Friday, September 18, 2020
Windsocks Can Wait as Customers Demand Masks
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Sally Kern enjoys using vintage looking western, Hawaiian and campy retro fabrics. PHOTO: Kate Daly
   
Thursday, September 3, 2020
 

STORY BY KATE DALY

PHOTOS BY KATE DALY AND KAREN BOSSICK

“I’m going crazy right now!”

It’s a common complaint these days given COVID-19, but Sally Kern’s comment refers to working at least 12 hours every day to meet her customers’ demand for face masks.

 
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Sally Kern came to the Wood River Valley from Portland, Me. PHOTO: Kate Daly
 

She has a self-service sign posted outside her two-story house on South Main Street in Hailey. Colorful windsocks, a staple of her sewing business Kernworks since the 1980s, flap in the breeze out front. But now it’s her fanciful face masks that people are pulling over to buy.

The other day she placed a variety of 15 cotton masks in a basket by the front door. By 2 p.m. all them had sold for $9 apiece, and that wiped out her inventory.

That meant for the rest of the afternoon busily bustling between the three rooms that serve as her work and storage space. Kern can crank out five to six masks in an hour.

Using a pattern she found on the Joann website, she makes them out of two layers of cotton and stitches in elastic, nose pieces and tucks.

 
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Sally Kern has made thousands of windsocks since stitching her first 38 years ago in 1982. PHOTO: Karen Bossick
 

“They’re surprisingly tedious,” she says.

That could be because of how many she has made – more than 2,200 masks so far. Aside from selling them out of her house, Kern has a booth at the Wood River Farmers Market in Ketchum on Tuesday afternoons and participated in the Ketchum Arts Festival last month.

Back in 2012, she put her products online on Etsy.com to expand her business. She has received five-star reviews on the website and sold more than 1,300 items, such as napkins, fleece baby blankets, dog treat pouches and windsocks, but not masks. She is only selling masks locally. And, and when she finally gets a breather, she hopes to make and donate some “fun masks… so the teachers can give them to some of the kids” in Hailey and Bellevue.

Kern has three sewing machines set up in her front room: a serger that can loop together multiple threads and works well on knits, and two Bernina Swiss-made models.

 
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Sally Kern makes banners, quilts, pillows and veggie bags, in addition to windsocks and masks. PHOTO: Kate Daly
 

The “really fast, heavy duty” industrial sewing machine she bought in 1983 when she moved into the house, is perfect for napkins. The conventional Bernina that serves as mask central these days, is computerized. The machine comes loaded with a range of built-in stiches, and more can be downloaded from the internet.

She has gone through several models over the years since she started sewing at home in Portland, Maine in 1980.

She describes herself as “typical” when she came to the Sun Valley area a couple of years later, picking up jobs as a lift operator, landscaper, waitress and bartender.

Enjoying sewing, she also made quilts, windsocks, and fleece items for her friend Heidi’s Mächen Designs in Triumph. In 2000 Kern took over the fleece wear company and today the tights are still popular sellers.

She has racks of them and skirts hanging in a closet that doubles as a warehouse for dozens of bolts of fabric. Some look like vintage prints depicting fishing, skiing, cabins and cowboys, but there are also a lot of animal prints featuring dogs and lobsters.

A friend recently ordered 30 lobster napkins for a clambake in Maine.

Kern believes during the pandemic more people are entertaining at home, shopping online for gifts, or running out of paper products and realizing it’s better for the planet to use cloth napkins.

“Everyone in the world is ordering napkins, I have no more back up, I can’t keep up,” she says.

Kern receives many compliments about her products on Etsy. Customers praise her for the high quality and quick turnaround. She strives to get out orders within one to three days, dashing to the post office to mail out packages almost as regularly as she hikes with her dogs.

Every morning Kern ventures out with her golden retrievers before settling down to work and taking off one shoe to get a better feel for the sewing machine peddle. She sits beneath a sign that reads: “Home is where the dog is,” and loses track of time.

The only way she knows it’s a Sunday is because fewer customers call and stop by the house.

Kernworks is located at 602 S. Main St., Hailey, (208) 788-4162.

 

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