Katie Hartner’s first sewing project was making a baby doll quilt for her youngest sister when she was about 8 years old.
Mrs. Hartner took her love of quilting and turned it into a business. Since buying A Nimble Thimble 11 years ago, she has expanded the store three times.
She said there is a large quilting population in the area.
“We are a destination,” she said. “People look for us.”
Mrs. Hartner, 42, grew up in Broken Bow, Okla., and at a young age, learned all about running a business. Her father was a consulting forester and he and her mother had their own business, harvesting seeds from pine cones and selling them for people who planted plantations. She recalls helping her mother keeping the books on a big ledger, she said.
She attended Oklahoma State University, where she earned her degree in sociology. Mrs. Hartner moved to East Texas in 1993 to work at Mill Creek Farm, a wholesale tree nursery. The company had five nurseries in the country and Mrs. Hartner worked for seven years at its Pine Mills location, between Gilmer and Quitman. She started out in sales and ended managing the nursery.
Mrs. Hartner and her husband of 17 years, Matthew, live north of Holly Lake.
Originally called Evelyn’s Sewing Center, it opened around 1990, and later became Ann’s Sewing Center before Mrs. Hartner bought it and changed the name to A Nimble Thimble, she said.
The business that started out as a clothing fabric store has evolved, like most others, into more of a quilting shop, she said. Mrs. Hartner also added one of her favorite hobbies, wool rug hooking.
“It’s my niche here,” Mrs. Hartner said of rug hooking. “Most quilt shops don’t have that.”
When she bought the shop in 2001, it was located in a 2,500-square-foot space in the Cotton Patch Café Shopping Center. Mrs. Hartner moved the business into a larger, new building across town, off of Old Jacksonville Highway behind Tyler Urgent Care, in January 2008.
The new building offered 3,600-square-feet of space and allowed her to offer a large classroom for sewing and quilting classes. In May, she bought a neighboring 3,900-square-foot portion of the building to expand her store and is planning a grand opening after the New Year.
A Thimble Nimble sells 12 models of Bernina sewing machines, made in Switzerland. “I think they’re the best in the market,” she said. “Today, sewing machines are pretty much sewing computers.”
The store also carries 3,500 bolts of fabric, mostly quilting cotton, as well as machine embroidery supplies, threads, hand embroidery floss and just about anything else anyone could want in the sewing and quilting world.
A Nimble Thimble teaches three or four classes a week, showing customers how to use a machine, quilting, rug hooking or other techniques. She also holds the Saturday Sampler, held on the second Saturday of each month. A group of about 60 or 70 people pay $5 a year to join, and come each month to learn about the newest products and upcoming classes — “the latest and most current information about the quilting world and A Nimble Thimble,” she said. They are also given one block of quilt and if they are finished with it by the next Saturday Sampler, they get their next block free. By the end of the year, they have completed a quilt, she added.
Mrs. Hartner said there is a social aspect to the quilting world.
“I try to create that social environment in here, where everyone feels welcome … that encouraging atmosphere,” she said.
Next year, Mrs. Hartner plans to start holding retreats at her store, where customers will spend three straight days to spend on their sewing, hooking or quilting projects. She said she will try to hold the retreats monthly.
“I really enjoy the whole business environment,” she said. “I’m always looking to improve and moving forward.” Mrs. Hartner recently held a focus group, where 15 people came to her shop and talked about what they would like to see.