Initially posted on the Montana Fibershed Blog, July 2023
Happy Summer fellow fiber friends,
Hannah (Jaicks) Ollenburger here from Bears Den Essentials. I'm a lifelong knitter who spends my days knitting up beanies (and other knits) and designing knitting patterns for the business I run with my husband Mark. I started knitting around age six, partially taught by my mom and partially self-taught through trial and error. My knitting habit began as a solitary activity—a way to entertain myself as an only child who felt lonely and awkward most of the time.
As I made my way through school (elementary, college, and eventually graduate school), I followed my interests in psychology and biology, but I could never shake my knitting habit. Whenever I had downtime (or felt like procrastinating), I picked up my needles and worked on a project. I chose to make my gifts for people over buying them. Despite tending towards solitude, I have always enjoyed knitting up handmade goodies for the people I care about. What better way to show someone you love them than by making them something that will keep them warm and cozy?
I always wished I could find a way to translate my love of knitting into other areas of my life, but I figured I should be grateful to have such a wonderful habit I enjoyed. When I moved to Montana about a decade ago, the threads of my life started to weave together in a way that allowed me to create not just a community but a life I love grounded in knitting. I happened to move West to work on human-wildlife conflict issues, and I fell head over heels for Montana. I found home after moving around a lot in life and had the good fortune of doing research focused on helping ranchers address the challenges of sharing the landscape with wildlife and vice versa. As I was doing the fieldwork for my eventual book, a few other wonderful things started happening.
First, I met a number of sheep ranchers who I became close to, and I learned more about the process of where my wool yarn comes from. Becky Weed and LaVonne Stucky provided a window into how yarn is made, Kami Noyes of Ranching Tradition Fiber welcomed me into the community of the Ruby Valley and now provides me with yarn support for a number of my patterns, and the Helle family taught me about scaling a wool clothing brand.
Shortly after I started the fieldwork for my book, I met the man who would become my husband. Mark and I connected over our love of wild places and wild creatures, and he and his dog Posey were another type of home I loved coming back to in between my trips to go do interviews on ranches across the state. Shortly after we started dating, I began bringing my knitting over to work on while we would hang out in the evenings, and Mark asked me to teach him how to knit. We went over to Stix, where the friendly and kind owners, Cameron and Traci, connected him to yarn from local fiber producers across the state like Kami and LaVonne, and he picked it up faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. He is a talented software engineer who looks at pattern charts the way he looks at code, so he also is amazing at designing complex colorwork and intarsia knits.
I knew Mark was the one early on, so I started designing an afghan and knitting it up for him in January of 2020. Every crafter knows about the curse of the boyfriend sweater (or blanket), so it was a risky move that, for once, I had no problem taking. I finished it a couple months later, using local yarn from the Wool Mill, and gave it to him. That happened to coincide with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I was happy to give him something comforting during a scary time for us all. At this point, he was an expert at designing and knitting beanies, so we spent the early weeks of quarantine whipping up hat after hat together.
By summer 2020, we found ourselves knitting more beanies and blankets than we could possibly hold in one household. We realized that we wanted to share our love of knitting, passion for creating designs inspired by nature, and desire to support local Montana nonprofits and wool producers with the world. That’s when we decided to start Bears Den Essentials.
Three years later, I manage the day-to-day operations of our business, and Mark helps me out when he’s not busy with his awesome day-job as a software engineer building a platform that helps agricultural managers track and care for their livestock more efficiently. A portion of our knits give back to local nonprofits across the state, and the patterns I write use Kami’s yarn whenever possible. All of our knits are inspired by the land, wildlife, and environment of our home in the Ruby Valley.
As a lonesome kid who found solace in creating, I look back at how the Montana fibershed has allowed for knitting to become a point of connection for me over the past ten years. I’ve created a community of like-minded souls doing work that I care about in a home I didn’t expect to ever find, with a man and a dog I both love dearly. My hands and heart are very grateful for that.
I hope you’ll continue to follow along on our fiber journey by subscribing to our newsletter and supporting our work. If you ever want to partner up, email me anytime at email@example.com.
Your fibershed neighbor and friend,