Anita Morris’ husband, LAFD Fire Capt. Cecil “CEMO” Morris, passed away from duty-related brain cancer in 2018. Now she’s inspiring others with her willingness to give back.
Her 5-year-old company, Anita by Design, is the Ladders & Laces sponsor of the 2021 LA Fire Team’s fundraiser for the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund through the world-class LA Marathon and LA Big 5K. Anita ran the L.A. Big 5K in memory of her husband as well.
“I wanted to support them because of the support they gave my family during my husband’s illness and after his death,” she said of the L.A. Firemen’s Relief Association, the umbrella organization that runs the charity.
“They have been so supportive of our family throughout the last four years. After his death, it took me a while to get back to feeling more like myself. I’m still in the process of working through that. I knew that I needed to give back so that I can be a part of helping another widow or family to receive the type of support and care that I received from LAFRA.”
She also participates in the monthly giving program. These automatic, recurring donations go a long way toward helping firefighter families in need.
Creating Strength from Heartbreak
Anita by Design is the moniker under which she teaches sewing. Through her classes, Anita found students feel comfortable confiding in her. After Cecil died, she needed them.
She found it therapeutic and uses her experience to help empower women to use life’s challenges to awaken and not be destroyed by them. Anita also is a best-selling author and is available for speaking engagements.
She finds her classes boost self-esteem and general well-being. “My classes are for people who don’t like to go out shopping,” Anita said. “I want to serve the women who don’t know how to sew, too; those who have never touched a sewing machine.
“I know women who are tired of going to the local boutiques and department stores, and who have tried ordering clothes online and then, when they arrive, they’re nothing like what they saw advertised.”
Anita has devised a four-step system for sewing: cut it, stitch it, press it and finish it.
“That’s really all it takes to sew a garment,” she said. “I teach them how to prepare their fabric and patterns for cutting into the fabric.
“Then, they don’t know how to line up the fabric on their machine or how to start stitching. I’ll teach them about the different stitches and align their fabric onto the sewing machine.”
Pressing clothing can be tricky, she acknowledged. Anita shows her students how to press the garment so it has a clean, polished look. Perhaps most importantly her students worry about their clothes looking “too homemade.”
“They are afraid their garments won’t look well enough to wear in public. I teach them how to finish it; how to finish their garment by applying zippers and the different closures, to make sure the hems are even, and that they’re proud to say, ‘I made this.’”
Finding Her Passion Leads to Success
Anita’s classes have been so well received that she regularly has a waiting list. The mother of two sons started sewing in the early 1990s, when she learned her best friend had an acquaintance who sewed all her own clothes.
“When I met this girl, I was blown away by everything she was making,” Anita said. “I always admired what she did. One day, I wore one of those custom dresses, and I fell in love. I had never worn anything custom before. The way it fit my body completely blew my mind. At that moment, I wanted to learn to sew my own clothes.”
Anita, who was born in Memphis but moved to California when she was 7, found a woman in Los Angeles who had a private studio where she taught sewing.
“I took a few classes where she taught me the basics, like how to read a pattern,” she said. “I was hooked right away. “From there, I went out and bought all the books I needed to learn more about the craft.”
After Anita learned, she sewed nonstop for about a year. She created clothing for others, but she didn’t care for that. When she married Cecil, sewing took a backseat.
She occasionally made clothing and costumes for her sons, but that was about it. Anita returned to her craft in 2014, when the boys were more independent. “That’s when I decided I was going to do a little something for me,” she said.
Her friend encouraged her to start a sewing blog, but she wasn’t that familiar with them. As with sewing, she learned everything she needed to know.
“I started diving in and I got into these Facebook sewing groups,” she said. “I started engaging with the online sewing community. I couldn’t believe people were out there still sewing their own clothes.”
At the same time, when Anita was out and about, folks began complimenting her clothing. Others suggested she start a blog. She said she wasn’t interested, but it kept coming up in conversation, so she gave in.
“I thought, ‘I do love to write. I could show my clothes,’” Anita recalled.
Cecil retired in February 2017 and six months later, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, she said. Eight months after that, he died.
“It was devastating, as you can imagine,” she said. “You have all these plans, things you look forward to. He didn’t get to enjoy his retirement. We had a good six months of really enjoying each other. We started traveling, but when he started to get weak, we could no longer do that.”
Anita, who still makes 95% of her clothing, launched her blog and YouTube channel in the same year, 2016.
“I’m still just shocked that so many people love it,” she said. “Before I launched the YouTube channel, I was hesitant. There are so many of them. I couldn’t imagine that people were really going to be interested in another sewing channel. It was so saturated. I heard they come for the person. Sure enough, they came, and they are loving it.”
She knows her husband is proud of her. “I want to honor his memory in any way I can,” she said. “I think he would be more than thrilled that I would support an organization that supported his family in our time of need.”
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski