Magic + Makers
Sheltered Co. | Hugs for All
Imagine a chunky woven blanket, constructed of the most beautiful dead stock fabrics, made by hand and designed to feel like a hug. This is exactly the magic of a Sheltered Co. piece. Born out of her own trials, incredible mama, Pamela Hunter created Sheltered Co. I have known Pamela for years, watching her beautiful family grow from one daughter to three. The one constant throughout that time was Pamela’s hands have always been busy creating something–from wall hangings to woven baskets–each step of her creative process leading her to this calling. I had the honor of visiting Pamela at her home, conducting this entire interview from the comfort of her couch, curled up under one of her weighted blankets, and let me tell you I’ve never felt so hugged. Below we discuss what drove her to making these blankets and her dreams for the company. Be sure to order yours today–what are you *weighting* for!?
What was the impulse for creating Sheltered Co.?
This was all because of my daughter Ransom. When she was born we didn’t really notice anything–she was just a normal baby–but around six months she started having real trouble being around anything–being in certain rooms, with certain lights, with people touching her. So, at six months, things started getting really hard. At 2 1/2 she ended up getting diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, and she actually also has an autism diagnosis.
Are those similar?
Sensory processing disorder and autism definitely overlap. They have never been diagnosed as two separate entities, but they can now. You can have sensory processing disorder without having autism–you can also have both. You also never really know until a kid turns six-years-old, because that’s when you can get concrete diagnosis. But they can change, they grow out of things, and also with early intervention–which is what we did at around 2, 2 1/2–you can, I don’t want to say ‘reverse it,’ but almost reverse some of the effects of some of these ailments.
All of the things she deals with are known as invisible illnesses; things that you wouldn’t notice just by looking at her or even just hanging out with her for brief amounts of time. She makes eye contact and has a lot of language, but her mood and body regulation were so off. It was such a struggle for her just to try and feel normal. When she wakes up in the morning, she is always upset. Most people, when they get a full night’s rest, they wake up feeling refreshed because they’ve slept; she’s a bit grumpy from the get-go.
We could tell that she was a little uncomfortable in her skin already at 2 1/2, so we were talking to a therapist, and it was highly recommended to get a weighted blanket and weighted clothing. She’s what they call sensory-seeking, so she seeks input. She seeks pressure. The weight helps people feel grounded.
I was looking online for blankets and they’re all, for lack of a better word, ugly. Normally, I don’t care if it’s gonna help my kid, but I felt like this was going to be everywhere that she was, and not only are they super bright obnoxious colors but they’re made of nylon or polyester and filled with plastic poly beads. Now, there are some that use more natural things like cherry seeds and barley, but the cover is always some sort of plastic synthetic thing that you don’t know what exactly it is. So, I’m supposed to put this unknown plastic thing on my child who already has a sensitivity to stuff. No thank you. I wanted her to be able to snuggle up with something, and then I found a roll of cotton jersey at a yard sale for $10. I was so desperate and I didn’t know what I was doing, so I hand-shredded all of the strips, tied them together and crocheted them. 23 hours later we had the first blanket. I put it on her half-way through crocheting it, because at this point she was having eight plus hours of meltdowns a day.
(From under a Sheltered Co. Blanket) I feel so grounded right now. I’m never getting up.
Ha! That’s how I feel with them. Maybe they’re dangerous, maybe people will stop going out of the house entirely.
I have been following you and your family for so long–the ups and the downs. You’re so open about her whole journey–well really, what has become the entire family’s journey. It’s all unbelievably touching to follow. I can see Ransom goes to school now. From the outside, that seems like a major shift in her.
Oh yeah. There’s a lot that has gotten better. And I cannot attribute it all to the blankets. (laughter) It’s a combination of so many things. Therapy, learning, books, support groups. We’ve done everything. We’re definitely open to anything and everything too. Because if it’s gonna help our kid, we’re gonna do it. There was a point where we seriously thought that she’d never be able to go to school. But now she takes the bus to school. She goes to school! She’s in a special needs program, so she has therapists and aides there if she needs any help. But, next year she’s gonna start t-k, which is a pre-kindergarten, and she might not have an aide with her, so we are a little bit nervous. We might just have to send a blanket to school with her.
Photo by Jamie Arrigo
How were you doing during all of this?
I was…not okay. At some point you just have to turn off any reason…you turn off a switch in yourself. We just had to tell ourselves that our entire lives were going to be about making this child feel okay. I actually made this promise to myself that for the next three years I wouldn’t do anything for myself that would cause her to have a hard time. I wouldn’t try to leave, I wouldn’t try to go on dates with my husband, I was just going to make sure she was okay. I was just going to dedicate the next three years to her therapy, to getting her the help she needed. And when the three years were up, she wasn’t better. That was a huge eye opener for me…this wasn’t something that was just going to go away, this wasn’t something that she’s just going to grow out of; this is something that we are going to have to teach her coping skills she’ll use for the rest of her life.
And she will present as typical. And some of the most brilliant people in society have these issues–they have asbergers, they have sensory issues. I remember reading up on Alanis Morrisette, Bill Gates, some of these creative and amazing people doing insane things in the world. And they all struggle with some of the same things that she does. So, there’s definitely hope.
I can imagine that as a parent it gives you hope that what feels like this catastrophic thing can dissipate a little.
There’s so much out there, and we’re learning more and kids are getting individual diagnoses. And as much as I was against getting a diagnosis, I just kept saying, ‘Let’s just get her some help, and we will just love her and we will support her.’ And the individual diagnosis helped SO MUCH. It helped us to pinpoint exactly what she needs, pinpoint the type of therapist that she needs.
What does that test even look like? Is it in a room with games, or how does it go?
It’s over a period of time, so she’s had multiple therapists come to the house. It’s not what you’d think. It’s not some weird test. They come over and they play with your kid, and your kid is actually really enjoying it. So, for me it was one of the first times my daughter was calm for maybe longer than 30 minutes. I was in awe of these people coming into my home and playing with her.
You’re like “DON’T GO!”
I actually did. I begged the first therapist who came, the speech therapist, to stay. I cried and asked her to stay and help, because I kept seeing them ask questions in a way that would make Ransom stop and think. They would sort of follow her lead and expand on what she was doing, and they got all the answers to what they needed. They watch for red flags, they know exactly what they’re looking for, and at the end I thought…‘Wow, you just played with my kid.’ And they were able to tell me ‘Yes, but we saw her recoil when she touched this certain thing, or when we brought her to the light she didn’t want to be where it was super bright.’
She was also either naked or in footed pajamas. So, when she was naked, nothing was touching her or bothering her. It was a really freeing and safe place for her, but she would also only wear footed pajamas.
To be honest, that sounds like my dream.
Ha, I know. They couldn’t be the pajamas that didn’t have feet. They had to cover her whole foot, be long-sleeved, and zip. No snaps. It had to zip. One fell swoop of touching, and that’s it. I remember putting her pajamas on, and one time the zipper got caught. I knew that I had .2 seconds to hurry up and get it to the top or the whole day was going to be shot. I did it.
But a week later I didn’t, and that whole day was completely destroyed because the zipper wouldn’t go up to the top. I don’t even know exactly what that did to her. I don’t know if it messed up her routine, or if she got stuck, too. I have no idea exactly what it did in her mind, but I feel like I have PTSD from zippers.
So now you only wear dresses that can be thrown over your head?
Yes. No more zippers for me. It protected her though. And she still has such a fondness for footed pajamas. She had a hard month–new school, new babysitter, new person in her life, new routine. All of that really affects her, and it comes out in ways you wouldn’t expect. Especially because she’s four, and she can’t really articulate what she’s thinking or feeling. It comes out in tantrums, and not wanting clothes, not wanting to go to daycare. Typical things that kids do, but it’s to an extreme. At every single point throughout the day she could have a breakdown.
She started daycare with her sister recently, and it’s going really well. But because of that she now doesn’t sleep at night as well. She would wake up every hour, every two hours. We just expect a huge struggle somewhere anytime there’s a change, and we just can’t make too many changes at once.
Photo by Jamie Arrigo
We’ve had people in the past that said ‘Just do it and she’ll go along with it later.’ Um, that ended up not really happening. I tried to go to the gym when she was younger. I tried for 6-8 months, a couple of times a week to drop her off at daycare. But she had such extreme separation anxiety, and it just didn’t work. Another example is when she started preschool. I had to go with her for the first three months, with a newborn baby strapped to me. So, that was hard.
I can count on one hand the number of times she walked into school without crying or screaming. I’m not talking a gentle ‘I miss Mommy’ crying. I’m talking full-body meltdown screaming, like you would have thought she was hurt.
I also left preschool crying. You have to keep a really strong face for kids like this. You have to not let them ever know that you’re upset because they look to you for comfort. If you’re upset, they think, ‘Oh no, maybe something really is wrong.’ You have to stay really calm, breathe through it, be very encouraging and loving.
So where do you go to cry?
In the car. It’s a good sound-proof area. Just try not to do it in a parking lot where people are walking by you…like I don’t know, Trader Joe’s.
Are you speaking from experience?
Completely. I’ve had a handful of people stop and knock on my window and make sure I’m okay. In the same breath, I would tell you that if you have a child that doesn’t sleep, and the only time that you get to sleep is when they’re napping, and the only time they’re napping is when they’re in the car, pull over so you both can nap. Get a little 3 x 5 card and write on it, ‘We are not dead. We are just sleeping.’ And put it on both windows so that you can nap with your windows cracked. You and your baby sleep peacefully, and no one frantically knocks on your window thinking you’re dead.
Did this also happen to you?
I’m just taking parenting notes.
I parked at the top of the structure to get away from people, but they still find you. And thank God, because they are looking out! Those people were super sweet. I rolled the window down for this one very concerned lady who was pushing a stroller and had her whole family with her, bless her heart. She asked me if I was okay and my answer was, ‘I’m sorry. I just haven’t slept in three years.’
What does that do to a body?
Well lots of things. Everyone is different. For me, I gained a lot of weight. And wasn’t able to lose it. But since I have my kids in a really great daycare, I’m finally able to finally cook food for myself and focus on my business. I’ve dropped 30 pounds in the last couple of months. It just came off.
I’d believe that. So much of our weight is tied to our emotional bodies, and it sounds like you were able to finally breathe.
It’s such a beautiful thing you’ve found time and space to build your own business, and yet it is so intrinsically tied to your daughter’s needs. Even in your ‘time off.’
I feel like I was born a creative. Being able to mix that with my daughter having a need, and me really wanting to be surrounded by beautiful, natural fibers, it’s a dream. Now that I’m working I feel like I’m on vacation. When you are a stay-at-home mom of a kid that has a little bit of a special need—even if you don’t have a kid with a special need— you’re home with your kid and you’re essentially working every minute that you’re with them. And now to be able to have a lunch break is a very confusing thing. I found myself feeling really guilty taking 30 minutes out of my day to prepare food and eat it. I tell people that I absolutely cannot meet with them during the day, because those are my work hours.
I feel like since I was working basically 24 hours a day with Ransom, now that I have 8 hours to work on this project, I don’t want to stop. So even though I’m a little stressed, it’s a really good stress and it’s still really exciting. It’s still the beginning and it’s still blossoming.
And you’re really helping people.
It feels like such an extension of myself. When I make the blankets I wrap myself in every single one, and I put some good energy in to it for whoever is receiving it. It’s such a special thing, it becomes your security blanket. I get these heartbreaking messages from people that are kind of hard to stomach, because I just want to desperately to give them away to everyone who needs them. That’s definitely worked into our long-term business plan.
I’ve literally made them for people going through chemotherapy, children that are fighting leukemia, sleep disorders. I made one for a woman who was a victim of the Vegas shooting, I’ve made them for people that like the colors and then they get them and then they realize maybe they did needed it.
They’re made of cotton jersey, and we use only dead stock fabrics. I just got my first couple of rolls of organic dead stock cotton. It won’t always be available but when I do get my hands on it, it is a really special thing. The blankets can be washed—with the bigger ones I would use an industrial machine. If you want to preserve the blanket for longer, you can dry clean it every few months. And they stretch! So when you pull it around yourself they stretch by about 4 or 6 inches.
How long have you been fully up and running?
September 20th, 2017 I decided I was going to make this an actual business. I just hired my first assistant–we’re calling her a blanket artist! But you know, I don’t have money. This is all a grassroots effort. What I make on a blanket goes straight into more supplies for the next. So, we have just launched a kickstarter campaign to help raise the funds to really give Sheltered Co. a proper go.
My main focus with the blankets right now is to shatter the stigma that weighted blankets are only for people in need. They’re literally for everyone. There was this study done a long time ago about how many hugs you really need in a day for optimal health. You need seven hugs a day, some sort of body contact to release the right amount of endorphins for overall mental health. Seriously. The bare minimum you should be getting a day is three, and seven is the perfect amount.
It just always stuck with me. And when I started making these blankets I thought, these could really help someone feel hugged in a day.
My lap feels very hugged right now.
Photo by Brandi Wells
You know, when I started out doing this I never really wanted to talk about my daughter, because it’s such a sacred thing. As personal as it is, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t be the only parent that feels like they can’t talk about it. Just because I’m afraid of the stigma or that people are now going to have my child under a magnifying glass, looking for her outbursts or looking for her reactions or her sensitivities or watching me as a Mom and me being under the microscope. So I had to really sit with it and decide if I wanted to be a voice and have this be our story, because it is so real. And when you’re in it, you feel so hopeless and helpless. And you feel like it is forever, and it really isn’t. Now that we are four years in, she’s grown leaps and bounds and it’s incredible. And I still have to edit the things we do and the things that come at her to make sure she can handle it, without coddling her. So it’s that perfect balance that we, as parents, are all trying to meet.
I think is so brave of Pamela to be willing to share her story; that’s kind of what the impulse was for starting Of The Wolves. The ‘Me Too’ movement is so much bigger than sexual assault. There are really no more powerful words than ‘Me too’. The minute someone across from you utters it around a secret shame you have carried, immediately it just all melts away–the shame, the secrecy, the stress of carrying that thing that you held inside of you for so long. This secret that can feel so terrifying. The minute you talk about it and speak about it out loud, it dissipates, it loses its power. I think if people are willing to be vulnerable and to share, it will help forge a society where people feel less alone.
To support Pamela’s kickstarter and order your own blanket click here! Follow along on their journey: