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The Bookmark Origin of Tummy Tees

Updated: Feb 29

It Started with a Bookmark

I was wandering around Southern Seminary Bookstore in Louisville with my son, Luke, my daughter-in-law, Sarah, and Mark. I love bookstores – how organized they are, filled with enticing titles, promising ideas, new knowledge and spiritual self-improvement. The children’s book section was especially fun-filled. The store had clothes, comfy chairs, study rooms, and an adjoining coffee shop. It was huge. We spent an hour there.

When I got to the cashier with my book to purchase, I asked, “Do you have bookmarks?”

“No ma’am, we don’t have bookmarks,” the student checker replied.

“What? How could they not have an inspirational bookmark?” I asked. Luke shrugged and laughed. “I guess we use whatever.”

I suddenly remembered the Jerusalem bookmark!

Beyond Bookmarks

I was excited after my meandering through the bookstore. I was busily noticing bookmarks – beaded stringy ones, cardstock-designed, big paperclips with a butterfly or flower on the end --even scraps of paper--but nothing as creative as my new idea to create scripture bookmarks.

I returned home full-of-ideas and dug around for the Jerusalem and Bethlehem bookmarks my Grandma Winkler brought home from her Holy Land trip years ago. I found the Jerusalem bookmark and went about trying to figure out how it was made.

Open bible on wooden surface with handmade cloth bookmark that reads "JERUSALEM"
I found the Jerusalem bookmark!

A couple of guys at a local sewing center whipped one up on their embroidery sewing machines. I now “needed” this fancy machine to start spitting out bookmarks!

I bought an embroidery sewing machine through an offer at the State Fair and went to work. It took a couple of hours to produce my first bookmark.

Woman sitting in chair at table with embroidery machine and open book
Happily using my new embroidery sewing machine

Woman smiling and holding up two handmade bookmarks
My bookmark alongside the Jerusalem bookmark

Trips to the sewing center to ask about fabric bunching and ugly knots only revealed the bleak response: your letters are too small.

I showed Mark my finished product and he commented, “It seems too limp for a bookmark.”

Luke asked how long it took to make. “About two hours,” I replied.

“Mom, how many bookmarks are you realistically going to have time to make?”


Greek and Hebrew

Maybe if I embroidered some Greek and Hebrew letters on the bookmarks, it would be quicker. Then, I could add the English-word meaning on the back of the bookmark. I purchased needed embroidery files for the sewing machine, this time, the Greek and Hebrew alphabet.

Greek alphabet with upper and lowercase symbols, arranged in four columns and six rows
Greek alphabet

I then learned that Hebrew is written right to left.

Not all the Greek letters would embroider, even onto the now heavier canvas fabric I purchased. I needed to find Greek letters that were the same as English letters. “Pistis”/“belief.” (Yes, that’s on the back of a bookmark). Verse on the front, “pistis” on the back. I was certain I could find other inspiring Greek words for the bookmark back.

Better yet, maybe I should embroider Greek words on T-shirts. I watched all the T-shirt embroidery videos I could find. Once set-up, they almost made themselves! Multi-needle machines seemed to be key to making this work. Why had I purchased a single-needle home machine?

Luke did a quick Greek word T-shirt Google search and said, “They have those, Mom. I’m going to ask my friend Joel about his drop-shipping business.”

What’s that?


I had no idea what scaling was…I came to understand that I needed to have a mechanism for making something faster than two hours. Meaning, embroidered bookmarks were not going to work.

Leaning pile of folded white T-shirts

I started doing research around T-shirts.

Then, Mark and I took a class about telling our story. Who we were, who we are now, and why. The directions were to complete a story we could tell in two minutes. Shorter if possible. Not our life story, but how our beliefs flipped and took shape.

The T-shirts suddenly made more sense.

They can help tell your story.

They can teach.

Author: Cheryl, Co-Creator of Tummy Tees


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A tee for you. A home for another.

Every Tummy Tees purchase supports Waystation Community, our non-profit organization that provides a home and mentorship for those who are re-entering independent living after completing long-term, faith-based drug or alcohol treatment.

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