Garner, Iowa, is home to one of North Central Iowa’s premier shopping destinations for those who love to sew and quilt. The favorite stop is a “farm” located 17 miles west of Clear Lake; a farm that is home to Susannah, a pygmy goat; Carly, a black lab mix; Maggie, a golden retriever; Lucy, a yellow lab; cats Aggie, Emmet, Pearl, Maxine, Joyce; and most importantly, Connie Tesene and Mary Etherington — two dynamic entrepreneurs who have built their business around friendship, quilts, animals and their love of rural Iowa.
Connie and Mary are two friends who love to sew. They started a small quilt pattern business in 1983, which has grown to become Iowa’s largest and best known “quilt shop in a chicken coop.” The world-class quilt shop, which is literally located in a renovated chicken coop, is called Country Threads Inc.
The Country Threads farm resembles a farmyard from years ago with chickens scratching in the dirt, geese honking in the pond, and goats grazing in the pasture. Cats and dogs greet visitors and flowers and vegetables grow in various “gardens” around the yard.
“It’s peaceful and very wonderful,” said Mary, describing the atmosphere at Country Threads. “We love it here and many of our customers enjoy it also.”
Mary is the partner who actually resides on the farm. When the design duo started their business over 21 years ago they used Mary’s address and property because 1) they couldn’t get a post office box; 2) Mary got her mail each day before Connie; 3) Mary wanted to stay home and watch over her animals and Connie wanted to stay home and raise her boys; and 4) Mary had a chicken house they could use for their office.
“My farm became OUR farm,” said Mary, “and we continue to share it every day.”
With the help of a very faithful and dependable staff, Connie and Mary run the quilt shop, the gift shop, design quilts, write a newsletter called the Goat Gazette, travel and teach, and take care of their homes and families like all other working women today.
“We started by designing four patterns and we currently have designed over 800 patterns and books. These are sold in quilt shops around the world,” said Connie. “Our own quilt shop has grown over the years to include all supplies needed to make a quilt. We carry over 3,500 bolts of cotton fabric, offer a machine quilting service, annual quilt camps, quilt classes, bus tours, and friendly expert advice.”
The Country Threads Camp events, held in the barn, have become legendary over the years. Camp time is a fun time for all in the haymow. Four days of fun are spent sewing, eating, planning quilts, eating again, playing games, eating some more, shopping, enjoying the farm animals, and making new friends.
“We sew new projects, make new friends, eat new foods, talk about books, hobbies, husbands, kids, and new recipes,” said Connie. “We have a Show and Tell and an evening of getting acquainted with other campers. Our quilters can bring treats to share and stay late to sew as long as it’s with a partner.”
Each camp retreat accommodates 25 campers, and quilters come from many states each year to take part. Last year in one camp, 14 states were represented and not one quilter was from Iowa! This shows just how legendary the Country Threads Camps have become.
Jaylene Britt of Greenville, NC, was able to participate in Country Threads’ spring camp last year for the first time. Jaylene remembers the camp fondly, stating it truly was “quilting in the country.”
“We were able to get the feel of country life with Mary feeding the animals in the barn while we were sewing up in the haymow,” said Jaylene. “I felt like Mary and Connie were friends that I had known for years because I had kept up with their lives and activities through their store newsletter.”
Mary and Connie’s friendliness and helpfulness made the camp outstanding for Jaylene. What made her camp experience unforgettable was the fact that her mother was able to attend as well.
“We live 2,000 miles apart,” said Jaylene, “so it was so fun to be able to do something together that we both enjoy. We were able to visit while we were sewing and it was fun to be able to go to the shop anytime we wanted to cut the fabric we needed for our projects.”
Jaylene loved being able to walk around the shop and look at all the quilt models of different patterns. She said last year was particularly inspirational because it was Country Threads’ 20th anniversary and so the haymow was decorated with all the quilts made during the last 20 years.
“I had such a wonderful time,” Jaylene recalled. “I made lots of sewing friends and I’m going back again this year.”
Anyone who plans to attend camp or visit Country Threads is warned about being allergic to the normal things found on a farm — cats, dogs, hay, straw, barn dust, etc. Anyone allergic to any of these things cannot attend camp or class, and if they are shopping, they are helped first and fast.
For all who visit the farm and are not allergic to its surroundings — be sure to meet Susannah, Mary’s very special pygmy goat who lived her first year and a half in the house as a “house goat.” Susannah was born unexpectedly on a cold October night as a tiny twin that was not wanted by her mother.
“She fit in the palm of my hand and weighed less than two pounds,” recalled Mary. “I bottle fed her for months and she didn’t go to the barn until she was full grown. I got her a baby goat named Charlene to play with but she doesn’t actually think she’s a goat. She absolutely couldn’t join the herd because she’s defenseless. Now she lives with the chickens. Next summer, I hope she can stay in the fenced-in front yard during the day and go to the barn at night. She could roam the open yard except that she likes to butt people other than me. If you visit Country Threads, look for Susannah, my very special girl.”
Susannah actually was Mary’s inspiration for the Country Threads Goat Gazette which is published five times a year for a subscription price of $9. Readers of the Goat Gazette find out what’s new in the quilt shop as well as animal anecdotes, an event calendar, free patterns, recipes, and a book club selection from Connie and Mary.
Since establishing Country Threads Inc., Mary and Connie have enjoyed sharing their country life, pets, gardens, quilt camps, products, patchwork kits and news from the farm with quilters and sewers from all over. They find success in the fact that they’ve been able to grow their business in many ways.
“The chicken house has doubled in size, and we have added the garage, the Barn in the Back, the semi-trailer, the upstairs of the workshop, the lean-to behind the gift shop, and the haymow of the barn,” said Mary. “We have grown many times over the past 21 years because we have been willing to accept new avenues of business, but our love of the simple life on the farm is still at the heart of Country Threads.”