Since 1981, fabric has moved in and out of the doors of Stitch N Sew Cottage, creating heirlooms and meeting needs around the world. Previously, the space on Highway 22 was used by the Mennonite church for missions projects. Ed & Niva Burkholder and their daughter, Dorothy Schumann, were actively involved with this non-profit, using their expertise and care to help local residents. Their involvement opened the door for them to carry on as a business when it was offered to them. In 1986 the business had already outgrown it’s location and a new building was built at 207 4th Street. Dorothy carried on the business, not only selling fabric, but offering quilt making and hand quilting services, teaching classes, and designing patterns. In 2004, her daughter-in-law, Grace Schumann, purchased the store and has continued to serve the Kalona area through this family business.
This year, Grace Schumann is celebrating 18 years of ownership at Stitch N Sew Cottage. The inventory hasn’t necessarily changed too much, they still offer cotton fabrics and all the pieces needed to make a quilt from start to finish. However, Grace did add on a workspace/classroom and storage area, making more room for attendees and products. From the beginning and to this day, Stitch N Sew may have the widest costumer base in town. From teaching youth sewing classes to helping great-grandmother’s finish their quilts; and supplying young adults with the newest gadgets to finding patterns and fabrics for Amish customers. This wide range of needs requires employees with diverse experience. Grace has a great staff with different talents, one of which is her sister Mary Yoder. Mary has worked at Stitch N Sew Cottage for 27 years – longer than anyone else in the store’s history. She began working with Dorothy in 1995 and has been there ever since.
Since Grace has been the owner, her business experienced the recession of 2008 and the pandemic of 2020. Despite these difficult times for the economy and individuals, Stitch N Sew Cottage has remained strong. “Sewing is a stable industry,” Grace shares, “even in the rough times people are giving to charity.” She watches quilts go to New Orleans and Texas after hurricanes go through, quilts travel oversees to impoverished countries, and many stay close to home at local hospitals like the University of Iowa. “Quilters are so generous. They are always giving away quilts,” she adds. It doesn’t take a natural disaster to inspire her customers’ generosity, it is already in their nature.
Grace also shares the uniqueness of her store, the relationships. Many businesses keep personal and work separated the best they can, and with good reasons. However, at Stitch N Sew, they break the mold. Some customers are local and so it’s easy to get to know them and check in with how they and their family are doing. Other times people have traveled to the University for treatments and need a distraction. Stitch N Sew employees offer their expertise in sewing, as well as encouragement, celebration, and often times just a listening ear. The majority of the projects people are making are gifts, so they can be quite sentimental. If an old quilt comes in for repair, there is usually a beautiful story that comes along with it.
Over the four decades of business, online presence has become one of the biggest changes in the quilting industry. Marketing and communications is primarily done online now. Stitch N Sew mails packages all around the United States, and even abroad at times; but despite the demand of the internet, the bulk of their sales are at their front door. A big advantage is their great lighting throughout the store, plus the benefits of Kalona. Customers plan to stop in Kalona annually as they travel cross-country. Some visit more often from surrounding cities like Des Moines and Davenport. Grace is grateful to be located in Kalona, a town with a strong heritage, a variety of shops and great community support. Her business is a valuable resource to locals, and a draw for travelers. Additionally, she actively supports local schools like Mid-Prairie and the Kalona Area Chamber of Commerce.
Over time, sewing has shifted from being an economical resource to more of a hobby. None-the-less, it is a timeless novelty that will continue to weave through the generations. Visit the Stitch N Sew Cottage website or Facebook page to continue following their story of 40 years and beyond.