Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday Wonders #2: Kathe Brinkmann

Today's Wednesday Wonder is another person who influenced me during the years I lived in Illinois. I met Kathe Brinkmann when a yarn shop opened in Champaign, Illinois, where I was living at the time. This was a huge event in my life--prior to that I was only able to get yarn when I visited the city my parents lived in, or ordered it from a catalog (no online ordering back then!). Kathe owned the store, which was so exciting and full of wonderful things. I remember buying a lot of yarn by Pengoin, a company that doesn't seem to exist any more. That's probably not the only one.

I went to the shop often enough to strike up conversations with her, but mostly on superficial topics. Having access to modern, professional instructions and yarn that was not from a discount store made a huge difference in my knitting output. I remember making a beautiful, purple cardigan for Tuba Boy with owls on it. We talked a long time about whether to put eyes on the owls or not.

Around this same time, I had a baby and "retired" from my career in technical writing for a while. I started making websites when that field had just started (really, my first site had no images, those were too exotic). A former coworker encouraged me to go to meetings of a group of Women Entrepreneurs, to make some connections and learn about doing freelance work. Lo and behold, there was my lawyer and friend from the University PC User Group and the yarn shop owner! (The lawyer will be a Wednesday Wonder on the other blog, as she was another mentor of mine.)

I really enjoyed getting to know Kathe more through this group, and we talked a lot about the business. The early 90s were not great times for yarn shops. People wanted her to teach them to knit, help with their patterns and all sorts of advice, but did not want to buy exotic imported yarn when there was acrylic at K-Mart. The shop became a labor of love and not a vehicle for profit. And eventually she had to close it. It was a real lesson in business for me--you need to do more than set up the shop--you have to find a way to sell stuff. Kathe ended up with a huge attic full of yarn. I ended up with a lot, myself. I still have some, even--some lovely Rowan natural cotton that I still haven't decided what to do with. (Since that time she has continued to other fiber adventures, but that's beyond the scope of this blog entry.)

Kathe remained a friend, however, and we still talked about knitting--she taught me a lot of skills, told me about the larger world of yarn, fibers and designers, and was a patient listener to my problems.

Kathe meant a lot to me outside of knitting, too. At some field trip in the Women Entrepreneurs group I mentioned an interest in women's spirituality. That's all it took for her to invite me to another group she was in, a UU women's group. So, she was the one who (though the lawyer had tried to do this for years)finally got me into a Unitarian Universalist church (coincidentally, the building where we met was directly across from the building where I had knitted with Georgia all through the 80s). That group formed the basis for my closest group of friends the rest of my time in that town (I mourned that women's group for years, and it's one reason I joined the one at the UU church in northwest Austin later). We kept in touch via holiday cards for years, until my life fell apart and I stopped sending them. Yeah, another person to try to find again. Why isn't she on Facebook? Oh, I am a nut. I just searched under "Kathleen" and there she was. I love social networking. Another friend found!

So, this entrepreneur was really important to my development as a knitter and a potential businesswoman--she showed me that it is a LOT of work to run a yarn shop, and even so you are not guaranteed success. I am much more resistant to Lee's suggestions of, "let's open a yarn and coffee shop" having witnessed her experience. And she was only the second "real" knitter I ever knew who could show me new techniques, give me ideas and move me forward in my skills. We all should celebrate people like this--they are our teachers even if they don't know it at the time.

I don't have any links, but if I find some, I will let you know! I am impressed enough that I found a photo!

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