Katherine Fletcher learned the skill of sewing from her grandmother. Looking back on that time of learning, Katherine smiles, recalling the amount of patience her grandmother had. 

“I really have fond memories of the time I spent with her – she let me try all kinds of things, make a mess and eventually, I got the knack of [sewing]. She had patience only a grandmother can have,” Katherine said. 

Since she was so tall as a teenager and it was hard to find clothes that fit just right, Katherine says her ability to sew allowed her to make her own outfits, proving that the skill was more than just a way to let her creativity shine through.  

Upon retirement from her work as a dental hygienist a few years ago, Katherine, who lives on Two Rivers Lake near St. Anna, once again discovered just how handy her sewing skills are – finding herself with a hobby and business that keeps that creativity flowing. 

“I sort of stumbled into this,” Katherine said, motioning to a tall rack of beautifully unique bags at her front door.

The bags, which come in multiple sizes and are each unique in one way or another, are made of sturdy cowhide and stunningly designed wool. The combination of mediums created by Katherine was actually inspired by a coat. 

While on a trip to Colorado a few years ago, Katherine says a coat made of Pendleton wool caught her husband’s eye. 

“He really liked the coat, but it was expensive and he didn’t feel right spending so much on it,” she recalls. “I told him that if he liked it, I could make him one.” 

And that is just what she did. Having to order the coveted Pendleton wool, which weaves stunning Native American-inspired designs with high quality wool, Katherine sewed the coat to her husband’s liking. 

“It turned out really well, but I had this leftover wool that I was not about to waste. I decided to make him a matching carry on bag for when we travel,” said Katherine. 

Katherine knew she wanted to make the bag sturdy and had always been interested in working with leather as a medium. So, she placed her first order of oil-tanned cowhide from a supplier in St. Charles, Minn., and got to work creating the bag that would lead her down a creative entrepreneurial path. 

“Every time we would travel, people would compliment my husband on that carry-on bag I had made – they wanted to know where he got it,” Katherine said. 

With encouragement and interest from family and friends, Katherine decided to make more bags and turn her hobby into a business, thus, Hide-N-Sheep was created. 

Katherine followed her daughter-in-law’s suggestion of getting an online shop through Etsy (an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items) where she can sell far beyond her Avon/St. Anna area headquarters. But where she has found great success has been by word of mouth and at vendor shows, where potential customers have the opportunity to really touch and hold the bags. 

“It is the type of product people feel they need to hold in their hands,” she said. “When they touch it, they know its strength and they are willing to make the investment.” 

Most recently Katherine attended the Millstream Arts Festival in St. Joseph at the end of September and later this month, on Oct. 20, she will attend the Rutger’s Bay Resort Lodge Oktoberfest in Deerwood. It will be her second time at the event, which draws thousands of visitors to enjoy music, food and over 150 talented vendors like herself. 

While she began by hand-sewing her bags, Katherine soon realized she would need a little help to keep up with a growing demand. Thus, she purchased “The Cowboy,” a leather capable sewing machine. 

“That has helped speed production up tremendously,” Katherine said of the machine. “It would take several days to hand-sew and now I can typically turn one around in about 24 hours.” 

Katherine focuses on creating an all-natural product, lining each bag with cotton fabric and pointing out that each roll of cowhide (which she selects in-person) comes with a history that can be found on certain bags. 

“It really tells the story of the animal, which I find incredible,” she said. “Sometimes the hide is blemish free, but sometimes there is a scar mark or even a branding mark, that makes the bag even more interesting.” 

Since the original large carry-on bag, which is TSA approved, Katherine has added a smaller version of the carry-on, a cross body/messenger/computer bag (two sizes) and the latest addition is a purse-pack, which is a combination of a large purse that can convert into a backpack. 

“My signature bag is really the travel/carry-on, but it is very customer-driven, so if there is something many people are asking for, I give it a try,” she said. “I tend to stay away from purses, since that market is pretty well covered, but I had so many people asking about messenger/laptop bags and backpacks, which is why I ventured to create those.” 

Katherine points out that the bags are not just for women either – in fact, a third of her customer base is men who prefer the rugged convenience the bags offer. 

“I really love all the bags because they are all so different and they pull two high quality products (leather and wool) together for a functional piece,” Katherine said. “I lived out west for some time and always felt drawn to that western look with Native American inspiration.” 

For Katherine, accidentally coming upon a post-retirement business has been a blessing in many ways. 

“I have such a strong need to be creative,” she said. “This has been such a great, positive outlet to help me do that!”