Camping

Gear I maintain Pricey: My hand-sewn puffy

A version of this story appeared in the 2020 summer edition of Uncommon Path.

When I run my hands over my red jacket, which is now pretty grubby around the seams, a memory of my mother appears in my head. It's early 1970s, I'm 12 years old and my mother Roslyn received three home-made kits from REI, including this red puffy for me. She pushes the feathers from plastic bags into the jacket's baffles before the wild chug of her sewing machine closes them tightly and creates a portable hug that has lasted for decades.

I lived in this cardinal colored puffy through every bitter winter in Spokane, Washington, and it was one of the first things I squeezed into my backpack for a year abroad, worked in South Africa, and traveled in Europe. Jocelyn, my favorite travel partner, grabbed my younger brother's sewing jacket and we got together, both 21, in the deepest winter of 1981.

Kay Thomas and her traveling buddy Jocelyn carry their DIY

Kay Thomas and her traveling buddy Jocelyn carry their DIY puffies on the slopes in Achenkirch, Austria. (Photo courtesy of Kay Thomas)

Our puffies were our armor on frosty days and our pillows during night train rides across the continent. One day, just before Christmas, we arrived in Achenkirch and hunted for the magic of the Alps. It was the same day that the friends we met were injured on the slopes. They could no longer ski and let us borrow their equipment and passports. That bright, fresh afternoon I taught Jocelyn how to plow down the hills. It wasn't long before she followed my red jacket in every hard corner.

I have bought a new puff jacket or two over the years, but the memories of this hand-sewn jacket do not separate me.

– Kay Thomas, REI cooperative member, as Aer Parris has been informed

Gear I Hold Dear: My Handsewn Puffy first appeared in the REI Co-op Journal.

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