Pamela Caudill spreads a black fleece blanket on her desk. On one corner is an embroidered name flanked by pink roses on either side. Handcrafted by Caudill herself, the throw is intended as a present for one of her staffers.
Caudill, who is the director of pre-award in Research Services, has a managerial style that has got her staffers begging for more. You would too if you were a fan of homemade candies and personalized tokens of appreciation. In addition to reviewing all the grants, contracts, and federal funds awarded to Penn researchers, Caudill makes taking care of her staff top priority. But you’d never guess that from talking with her. The soft-spoken manager turns shy when asked about the things she does to make her staff feel loved.
Q. You’ve been dubbed the brunette Martha Stewart by your coworkers. How do you feel about that?
A. I find it all very embarrassing.
Q. But doesn’t it feel nice to be appreciated?
A. It’s nice that everybody appreciates the things that I do, but I really just do it for them. Everyone in my group and in my whole office works so hard so I do it to just say thank you and to let them know that they are appreciated.
Q. What are some of the things you’ve made for your staff?
A. For Christmas this year, I made everybody fleece blankets that were embroidered. I bought the blankets and I embroidered either Christmas designs or monograms. Last year, I made everybody hats and scarves that I embroidered. The year before that I made everybody sweatshirts with designs. After 9/11, I made everybody either little ribbons to wear or I made them sweatshirts that had little red, white and blue ribbons. [This year] I made everybody Christmas stockings.
Q. Of all the gifts that you’ve made for your coworkers, which one are you the most proud of?
A. The stockings because that made everybody the happiest. It was something that I did for the whole office, not just for the people who report to me. [Caudill personalized more than 40 stockings.] We put them all in a big wreath, and I made chocolate Christmas trees and put them in each of the stockings. It was nice because it made the office cheerier. It was a way to decorate and people seemed to really appreciate it.
Q. Are you afraid of people expecting more from you?
A. [laughs] My biggest feeling is that they’re thinking, Oh great, more homemade junk.
Q. What kind of equipment is involved in making these gifts?
A. I have sewing machines that do all this fairly easily. A lot of what I do, especially with the embroidery, is with computerized sewing machines. I have software that [allows me to] digitize anything. I can take a logo or clip art and convert it into a sewable file.
Q. Do you have your own workshop at home?
A. We have most of my stuff in the extra bedroom where there is also a computer and a TV. It’s nice because the whole family will be there: the kids are on the computer, my husband might be watching TV, and I can be sewing. Even though we’re all doing our own thing, we’re all together. …My husband has gotten interested in it because it’s all computerized. [laughs] It’s not as girly.
Q.Have you always been good with your hands?
A. I’ve always sewn. The other thing I do a lot is bake. I make cakes for everybody when there’s something big going on. I took cake-decorating lessons in high school for three years. I’ve just always enjoyed it. It’s something I do to relax.
Q. How did your love of sewing begin?
A. Probably from my mom. My mom always sewed when I was a little girl. She taught me how to sew when I was 10. Then I took Home Ec. When I was young, it was a good way to make my own clothes; it was cheaper. Now I don’t do that at all, I just do craft kinds of sewing.
Q. So are you a big fan of cooking and do-it-yourself shows?
A. Not too much. I get my inspiration off the Internet a lot. There are a lot of sewing listservs that you can belong to. I’m probably on about four or five different listservs that talk about sewing.
I like to go to some of the trade shows. I went to Nashville over the summer to an embroidery mart. That’s all it was—people who sold embroidery items like thread. You [can] get a lot of ideas from there.
Q. Any unfinished projects?
A. All the projects I want to do for me are unfinished. It’s much more fun for me to do something for someone else.
I have a lot of fabric too, not that they are unfinished but that they are unstarted. I might buy something with the idea that I’m going to do this with it and it just doesn’t happen. I bought some fleece. I was going to make myself a wrap and I never did but I will. Someday I’m going to find some time and it’ll be there.
Originally published on January 30, 2003