METHOW VALLEY NEWS
If we’re lucky, we discover a passion in high school. For Karen Dahl, owner of the Nimble Thimble Needle Nook, that passion was uncovered in home economics class when she learned to sew.
She was inspired, she said, “Because I wanted clothes.”
“This was in the 1950s,” Dahl said. “Sewing is a life skill. Lots of girls sewed. If you wanted a bigger wardrobe and you couldn’t buy everything you saw in magazines, you learned how to sew it yourself.”
Dahl has been sewing ever since, although she didn’t do it professionally until about five years ago, when she opened a “fixing, mending, repairing and restoring” sewing studio in Twisp, located first in the Cascade Center and relocated in early June to the Gloversville Addition building, behind the 3rd Avenue Salon.
The move affords Dahl more space, giving her both a place to greet customers and make repairs, as well as a fitting room and storage area in an adjacent room. “It’s a treat to be here,” Dahl said of her new studio. “With more space, it’s easier to keep track of what comes in and what goes out.”
Repairing and restoring
What comes in is an array of textiles needing repair, adjustment or restoration. While the bulk of Dahl’s work is shortening pants (“I think they make all pants the same length regardless of size,” she said), she also provides almost any apparel alteration or repair one could need, from tailoring sundresses to altering shirts to removing stays from formal gowns to adding buttons.
Apparel repairs are Dahl’s bread and butter, but repairing and restoring heirloom quilts is what really feeds her. Painstaking work, restoring quilts requires both a nimble touch and an eye for replacing fabrics that may be generations old. Handmade quilts adorn the walls of the Nimble Thimble Needle Nook, a testament to Dahl’s passion for this traditional art form — a love she inherited from her mother, who did all her quilting by hand.
Since those high school home ec classes, Dahl has been self-taught, and it has been a bit of an evolution. “I learned I don’t like to work with upholstery fabric,” she said. “I subcontract that out to a friend.”
But to meet demand from local recreationalists who wanted her to repair fleece pullovers, rain jackets and other outdoor apparel, Dahl learned to work with the unique fabrics those items are constructed from: nylon, recycled plastics and other synthetics.
“Those pieces of clothing are expensive,” she said. “People are invested in repairing them, rather than replacing them. Fixing these pieces has also given me a chance to get to know some of the younger generation in this valley.”
Another learning experience came when a customer sought Dahl’s help with a down feather collection. “We got the ticking and made three dozen pillows and two comforters out of all that down,” she said.
Finding the answer
Raised in Redmond, Washington (“back when it was ‘the country,’” she said), Dahl spent summers in the Methow Valley, “rich with family.” She has lived in the valley since 1958 and spent 30 years cleaning houses, which provided a solid income but was very solitary work.
“I knew I wanted to move away from cleaning,” Dahl said, “but I’m too old to learn new tricks. I thought, ‘What do I already know how to do?’” Sewing was the answer and it anchored Dahl’s emerging livelihood.
More recently, the Small Business Development Center (which is co-sponsored by the Economic Alliance of Okanogan County, among others) offers Dahl free consultation as her business evolves. Although she has no plans to grow her business any further, Dahl remains open to the potential to expand. But for now, she plans to continue doing what she loves: sewing and mending to help meet the needs of the community.
In addition to exhibiting quilts, Dahl also appoints her studio with sewing-related items of interest, including a small collection of antique pincushions and a functioning Franklin treadle sewing machine.
She also displays artwork created by friends and artists she knows, and invites them to come work in her space. “I wanted to share my place with friends and artists,” she said. A current exhibit features the Western artwork of Charlene Monger, who lives south of Twisp.
When she first opened her sewing business after three decades cleaning houses alone, Dahl said “I learned that I’m a very social person. I like interacting with people. I’m always meeting new people with this job, and I enjoy talking to them.”
The psychological transition from cleaning houses to mending clothing has been, one might say, seamless.
For contact information and directions to the Nimble Thimble Needle Nook, visit https://twispwa.com/listing/