Love of sewing, pets come together in Port business

Owner Ashley Heun combines her passions to create everything from collars and leashes to jackets for dogs and cats

ASHLEY HEUN IS at home with her sewing machine, making pet accessories for her business, the Plaid Cardinal, in her new space in downtown Port Washington (top photo) Heun makes collars and harnesses of all sizes in a wide variety of patterns as well as pet jackets (left photo), leashes, bandannas and other dog and cat accessories that she sells at farmers markets, craft fairs and online, although she plans to open her space to the public this spring. Photos by Sam Arendt

By KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM

Ozaukee Press staff

Ashley Heun has combined two of her passions — sewing and animals — to create her business, The Plaid Cardinal.

She creates colorful collars, harnesses, bandannas, jackets, leashes and soft cones for dogs and cats that she sells at farmers markets, craft fairs and her Etsy shop.

She also makes accessories for the collars, primarily bow ties and flowers that attach with Velcro.

“Every pet deserves something cute, unique and affordable,” she said.

And now she’s rented a space above Gallery 224 in downtown Port Washington where she makes her wares and, in late spring, she plans to open a shop there — now, it’s open only by appointment.

“This is something I’ve dreamed about for years,” Heun said.

She looked for a space several years ago, she said, “But I wasn’t ready.”

Racks of colorful pet accessories ring much of the space, while bins of patterned fabric and ribbons are stacked on shelves and on the floor.

In the middle of all this is Heun’s Elna sewing machine, where she creates her products.

“When I would be at the farmers market, people would ask, ‘Do you have a location?’” Heun said. “Now, I do.”

And it’s a place where she can work uninterrupted. At her Town of Port home, her six dogs and five cats provide constant distraction.

“Now, home can be home,” she said. “I get a lot of work done here.”

Heun said she has always loved animals, and her grandmother taught her to sew when she was a teenager.

Since then, she said, she has sewn almost every day.

It’s a skill she honed at as a student at Lawrence University, where she worked in the costume shop, and later working as a seamstress in the costume shops for the Santa Fe Opera, American Players Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Those jobs helped Heun develop the skills needed to bring a concept to life since she would get a design and have to figure out how to make the costume.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “It’s fun to try to stretch yourself.

“I like creating, taking parts and pieces and making something from them. I like experimenting.”

She came up with the idea for her soft cones — one of her biggest sellers — when one of her dogs couldn’t handle a traditional hard cone.

The soft cone, which resembles a doughnut, keeps dogs from scratching and biting themselves and is more comfortable for the animals to wear.

“Several clients say their dogs use them as beds afterward,” Heun said.

Heun, who also has worked as a veterinary technician, has fostered 20 dogs, 10 kittens, five chickens and a pig through the years. She began making dog collars in 2017, when she fostered a dog through Tail Waggers 911.

That dog, whom she later adopted, was about 8 when Heun got her as a rescue. Her name originally was L-10, but Heun named her Daisy Mae.

“She looked like a little spotted cow,” she said. “At my parent’s house, she would sneak out into the cow pasture next door.

“She was the sweetest little guy. I wanted something special for her.”

So Heun researched how to make a dog collar, buying the materials from Etsy, and the Plaid Cardinal was born.

She has been selling items through Etsy since 2017, and she started her website last fall.

Through Etsy, she said, she’s shipped her products to almost every state and four or five countries, including Singapore and Great Britain.

Heun said she enjoys selling at farmers markets, craft fairs and festivals, especially because of the interaction she has with customers.

“You find out what people are asking for — that’s the nice part of being out and about,” she said. “You meet people from all over and get to know what their pets like and don’t like.”

And it’s fun to see what other people are making, she said, noting it creates a sense of community.

“We support each other,” Heun said.

Heun doesn’t just make animal accessories. She does upholstery — another skill learned from her grandmother — and does alterations, and has been a substitute teacher for the last few years.

Now she’s focusing on the animals.

Her collars, harnesses and leashes are made with either ribbon or fabric over strong webbing, although she’s recently started making some with a vegan leather that has antimicrobial properties and is “super strong.”

It’s a fun material to work with, Heun said, noting it has a shimmery appearance that adds a bit of bling.

She makes pieces to fit animals of all sizes, from tiny kittens and puppies to the largest of dogs.

Collars range in price from $12 to $20, harnesses from $15 to $20 and cones from $16 to $22. Her flowers and bow ties are $6 to $8.

“I try to make them within the reach of everyone,” Heun said. “And there’s no middle man, so I can.”

And she’s now branching out to do some custom work. She’s making bandannas for Sahale Ale Works in Grafton that are emblazoned with the brewery and taproom’s logo.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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