Sewing nook brings comfort for Carmel

Sewing nook brings comfort for Carmel

When Carmel Holla moved into Resthaven Mount Gambier, she was determined to continue her lifelong love of sewing.

So it was that she set about converting part of her room at the residential aged care home into a state-of-the-art ‘sewing corner’, complete with sewing machine, overlocker, drawers of buttons and bobs, and colourful fabrics ready to go.

“I have been a sewer ever since I was about 10, Mrs Holla said.

“I used to watch my mum, a qualified tailoress.

“My sister and my daughter are qualified tailors too, so even though I’m not qualified myself, I think I have enough experience.”

Mrs Holla was born in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, the daughter of an Indian mother and Norwegian father who was in the merchant navy.

Despite the family history of tailoring, Mrs Holla decided to become a nurse, beginning her training at age 16 in 

“There were some interruptions to my career though, and I got my veil and stripes in 1980,” she said.

There certainly were interruptions; Carmel has not had an easy life.

Married for the first time at age 18, Carmel and her first husband, Harris, went on to have five children, three boys and two girls.

Sadly, all three boys died soon after birth.

Whilst Mrs Holla was pregnant with their fifth child, her husband developed a brain tumour.

At age 26, following the birth of her fifth child, a son who lived for just a week, Mrs Holla developed septicaemia and required a hysterectomy.

Whilst she was in hospital recovering from surgery, Mr Holla was also in hospital undergoing chemotherapy.

He died not long after.

Mrs Holla raised the children as best she could, and went on to meet her second husband Ron.

Unfortunately, Ron died of a heart attack.

In 1988, Mrs Holla broke her back whilst making a bed at work, causing paraplegia.

“I have been in a wheelchair for 36 years,” she said.

In 2011, Mrs Holla moved to South Australia to be close to her daughter and grandchildren, moving into a local retirement village in Mount Gambier.

She lived there for seven years.

“I’d lost three sons and two husbands, and I said I’d never marry again – but then I met John,” she said.

“We were both widowers, and he was so good to me.”

The couple moved into Resthaven Mount Gambier in June 2023.

“John was sick, and I could not live on my own,” Mrs Holla said.

“But as soon as we moved in, John settled down really well. Our love was amazing.”

Sadly, John died in January 2024.

Mrs Holla now finds comfort in her sewing nook, where a large photo of John hangs on the wall beside her colourful cottons and yarns.

“We would have been married for four years this year,” she said.

Turning to look at his photograph with a wry smile, Mrs Holla said “and then you went and died, didn’t you!”

“I’m sure he’s watching.”

Waggling her finger at John’s smiling portrait, she added “and I’m watching you!”

Despite her many trials in life, Mrs Holla continues to maintain a positive attitude that is cherished in the Resthaven Mount Gambier community – along with her beautiful sewing projects.

“I make girls dresses, dolls clothes, Bible bags, knitting bags, all sorts,” she said.

“I give a lot of things away, but people also buy them.

“People ask me to make things for them when they’re having a baby, or need a gift.

“I just love sewing.”

Mrs Holla also enjoys a thriving social life in the home, with a large group from her former retirement village moving in at around the same time.

“I moved in and brought all my friends in with me,” she said.

“I’m so happy here. I have never been treated like this.

“I have always been the one doing 
the hard work, and now I’m being looked after for the first time in my life; I do 
not have any stress or strain.

“No one understands how much I appreciate what they do.”

Whilst enjoying the comforts of being looked after, it’s hard for Mrs Holla to break the habit of a lifetime, and she still insists on cleaning her own room.

“They do everything for you, if you want them to,” she said.

“But I love to clean my own room. I do let the staff clean the floors.

“I also like to clean the banisters in the hallways and dust the tops of the doors and the paintings.

“The carers and nurses and (manager) Belle are so wonderful to me.’

“I struggle of course, like everybody does at my age, but you cannot change anything by grizzling.

“It’s been a bit of a traumatic life, but it must have been meant to be somehow.”

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