Woolgatherings: Sheila Schindler
Sheila Schindler grew up in Texas in a family full of “artsy, craftsy people.” As a child, she played under the quilt during quilting bees, listening to the women’s banter above her head. Her love of old things and the stories behind them took root early. She has always appreciated the people who do hand crafts; perhaps this is what eventually wove Shelia’s story together with that of the craftsmen of an Amish community in Iowa.
Sheila majored in photo journalism and public relations in college and worked at the Mesquite News as a photographer for a time. Her job at a recreation center involved planning and teaching classes, so she began to participate in crafts of all kinds. She taught herself first, then taught the children and adults who came to the center. “Pinecone wreaths, painted clothing, country western dancing, aerobics, and arts and crafts—a little bit of everything,” she says.
The part-time work in recreation she started while still in school grew into full-time. Sheila was promoted to supervisor of one center, then to supervisor over the district and multiple centers. “I got into rug hooking in about 2000, part of my job at the recreation centers; I was part of a quilt guild, and a rug hooking display came in through the guild. I hired someone to teach rug hooking and signed up to take the class. I knew right away that it was for me!”
Rita, a friend of Sheila’s, organized group tours to quilt shops, yarn shops, and antique stores. Sheila and her mom signed up and went on several of them. The buses were intentionally half-filled so each of the ladies had an extra seat for comfort and the space beneath the bus held luggage and purchases. Sheila bought some of her first rug hooking kits on these trips.
On 9/11/01, when the world was forever changed, Sheila and Rita were on one of the bus tours. Just as the planes were crashing into the World Trade Center and the radio was proclaiming the horrible news, a horse and buggy pulled up, an Amish boy and girl got out, tied the horse to a road sign near the welcome center where the bus was parked, and set up their wares: an array of hand woven baskets. Sheila described it as a surreal moment, a time warp. Rita, Sheila, and the others bought baskets. None of them could have predicted that Sheila would one day be in business with the Amish family that had made those baskets.
Soon, each of Rita’s bus trips went to the Gingerich house so that the ladies could buy baskets. Rita had, by then, become interested in rug hooking. And as anyone who has gotten into rug hooking soon realizes, there is a lot to carry to classes, rug camps, and to organize at home. “We’re carrying too much stuff; we need something to contain it all!” Sheila remarked to her friend. Rita said, “Okay—you design it!” Sheila laughed it off, but on one of their trips, they saw a cart made of wood that was way too heavy; but, it sparked an idea.
In the fall of 2004 Sheila made drawings, and Rita took them to that same Amish family: the Gingeriches. In spring 2005, the first Woolgatherings basket was made. Sheila hadn’t planned to go into business, but as soon as other rug hookers, needleworkers, quilters, and other crafters saw her basket they wanted one, too. The first baskets were sold in June of that same year. Sadly, Rita died in 2006, but Sheila kept going, and the Woolgatherings website went live in 2010, two years after Sheila retired.
All communication with the basket makers is via letters and the US postal service. There is no phone in the Amish community, and boxes go into the horse and buggy and down the road to the post office (though orders for them can be placed the modern way: online or on the phone!).
Woolgatherings’ baskets are so well made that they can be passed along for generations. They’re primitive in style, but a great accent for almost any décor. Sheila uses hers as a side table when she’s home, then puts on luggage wheels when she wants to work in a different room or head off on a retreat. The fixed handle is designed to hold a fabric cutter or clamp-on light.
Sheila is growing her business at a comfortable pace. Handmade baskets, like rugs and quilts, take time, and she isn’t planning to sell them by the thousands. She has retired from her job with the city of Mesquite and wants to supplement her retirement income and have money for rug camps and supplies.
The original basket has been joined by other shapes and sizes, all of which are multipurpose. Smaller baskets can be used for casseroles, silverware, and snippets of this and that. Knitters are especially fond of the pie and cake baskets! The extra-large nesting basket is the perfect fit for an oval Crock-Pot. Sheila keeps baskets in her car to corral what she needs for errands. I’ve got one on order to hold scraps from paper crafting projects.
Picture a young boy sitting on the floor next to his mother as she works on a hooked rug, or a little girl under the quilt her grandmother’s guild is making. A Woolgatherings basket is nearby. The children peer inside at the colorful fabric, and they learn to appreciate the time that goes into what covers them at night or decorates the floor or wall. Just like Sheila, these children will grow up loving to make things. And the basket they use just might be the one that mom or grandma purchased from Woolgatherings.
Woolgatherings’ products are available through