Two knitters and a potter

Three Mennonite women in business together

December 18, 2019 | People | Volume 23 Issue 22D
Joanne De Jong | Alberta Correspondent
Mikaela Heidebrecht, left, Barb Heidebrecht and Lori Pauls have opened Willow ’n Wool, a shop in Airdrie, Alta., that sells yarn, pottery and accessories. (Photo by Lori Pauls)

Many people dream of having a business but it never comes to pass.

Barb Heidebrecht of Bergthal Mennonite Church in Didsbury, Alta., wondered if it was just a pipe dream as her daughter Mikaela Heidebrecht and daughter-in-law, Lori Pauls talked about how bored they were and how they should open a store together.

“I didn’t really believe we’d do it until we actually started looking at places to rent,” Barb says.

Barb and Mikaela loved to knit, and Lori was a potter, so why not open a yarn and pottery shop together, they thought back in 2017. Barb learned to knit from her grandmother and mother, and Mikaela used to knit with her friend on the playground at recess. Lori, a Mennonite pastor’s kid from Manitoba, had named her pottery business Prairie Willow Pottery, so they joined their two favourite crafts to make their now-combined business: Willow ’n Wool.

Another part of their vision was to foster community and creativity. The women repeatedly talked about how building community was a big part of what they did and what gave them joy.

Mikaela says, “I love that the store is a safe place where people can come and refresh and take a break from their busy lives.”

There was a plan to offer classes from the very beginning . This included a free knitting circle in the store every Wednesday evening and Friday morning. People from the community can visit for a few hours in the store while they work on their knitting and crocheting projects that they bring from home.

Paid classes are also available from the owners of Willow ’n Wool. All three women teach classes, including beginner knitting and crocheting, making Christmas stockings, shawls, sweaters or mittens. Most popular, though, is the sock class. Pottery classes include private or group sessions for beginner to intermediate potters, as well as kids’ classes and birthday parties. Most of the classes are attended by adults but the three are trying to expand to teach more children. The owners say that couples often sign up for pottery classes together but not for knitting lessons.

Barb says that one of her favourite parts of running the store together is watching the interactions between her daughter and daughter-in law. “Watching them laughing and talking as they go through the day is a real blessing,” she says. 

Of the role of faith in their business, Barb says, “By always trusting God, [we hope] that our faith would be evident in all areas of our business, in our business practices and the interactions we have with all those who come through our door.”

Adds Lori, “Faith is a lot about connection. The store is a fun place to connect and share our lives. It can be therapeutic, just like sharing a meal together, so creating a craft together can also be.”

Listening, encouraging and caring for people in a nonjudgmental way are all ways the women says their faith is lived out at Willow ’n Wool.

Willow ‘n Wool also tries to connect with the community through donations. The owners knit prosthetics for breast cancer survivors through Knitted Knockers of Canada. They have held knit-offs and crochet-offs, to see who can knit or crochet the most 13-centimetre-square face cloths for Soap for Hope, a local organization that puts together hygiene kits for people affected by natural and other disasters locally and overseas. They also donate gift baskets for silent auctions held in their local community.

On Nov. 23, Willow ’n Wool held its second anniversary with in-store sales, goodies and draws. They also have products for sale online at willownwool.com, including a variety of yarn bowls.

According to Barb, “It’s been an ongoing journey and it’s been exciting so far.”

Mikaela Heidebrecht, left, Barb Heidebrecht and Lori Pauls have opened Willow ’n Wool, a shop in Airdrie, Alta., that sells yarn, pottery and accessories. (Photo by Lori Pauls)

Mikaela Heidebrecht, Sheryl Grasmeyer, Carol Bartel and Barb Heidebrecht knit and chat at Willow ’n Wool in Airdrie, Alta. Community members are invited to the shop every Wednesday evening and Friday morning for just such activities. (Photo by Lori Pauls)

The interior of Willow ’n Wool shop in Airdrie, Alta. (Photo by Lori Pauls)

Potter Lori Pauls at the wheel at the Willow ’n Wool shop in Airdrie, Alta. (Photo by Lori Pauls)

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