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In the Pipeline: Beanies speak of tireless devotion

September 23, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Miki Sessler displays beanies in her Huntington Beach store, Miki's California Yarn Sales. The beanies are shipped to servicemen and women to show they are supported.
Miki Sessler displays beanies in her Huntington Beach… (CHRIS EPTING )

In a yarn shop on Hamilton Avenue near Bushard Street in Huntington Beach, great things are happening. You get a hint of it when you approach the shop and see, out front on a blue plastic table, photographs of soldiers and a red, white and blue beanie cap.

Inside, it is a heaven for knitters and crocheters — a high-ceilinged, stuffed-to-the-rafters mini-warehouse bursting with thousands of skeins of yarn. There's vintage yarn from the 60s and 70s, wools, luxury yarns, acrylics — enough to keep a yarn treasure hunter busy for weeks.

Welcome to Miki's California Yarn Sales, 9452 Hamilton Ave., run by Japanese immigrant Miki Sessler. Over the decades, she has made her name by helping people find what they want, sketching out patterns and directions and making and dyeing her own yarn. Her customers will swear they haven't experienced a yarn shop like Sessler's.

And as great as all of that is, it's not what brought me here. No, I'm here because of that red, white and blue beanie out front. And the hundreds of other multi-colored beanies I see once I enter the shop.

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My friend Rochelle Alves thought it might good to visit Miki's California Yarn Sales. How right she was.

In 1970, at age 26, Sessler came to the U.S. from Yokohama in search of opportunity.

Sessler and her husband, Bertram, opened the yarn shop 43 years ago and worked tirelessly to make it a success. He died 10 years ago, and that loss threw Sessler into an emotional tailspin. She and Bertram had been inseparable, and a year or so after his passing, she got an idea.

"I looked outside, the sun was shining, a bird was at the feeder, and I realized how beautiful life still was," she said. "At that time, there was a big resurgence in knitting that was taking place and so I became inspired. My husband had served his country proudly, and so I decided it was time to do something to honor not just him but all of the other men and women that serve and sacrifice for the United States of America."

Thinking that beanies would always be a practical item for soldiers to receive, she set a goal for herself: to eventually have 1 million beanies made and delivered to servicemen and women around the world. Thus, Operation Beanies for Service Members was born on Thanksgiving 2004. Sessler designed a pattern for beanies, made about 50 of them herself and then printed out 200 fliers for interested customers.

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