Granny’s Legacy, which doubled in size last year, is already looking to expand again
The decision came on a day Katie Hebblewhite and her mum Kim Zenk heard rumours the closure might be due to COVID-19.
Their company, Granny’s Legacy, specializing in creating fresh and original wool appliqué patterns, hand-dyed wool and wool kits, relied heavily on quilt shops at the time.
“We knew that if we were going to survive, it wouldn’t be sold to quilt shops,” Zenk said.
So they changed their business model and started doing some virtual teaching and selling more products online for people to buy.
Business took off.
Granny’s Legacy has grown from 3,000 square feet of mixed-use space at Skyline Plaza to 7,500 square feet at the Albert Lea Business Development Center off YH Hanson Avenue—and they’re already looking for more space.
“It’s been a huge blessing,” Herb White said. “If you had told me where we would have been eight years ago, I would have laughed.”
“It was a struggle because we almost gave up when COVID hit,” Zenk added. “We almost gave up. We thought it would never survive.”
While supporting quilt shops remains one of their main goals – the mother-daughter duo say 30 to 50 percent of quilt shop owners either retire or close down. During the pandemic – their business has transformed and their designs have appeared in some of the industry’s leading print magazines.
interested in all things creative
Hebblewhite and Zenk have always been interested in creating – whether it’s sewing, quilting, hand stitching or anything in between. The two also taught extensively at Calico Hutch in Hayward for several years.
Zenk attended horticulture school, previously worked in a flower shop and worked as a stay-at-home mom and grandmother, while Hebblewhite has a background in insurance and investing with his father through Thrivent. Zenk also works with other quilt pattern designers to check that their patterns are correct and to help them determine the right amount of fabric and supplies needed.
“This industry is by no means new to us,” Hebblewhite said.
After a while, they find themselves changing patterns they bought from other people and want to make their own designs.
“It started out as a hobby and then got bigger and bigger,” says Herb White.
Zenk said they challenged themselves to bring something to the International Quilt Show, where a Hebblewhite production and Zenk quilt were judged.
After that, they decided to turn their longtime hobby into a full-time job.
They’ve gone from creating one or two new patterns a month to releasing at least one a week, and as of early September had 423 designs.
They said that initially the company was only designing patterns for quilt shops, and then a few shops asked if they had wool for them too. At the time, they were buying wool from wool buyers.
They have since moved to where Zenk’s son Tim Zenk and his wife Katrina’s Woolly Mammoth hand dye all their wool.
Hebblewhite says they currently dye wool in 320 colors, which can take on eight different textures. They estimate they dye 100 yards a week.
Their main philosophy, Hebblewhite says, is customer service and reliability promised to customers.
‘Gift from God’
Now, in addition to releasing a new design every week, they also have success with a block a month where people get all the shards to make a block A month, and then at the end of the year, they can put all the blocks together to make a quilt.
They also recently completed a sewing school, with more than 1,000 people attending the six-week event.
The videos are free and very valuable, Hebblewhite said. She estimates that if people took a course at this level from an instructor like her or her mom, they would easily spend $200.
While they don’t charge for videos, they offer kits for sale that contain everything one needs to produce in a video.
“For us, its value is that people fall in love with us,” she said.
While many locals may not be aware of their presence, they say their influence is not only domestic but international, with business shipping to several other countries, including Australia, South Africa South Korea, the Netherlands, Mexico, Canada and even South Africa.
They have grown to 6 full-time and 12 part-time employees, depending on the time of year. It is also a family business and many family members are involved.
They moved into their current location in August 2021 and have been working with Noelle Hagen of Albert Lea Economic Development on the expansion, Hebblewhite said. Their space is located at 2610 YH Hanson Ave. and also includes a retail store.
“It’s all a gift from God,” Herb White said.
The Granny’s Legacy boutique is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm and can be reached at 377-0771.