Donna Whitesel retired nearly a year ago — but you’d never know it from a visit to her store. If she’s not helping a customer, she’s hard at work with her sewing machine.
But she’s not complaining about keeping busy.
“Now I’m working more than I ever did,” she said. “But I don’t come to work every day — I come to play.”
Whitesel isn’t new to the area — her family moved to Creston when she was three, and she stayed through most of high school. She left for over 20 years, but returned to the valley after becoming a nurse at age 35 and discovering there were no jobs in Calgary.
Then she started sewing five years ago and got hooked, so much so that her sewing and quilting equipment spilled into her husband’s garage.
“I kind of took that over,” she said.
That led her to search for a place to rent, and she found one downtown. She didn’t intend to have a storefront, and sold at local powwows and at the Kootenay Lake ferry landing, which made her realize she’d prefer to sell from a permanent location. So, on Aug. 24 she opened a shop at 1011 Canyon St. to sell blankets and home decor, where customers can easily catch of glimpse of them being made.
“People love that everything is made right here in the shop,” said Whitesel.
She works in the rear part of the shop with Debi Ross, who has extensive experience with drapery and curtains, as well as elaborate beadwork (not to mention leather and boat tarp repair). The shop also offers stone and copper jewelry by Catz Creations. All three are of First Nations descent, Algonquin in the case of Ross and the Catz Creations designer, while Whitesel is Cree, with her great-grandmother from the Red River Valley.
Their backgrounds are immediately evident upon entering the shop, with North American animals and First Nations-inspired designs and fabrics on many pieces, from throw pillows to shower curtains.
“There is nothing out there in native Aboriginal fabric,” said Whitesel. “Because I’m Aboriginal, that’s the way I wanted to go. I love the fabric and I love the colours. We make just about everything we can in native Aboriginal fabric.”
That has led to Lower Kootenay Band purchasing ceremonial blankets, as well as new decor for the rooms at Ainsworth Hot Springs, which the band purchased in the spring.
Blankets and items with horses have also proven popular with customers.
“There are a lot of horse lovers,” Whitesel said. “Our horse products are going quite quickly.”
She only offers finished products, though — with three quilting stores just across the border in Bonners Ferry and online shopping easily accessible, she simply can’t compete when it comes to selling fabric.
But she plans to start her own online store in January, and is considering obtaining a long-arm quilting machine — with the nearest one in Bonners Ferry booked for months in advance, there is a definite demand among Creston Valley quilters.
Since discovering her passion for textile work, Whitesel’s four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren have certainly been able to keep cozy.
“And yes, they all have quilts, probably several,” she said with a laugh.
She’s always trying something new, and has now started creating memory quilts, using personal T-shirt collections — from concerts, for example, and one person asked to use baby clothes — to create highly personal quilts.
And there are probably more creations coming in the future.
“It truly is addicting,” said Whitesel. “I can last about three days and then go into withdrawal.”