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Business model counts on the value of handmade clothing as a keepsake

Susan D. Carlson does much of her knitting at home, but her needles and yarn follow her wherever she goes. Her grandmother taught her to knit when Carlson was 12 years old. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

OLIVIA -- In a world covered with discount store clothing, an Olivia woman is staking her business plans on the belief that people still appreciate the value of unique, keepsake clothing for young children.

Besides, Susan D. Carlson of Olivia loves knitting and creating so much that she's really turning her passion into her own business.

She playfully advertises her garments as "Sassy, Delightful Clothing.''

Her works are entirely handmade, and by her hands only. "Every single stitch,'' said Carlson of her one-of-a-kind garments.

She was among the 240 who qualified to exhibit their works at the American Craft Show in April in the St. Paul RiverCentre.

The event attracted more than 10,000 visitors and her works caught the attention of a Twin Cities news reporter, who featured her in an article on the annual show.

Carlson's passion for knitting isn't the only reason she is creating keepsake garments for children. She earmarks 25 percent of the proceeds from their sale to her favorite cause, Tiny Hands International. The Christian mission helps orphaned children in India, Nepal and Bangladesh by rescuing them from lives on the streets and exploitation by sex traffickers.

She learned of the mission from two nephews who served with it.

She learned how to knit from a not-so-unusual mentor, but her story has a twist. Her grandmother Esther Beyer took her under wing and taught her to knit when she was 12 years old.

Carlson said her grandmother had been widowed at a young age and led a hardscrabble life. "She was a tough woman,'' said Carlson. She was the only grandchild her grandmother taught to knit.

Some 46 years later, Carlson said she still cannot explain why her grandmother took the time with her.

She does know this: From the time she picked up her first needles and skein of yarn, she's loved everything about it. She has tried her hands at everything from cross-stitching to quilting and crocheting, but always comes back to knitting.

She created her own keepsake garments for her adopted children, Matthew, now 26, and Hannah, now 21.

Raising children and managing the bookwork for her husband Jack's business, Two Way Communications of Olivia, Hutchinson and Glencoe, kept her from fully enjoying her passion for knitting. But 1½ years ago, her husband sold the business and with both children away from home, she once again devotes herself full time to her favorite passion.

When she's not knitting at home, she's knitting in the car on her way to visit yet another fabric shop. She selects only the best materials, usually preferring a mixture of wool, cashmere and silk.

She will invest $50 to $100 in materials for any single garment, and each garment requires about 40 hours of her hand work.

She retails the garments for anywhere from $100 to $200. She takes commissioned orders through a Web site, and keeps an inventory of 40 or more garments. She is looking into copyrighting her patterns.

Her favorite works are asymmetrical designs.

Carlson said she is well aware of the competition out there when it comes to clothing for young people. There are whole factories stamping out blue and pink outfits for the aisles of discount stores.

She is convinced that there remain many who appreciate the value of keepsake clothing to pass from one generation to the next.

There is also a resurgence of interest in knitting today, she said. Carlson believes this bodes well for her. She is convinced that the number of people who appreciate one-of-kind garments will grow.

So too will the children wearing her hand-knit garments, and that's OK. Carlson said she can always take orders for larger sizes.

Her story and online store can be found at To learn about Tiny Hands International, visit