An Interview with
Sarah Henning Iversen
January 19, 2021
How I met Sarah
In 2016, a lot of unexpected things happened in my life and they were all major events. I moved to the US, got married, and the biggest shock of them all was being pregnant with my little booger. My really good friend Sarah once said, “Good things always happen in threes”. I’d like to say, a lot more things happened that year. With my son being conceived, my husband was panicking, looking for a job. While Oregon is known for starting the Music Therapy program for Hospice nationwide, they didn’t have a lot of openings. Neither were there any openings in the entire Pacific Northwest where his friends and family are spread out. He did get a job offer in the Midwest where we had no friends or family in the area. So we packed up all our earthly things, planned it out, and drove cross country for 5 days while I was 4 months pregnant in a small sedan full of stuff. And from bustling city life to eerily appropriate "Children of the Corn" middle of nowhere environment, we found ourselves living in Northeast Iowa on a little town called Lawler.
My husband being a musician thought of looking for community orchestras to join and I was looking for something to do while my husband was out a lot. My husband met Sarah's husband, Phil, in the orchestra; and I met Sarah at Blue Heron Knittery. Our friendship grew even more when Gale was born. Gale and Sarah are pretty much "love at first sight". And this is how I've entered the world of small businesses, local yarn shop hops, and the beauty of a robust, tight-"knit" community (with no pun intended). Without further ado, let's get to know Sarah and her knitting haven, Blue Heron Knittery
Getting to Know Sarah
Sarah -- I grew up in Decorah, IA which is located in the NE corner of Iowa. My father was the curator of Vesterheim American-Norwegian Museum where I was introduced to many of the folk arts that were being taught there. They mostly taught weaving, spinning, paper folding crafts, rosemaling (painting) and hardanger (a special embroidery technique).
I did not learn how to do all of these crafts but I started having an understanding and appreciation. My grandmother was the first to attempt to teach me to knit and crochet. I was able to make a belt for my second grade teacher with crochet and that is about where my talent in crochet ends. She (my grandmother) actually gave up on teaching me to knit stating she couldn’t knit slow enough to teach me. I did get one garter stitch scarf done in a scratchy acrylic yarn in baby blue and powder pink.
I finished the scarf and did not really knit again until after I graduated from college, Luther College (Decorah, IA) in Nursing. While at Luther, I took classes in weaving, spinning and pottery. After graduation I was offered an amazing opportunity to spend a year in Norway and be a nanny. My closest friend was going and I could work in the house across the street. This is where I really learned to knit. The story is my friend taught me to knit and I taught her to drive a car. I returned to the States and got married then took a job in the local hospital.
After a few years, my husband and I had our first baby and headed to Australia for a year. My husband was pursuing a post doctorate at University of New Castle. We moved around a bit, and finally returned to Decorah. I had a stint working in the medical records department at the local clinic, and they did not make me want to renew my nursing license. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
The Birth of Blue Heron Knittery
A friend was moving and had a tiny yarn shop and offered to sell it to me. I initially said “no” but reconsidered and bought her out. The shop was a studio built onto a garage in a residential neighborhood. It was a good size to get my feet wet.
(Photos from Beginning to End of Slide show: Sarah at the first location of BHK in September 2007; BHK in it's brand new location from March 2008 to present)
I had people coming in asking how to do all sorts of techniques I had never heard of. I spent a lot of time learning from books and other knitters. We did not have YouTube at the time, but I muddled through in my tiny space.
One day a friend who owned a building downtown asked me if I would like to move the shop to main street. That was the best thing we did for the shop.
At first there was soooo much space, I though we would never fill it. And thought about dividing the space with another business. Now we are doing creative shelving to put out all the yarn and supplies we have in stock.
We have done community outreach projects. We helped teach some young people to knit so they could knit scarves for our Scarves In The Park. We knit, felt and stuff catnip mice (all time and materials are donated) to donate money to our local Humane Society. The biggest project was the Decorah Scarf Project. The director of the public library contacted my church and asked if we could knit and distribute rainbow-colored scarves for an anti-bullying campaign.
We purchased rainbow colored yarn divided up the skeins into small balls, created a simple pattern then packed up the kits. We were blown away with the response and had to reorder yarn several times. The library was hoping to get 100 scarves to pass out if a person pledged to do something if they saw someone being bullied. The library brought in a speaker on the topic. This program inspired a lot of people to learn enough to make one or two scarves. Several church groups got together to knit scarves. A couple people bought the kits and asked us to pass them on to knitters. During the library’s program they had just over 100 scarves to pass out. Every scarf found a home. There were more than 100 scarves because many people would knit one to donate and knit one for themselves. Many Luther students attended and took scarves back to campus. I still get a thrill when I see one of the rainbow scarves still being used.
Coping with COVID-19
Life was going well. The shop was doing well. I had a couple of employees so had a little time away. A friend, Onita, offered to buy into the shop and become a partner.
Life was great. Then a little thing called a pandemic occurred.
Talk about a grinding halt to everything. We shut down totally for months doing mail orders and curbside pick ups. So, it was decided we needed to make the leap into online sales. So, I am not a techy person nor do I have the desire to become techy. This became a monumental undertaking which included my husband and an international Luther student who was living with us and all of us at the shop. Lots of trial and error, counting and entering products. We are still learning and working out bugs (tech bugs, not moths).
Blue Heron Knittery is very much enmeshed in their community. Sarah and all her employees actively take part in activities that support Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and Social Justice amongst other previously mentioned philantrophic efforts. Here are other events that happens every year prior to the Pandemic:
Knitting/Crochet Classes or Knit/Crochet Alongs every first Saturday of the month with Beverly Bakkum or a special guest.
Knit Night every Wednesday Afternoon until the shop's closing at 8pm.
Every January-March, they participate in Vesterheim's Fiber Arts classes.
April, they also host a yearly event where women take their knitting in public for Women's Month.
From June-July they are part of Shop Local Decorah (a local effort to boost the local economy), Nordic Fest, and Driftless Loop Yarn Shop Hop
Black Friday Sale on November
Blue Heron Knittery is still going strong 13 years later, and if you are looking for classes right now, they have suggested to go to Vesterheim's website for future online classes that are related to fiber arts. If you'd like to join their weekly Zoom Knit/Crochet alongs, click on their Facebook Group. Here is a video of Sarah doing a tour of her shop.
Sarah Henning Iversen is a mom, a fur momma to many foster cats and cats she has adopted, and also a dorm momma for International Exchange Students at Luther College. She sings at her local church choir (Decorah UCC) and is a very active committee member of the City of Decorah. Her husband Phil is a College Professor at Luther College and they are all very active in supporting their local community.
Phil, Sarah, Martin (older son), and Carl (younger son). This photo was taken in 2014
All photos in this post are not mine. Photos are either from Sarah and Phil Iversen or from their Facebook Page.