.
“That show is just completely wrong,” she said.
Though she plays herself down, one can’t help but compare Grimm to a do-gooder like Archie. The world could use a few more Sandra Grimms.
“I feel like every little girl grows up wanting to save the world, and right now I guess I feel like I am,” she said. “And that feels pretty great.”