Original water colour painting by Cathie Allen.
By Terri Smith –
Konny Kadenbach and her partner, Joel, live on a beautiful piece of property just south of Quesnel. I knock on the door of their handcrafted home and hear Konny call from the basement. I enter the house and feel instantly comfortable in my surroundings. Their entire home is a work of art. Local works are displayed everywhere and evidence of grandchildren can be seen in the prominently displayed drawings that add warmth to every room. I descend a staircase so steep it is almost a ladder and am reminded of a picture from the childhood book, Heidi, of the ladder she would climb at night to reach her hayloft bedroom.
At the bottom of the staircase the basement studio is warm, bright, and cozy. There is a wood stove to one side, and several large, smooth, wooden tables. Windows on two sides provide ample natural light and a few sewing machines plus an oddly shaped machine called a “long arm sewing machine” are placed strategically around the room. Orderly piles of fabric, wool, and finished duvets and pillows are everywhere. I hear Konny and her employee, Diane, laughing as I enter the room. They obviously get along well, and each works like part of a well-oiled machine.
Konny first began making wool bedding in the late 1980s. When I ask what prompted her to begin this business, she
laughs and replies, “coming from Germany and needing to create my own job.”
She decided on wool bedding because, while common in Germany, there wasn’t much of it available in Canada. “Working with fibre is definitely something I love,” she says, and other people get excited about it as well. She does shows at Granville Island and sets up her spinning wheel. Customers are always exclaiming, “I remember my grandmother doing that!” Seeing people’s happiness over a traditional craft is one of the rewards of her business, but Konny has quite a few reasons for doing what she does so successfully all these years.
“I like starting a business on a shoestring,” she says.“ I was already a back-to-the-lander in Germany, and then I met other back-to-the-landers in the Cariboo, so this business made sense in a lot of ways.”
Konny is also a firm believer in the importance of home-based businesses and how they can be beneficial to a family. “We raised three boys doing this,” she says proudly. The boys helped out a lot with the business and Konny talks of how good it was for all of them to spend time together as a family.
One of the first jobs the boys had was sewing the bags the finished bedding would be packaged in. As incentive, they offered the boys “a buck a bag” and were surprised when one son had sewn 30 by the end of the day.
Konny laughs at the memory. “Child labour was alive and well here then.”
The boys would also pitch in to make dinner when Konny and Joel were busy working in the basement, and they all had a sense of pride and accomplishment in what they were doing. Having a home-based business was an important part of getting to know her boys and what they were interested in as well. “I got to know Jimi Hendrix when the boys were helping out. It was the 90s when Jimi Hendrix was big again and we spent a lot of hours listening to him while all working together.” She smiles at the memory.
For a time Konny and Joel talked of about growing the business—building a shop and getting a big machine that could take over the work they do by hand. However, they realized they enjoy things the way they are.
“Small is beautiful,” she says, and it shows in the beauty all around her.“It wasn’t so important to make a ton of money; we wanted this lifestyle.”
The whole time we are talking, Konny’s hands are busy laying out wool batting for a pillow, folding it over, laying the pillow case over it, and pinning it in place. Meanwhile, Diane is at her station cutting fabric to size for duvet or pillow or mattress covers ranging from crib size to king size.
Diane smiles and says what she loves about this business is the high quality and high attention to detail. “It’s a quality thing, a German thing,” she says, and, smiling even bigger: “It’s a Konny thing. It’s what you do!”
Quality and sustainability do go hand-in-hand here.“We spend so much of our lives sleeping, it’s good to know what we’re sleeping on is safe,” says Konny. Her llama wool comes from her own llamas, and the rest is sourced from Western Canada. The wool is processed in a woolen mill so it arrives clean, and is custom carded into a thick, dense batting, ensuring comfort and even temperatures. Konny and her team then work their magic turning it into soft, warm bedding. The covers are sewn from organic, Egyptian cotton, and Konny’s attention to detail ensures her products will last at least a lifetime.
“Joel is the one who keeps it all going behind the scenes, “she says. “He is the one who oils the machines. We could never do it without him.”
Konny and Joel are a great team and you can tell by the way they speak of each other there is a lot of love and respect there. I feel happy to know these great people, and with the cold damp weather upon us now, I think my next present to myself will be a wool mattress pad.
One last bit of advice from Konny for anyone thinking of starting a business: “Start small, work on a shoestring, and live frugal.”
To see pictures of Konny and Joel’s amazing products, or to order, have a look at their website at: www.cariboowoolbedding.ca and if you are in the Williams Lake area in November, be sure to visit them at the Medieval Market.
Terri Smith is a non-certified organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo. She is passionate about writing, art, goats, and feeding good food to good people. She believes in following your heart, living your dreams, and taking care of the planet.