A Publication of WTVP

With a little fabric, some thread, a lot of creativity and even more generosity, thousands of sewers across the country will band together in 2008 in a national effort to produce thousands of pain-relieving pouches that originated right here in Peoria.

Deon Maas, a K-12 art teacher from Fairview, created the “Anti-Ouch Pouch” when she was recovering from a mastectomy last fall. The pouch’s effectiveness led her to show it around her local center for breast health, where a physician pointed out that it was truly unique and could potentially fill a great need for women in pain after surgery. Since the birth of the idea in Maas’ Fairview home, the Anti-Ouch Pouch has gained significant momentum in both the Peoria area and among sewers nationally.

Maas, a member of the American Sewing Guild (ASG), introduced the idea to Guild Executive Director Margo Martin, who also realized its tremendous potential. Since then, the Guild has adopted the Anti-Ouch Pouch as its service project for 2008.

As both a teacher and graduate student, Maas said she found her cancer and recovery period to be very inconvenient. The mastectomy left her with a painfully sore area under her arm and weeks of empty recovery time to fill. Wanting to both occupy her time and ease her pain, the Anti-Ouch Pouch was the perfect solution.

As an art teacher, creative thinker, problem solver and sewer, Maas said “all my talents came together to fill this need.”

Maas knew that putting a soft pillow under her arm would ease the pain, but it left her hands busy clutching the pillow to keep it in place. She immediately realized how the pillow could be improved. By attaching an adjustable strap to a comfortable, wedge-shaped pillow, Maas could hang the pouch beneath her arm and cushion the painful area, while leaving her hands free to do other things. The pillow could even be disguised as a purse or bag for unobtrusive use in public.

Once the pouch was created, Maas realized just how well it worked and took it to her local center for breast health. Her contact at the center told Maas that she hadn’t seen anything like it, but that it could potentially fill a great need for women recovering from similar surgical procedures.

Soon, Maas introduced the idea to members of her local sewing guild chapter, and word of the pouch began to spread. On March 31, 2007, the Central Illinois/Peoria chapter of the ASG held a work day to construct Anti-Ouch Pouches for women in the Peoria area. During a six-hour event, sewers constructed 150 pouches that were then donated to the OSF St. Francis Center for Breast Health.

On July 12, the Anti-Ouch Pouch was officially selected as the ASG’s national community service project for 2007. Beginning next year, Guild chapters all over the country will construct pouches to bring to the 2008 annual meeting in Chicago. The pouches will then be donated to clinics throughout the Chicago area to be distributed to cancer survivors free of charge.

Since the pouch’s introduction to the public, Maas has been “thrilled to pieces” by its success. Many people will donate their time and money to the project, and the support of the ASG will further spread the word of the pouch. Maas envisions a nationwide grassroots effort to make and freely distribute these pouches to women in need. “I’m really pleased that I’m able to help women out during such a terrible time,” she said.

The beauty of the pouch is in its simplicity and its usefulness. Created in less than 20 steps, one pouch can be made in 15 minutes. Sewers are also allowed complete creative freedom as far as fabric colors and patterns, as well as additions, such as pockets and adjustable straps. When ASG’s Executive Director Margo Martin saw the pouch, she knew it was something special. “From the moment I heard about it, I was very excited,” she said. “For years we’ve been doing projects to benefi t women recovering from surgeries… pillows have been done, but they are limiting when you have to hold it. With this, you can use it at home so your hands are free, and you can go out in public with it, too.”

Once plans for the project are complete, Martin says that Guild chapters across the country will hold community events for everyone to participate in sewing pouches for the 2008 conference. She expects thousands to be brought to the Chicago conference and hopes that even more will be created and distributed in other communities across the country.

Martin also plans to encourage innovation among Guild members. For the 2007 leadership conference which will be held in November, Martin is asking each chapter leader to bring their unique version of the Anti-Ouch Pouch. The pouch is meant to appear as a fashion accessory, which means the creative possibilities are endless. “Who better to get creative than a group of sewers?” Martin asked.

Maas encourages everyone to pick up a free pouch kit or a set of instructions and create their own Anti-Ouch Pouch to donate. “The wonderful thing is that now, women all over the United States will be able to benefi t from this and feel better,” she said.

Instructions are available on the ASG website at If you aren’t thrifty with a needle and you’d still like to help out, donations are greatly appreciated. TPW