Sarah Kohl spins wool, knits wherever she goes, home schools her kids and assists women with labor and breast-feeding.
“Sounds like Laura Ingalls Wilder, doesn’t it?” she says with a laugh.
But Kohl is definitely not a character out of the pioneer author’s imagination. She started out as Sarah Wells, the youngest of three children born to the Rev. Larry Wells and his wife, Sheryl.
Wells was a minister with the United Methodist Church and Sarah spent her early school years in Glendale and Webster Groves, where her father was the minister at Webster Hills U.M.C. The church used to move ministers around every couple of years so the family also lived in Imperial and Hannibal before stopping more permanently in Jefferson City.
Sarah said her parents often commented that she was born in the wrong generation. But it wasn’t Wilder’s time that they were talking about, it was wilder times, such as the 1960s. Sarah was always interested in women’s issues and with the idea of empowering women. She says that from an early age, she knew she wanted to “catch babies” (help women with labor and delivery), and that after a couple of years as a psychology major at Mizzou, she realized she was wasting her money. So she left college and went off to spend a summer traveling with the Rainbow People.
When she got back to Missouri, Sarah settled in Columbia, which she says felt more like home to her than Jefferson City. After dabbling in a variety of things, and continuing to hone her skills as a “doula” – a labor assistant – David Gentzsch, a friend’s father who had started a business called Ozark Handspun, taught her how to spin wool.
The company now sells beautiful wool, silk and mohair yarns across the United States, Canada, France and Australia. Sarah takes it one step further, felting goods and knitting bags, scarves, shrugs, shawls, hats, baby slings and custom apparel that are each a unique creation.
How did you learn to make this stuff?
I hate to say that it was easy, but it was easy for me. I never follow a pattern, but I can figure out the math, so I know whether I need to increase or decrease stitches to make what I want.
What do you start with when you’re spinning?
David starts with raw wool and mohair and he washes it and then it goes through a picker, where all the nasty junk gets combed out. Then it is died with natural and synthetic dyes and either he or I or both of us put together huge trash bags of different colored wool and mohair. Then I bring it home and I spin it.
What do your sons do while you’re spinning?
I have the wheel set up right in the middle of their play room. Sage is really interested so he will sit in my lap sometimes and spin with me. I love the rhythm of it and can do it for hours.
How do you come up with your unique color schemes and design ideas – like hats with pulled out pieces of yarn that look almost like bangs or eyelashes?
I just dream them up. I might see something when I’m out with the kids and that will inspire me to do something. I think everything you look at and everything you do can be a learning experience.
Is that how you approach home schooling?
Yes. My philosophy on life has a lot to do with my philosophy about toys and children. I don’t believe that there should be any learning that isn’t enjoyable, and I believe that you can learn something from every enjoyable experience. It’s all about balance. A trip to the car wash can be a physics lesson, for instance.
How many births do you assist every year, and are they all home births?
I did about 25 last year and they were all home births. I have decided this year that I won’t take on any new clients because I want to spend more time with my kids and more time spinning and designing. I will take on repeat clients and I am a certified breast-feeding educator so I will continue to do that.
What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
I’m reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is a wonderful book. I loved “The Zen Commandments,” which I finished recently.
Favorite trip you’ve taken recently?
My husband I left Dakota and Sage with my in-laws and Brian and I took a honeymoon trip to St. James, Mo. We stayed at a B&B there and hiked and went antiquing and walked around Meramec Springs. It was a great trip.
What do you drive?
A white, 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager SE minivan with a Grateful Dead sticker in the window, a “Birth is not an illness” bumper sticker and music blaring from all the windows.