Meet Paula Strietelmeier, aka, the Knit Doctor. The perfect moniker for a woman who, I’m told, can fix any broken knit or crochet project, doing whatever it takes to make mends meet. My guess is this one-time physics major turned humanities scholar is more left-brained than most of us crafters. She recently used something resembling a quadratic formula to adjust a garment pattern to my 4.5 stitches-per-inch knitting gauge. “Thanks for this,” I said. “Someday I’ll have to ask you about that equation you used.” She smiled.
Paula is my first Valparaiso connection. Even before exploring Northwest Indiana for possible new nests, I found Paula’s store – Sheep’s Clothing – online and was compelled to visit.
“As a young child I was a person who liked to make things,” Paula said during an interview, “but I actively avoided knitting till I was in my 20s.”
Growing up on the northwest side of Chicago, Paula spent summers on a farm in Wisconsin. “Farm ladies were always crocheting … not working with patterns but with formulas in their heads, increasing and decreasing to make things. They started me off knitting a scarf – very tedious.” She shudders now when she hears people starting their young knitters on the long, boring neck wrap.
In 1968, the then Paula Diko moved to Valparaiso and earned a degree in Humanities and English. After she met and married David, she worked in a title company in Valparaiso. They lived a short time in St. Louis where David taught and Paula got a transfer to another office. The family grew with three children, Andy, Helen and Susan.
“I had no desire to go back to work after the kids were born. I always planned on being a mom, I really took to it and enjoyed it,” she said. So when Andy was born, “I almost had to be dragged out of the house kicking and screaming,” back into the workforce. “But then I always thought about doing this yarn thing. Work gave me the focus as to what I was aiming for.”
She picked up computer skills and got a part-time job in the art department by picking up the phone and calling the department head. He hired her on the phone as a slide librarian. “I kept the data base and learned a ton of art history,” she said.
The Streitlemeier’s knit together a talented family. Andy is completing a PhD in music and human learning at University of Texas, Austin. Helen, an acupuncturist, earned an education at the Pacific School of Oriental Medicine in Chicago and is planning to establish a practice in Valparaiso; and Susan, commutes from Des Plaines, IL to Chicago to work in a small accounting firm serving German affiliates.
Just talking with Paula, one finds a quiet, intelligent, thoughtful woman. She’s as serious as a dropped stitch when teaching a class while also soft, helpful and patient. I especially appreciate that patience thing.
She lights up while talking about the trips she made with Helen and Susan to her family’s fatherland in Trencin, Slovakia, and connecting with a cousin. “A lovely man who was very well connected locally but very modest about it.” (That, too, sounds like Paula.) He left in 1926 and lived in Peru before making his way into the States. “My deep regret is that I never went with my dad,” she said.
“I just wish I could have my parents back,” she said, ” to ask them a million questions. Because visiting my cousin, seeing my dad’s house, seeing the town cemetery where you’re buried until no one remembers you then your bones are taken somewhere else so they can recycle the plot. How often would my dad leave his town? I want to know about his journey. Were there agents to help? How would you know what to do? There had to be some little offices. It was possibly dodgy and scary.”
It’s been 21 years now since Paula began inching into the art she loves. “I got into it very part time while at the university, but what was missing was a place where people could come in and get a project untangled, anytime.”
“I feel very fortunate because I have a very harmonious group of employees.
There’s no chain of command. We work well together. We’ve developed a sixth sense about shifting positions to take care of a customer. It works very well,” she said.
Paula, Heidi, Kate, Susan and Debbie work seamlessly to help customers feel encouraged.
Paula’s shop nurtures customers, knitters, crocheters, weavers and other crafters at all levels. “Paula is warm, friendly, very helpful, kind,” said Kate Schroeder who’s been with Paula for 10 years.
If you’ve gotten this far, good for you. It’s my way of sharing the wonderful experience I’ve enjoyed so far as a newish knitter and very green crocheter. Paula Strietelmeier and Sheep’s Clothing have made a difference in my new life in Valparaiso, Indiana. (Visit Sheep’s Clothing online.)