Dear Fiber Enthusiasts,
It was a perfectly beautiful summer day for a drive down the Mississippi River valley. From the Twin Cities I took the fast route down through Rochester on Hwy 52 and then east on I-90. Heading to the bluff country in southeastern Minnesota is an enjoyable drive no matter which route you take to get there. The purpose of my journey was to meet Kim Hammer (in person) and learn more about her import business and shop called Sutra Imports. The shop is located in a 100-year old barn at 570 Main St. which is one of a dozen streets in the tiny river enclave that makes up Dakota, Minnesota.
Finding Dakota, population almost 300, is very easy as it has its own exit after you come sailing down the very big hill dropping you right into the Mississippi River valley. I’m always amazed and a bit concerned with riverbank houses, roads and towns’ direct proximity to the river. Don’t they know this large flowing, moving body of water can and has over run its banks at its own discretion? Isn’t building on higher ground one of those common sense decrees? Regardless, at this location, Lake Onalaska bulges out making the river seem even wider than it is. All along its course, the river opens up into lakes that are a sportsman’s paradise and then mellows and meanders through marshes, around islands and creates its own big sand bars along the way.
Travel—setting off for discovery is in Kim’s heart.
A local gal, Kim knows the river well as she and her family spent weekends exploring the waterway by boat when she was a kid. Her high school French Club trip to Quebec is remembered as an opening to culture, art and beauty in ways she is still excited to experience. After studies at UW-Stout in Textiles and Design, Kim headed west to San Francisco for a time where she met a group of women who set off on a bike trip through Europe on $10 per day! It’s been a few years since Europe was doable on ten bucks a day, but the experience infused feelings of capability, resilience and the love of making connections with people from other cultures in their everyday lives. All of which she has continued to build through many succeeding adventures.
A little over ten years ago circumstances required Kim take a look at things and create a new mission to move toward. It was when she took ‘Life Coach’ training that she decided to evaluate herself and come up with a new plan. So while she didn’t actually work with clients as a coach, she used the training to discover that travel, art, health and textiles must be at the center of her life moving forward. In 2009, she led her first tour to India. This was not Kim’s first trip to India and she’ll tell you that the culture and place are complex, chaotic and make a thoroughly rewarding trip.
Sutra is a Sanskrit word that means ‘thread’.
Whether her shop In Dakota is the reason for her travel or the shop is the result of her travel, Kim has blended the two beautifully. Sutra Imports focuses on southern and eastern Asian textiles, furniture, décor, clothing and accessories. In the heart of Midwestern American culture, the shop is located in a century old barn. Renovated over the last twenty-odd years by the previous owner and updated by Kim, it is a charming backdrop in a most unlikely place to offer global accoutrements. When you come in the door awnings of fabric drape the ceiling creating a bazaar-like atmosphere. Everywhere you look there is another interesting handmade item. Silver and semi-precious stone jewelry is set on small tables; clothing racks are center stage and Indonesian batik print fabrics are made into tablecloths, curtains, pillows and accessories. Lovely hand stitched quilts made from repurposed saris, small prints on Indian cotton and traditional Indian Dhurrie rugs come in a variety of sizes. Kim has purchased a nice assortment of hand woven cotton scarves, ikat woven sarongs and pillows depicting local folk art. All items are bought using Fair Trade best practices:
Sutra Global by Design is committed to fair trade principles, so we purchase directly from artisans, and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and progressive businesses that pay artisans fairly and promptly, provide skills development and self-empowerment, and encourage leadership skills and personal ownership.
A century ago, the upstairs would have been the hayloft, big swinging doors that were replaced with large windows that look out onto the river panorama. Now more like a loft in the trees, Kim painted the floor neutral gray and stenciled paisleys randomly across the floor (she says it took her three days to do it)! Its natural lighting, white washed wood and high ceiling make a backdrop that highlights the unique merchandise and art.
Keeping true to her mission of art, health and surrounding oneself with life affirming beauty, Sutra Imports offers classes on mindfulness, wellness and how to use garden botanicals for a more contemplated life. Kim hosts textile trunk show events, book readings, concerts by local musicians and storytellers. She encourages you to bring a group of friends and experience the color and texture of Indian and Balinese cultures.
The shop is open May through October and closed while Kim takes flight each winter and heads to the other side of the world. Kim is planning two overseas trips in early 2017. This is a great opportunity to see India and Bali on their own terms with a guide who knows local people and is an experience traveler. Contact Kim directly for pricing.