WEST BEND — When West Bend mom Hannah Schleef began creating cloth books as a way to connect with her toddler, she never imagined it would lead her to create a wildly popular, fast-selling book collection and opening her very own downtown studio space — but just four years after launching her child-based business, Evensong, that is exactly what became her reality.

Schleef began Evensong, named after a traditional evening church service held at sundown, by selling her own hand-crafted, organic cloth baby books on Etsy and in select retail spaces. Focused on a bedtime prayer or lullaby, Schleef created the books — illustrating, writing, and stitching each one herself — with the purpose of helping parents and children unwind together at night.

“The longstanding tradition of a story or a song before bed has been passed down through generations of humans, and I believe carrying on the practice is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children educationally, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Schleef.

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While bedtime was the primary focus when she began Evensong, her collection quickly grew to include fan-favorite subjects such as gardening, beekeeping, geographical guides and the farmers market. Each book is created and crafted by Schleef, from the colorful artwork to the education-based text to the careful stitching. With high contrast pictures for babies, familiar illustrations for toddlers, and easy-to-read stories for preschoolers, her products are designed to grow with children through each age and stage.

Very quickly, the demand for books began to increase. Schleef’s business, which began with a single sewing tote, now required an entire room within her house. Sharing space with her family and finding work-life balance became increasingly difficult.

“I found myself sewing late into the night trying desperately to avoid waking my three little girls next door. It became obvious that I needed a space of my own,” said Schleef. “When I learned that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation was offering a grant through the Mainstreet Bounceback Program, I started casually scouting out locations close to home and running the numbers, not believing I could really make it happen. When I toured a small upstairs office space on 6th Avenue with Main Street access, I fell in love. Fast forward to 2022 and my dreams for that little workspace have expanded dramatically. I’ve now got a space to work, a space to display products and store inventory, and a space for my little girls to play when they come along to work with me.”

With more space, Schleef plans to partner with fellow female-owned businesses and source locally-made products to include in her studio. Her current collection of baby and toddler goods includes sustainably-sourced wood toys, swaddles, teethers, art supplies, nursery décor, apparel, board books, picture books, greeting cards, stickers, and more.

Schleef, a self-described aspiring minimalist, prides herself on creating and curating products that will grow with families and become a long-standing favorite within the household.

“I am an early childhood teacher at heart, and you’ll find that my educational philosophies permeate my business. I offer open-ended toys for endless hours of imaginative play, low-mess, low-stress art supplies that promote early development of fine motor skills and grip strength, and nature-based stories and toys to get kids outside, where they thrive,” said Schleef. “I try to source toys that have play value through many stages of development. When you make a purchase from my little shop, you’re adding something safe, sustainable, and natural to your child’s play space, and you’re shopping small.”

Looking towards the future, Schleef has no plans to slow down.

“I am at the beginning of the process of overhauling many of my bestselling books with brand new artwork,” explained Schleef. “My all-time bestseller, ‘A Baby’s Guide to Wisconsin,’ is next on the list, and I’m hoping to have the new version ready in time for fall markets. I do all of my artwork myself, and I’ve recently moved from creating digital art to doing block printing. I love the hands-on nature of carving my own linocut blocks and printing my own illustrations. It’s the perfect way to slow down from a busy life with three little ones. My main business goal is to make more time for that kind of work—the creative, thoughtful, get-your-hands-messy kind of stuff. I’m also hoping to increase my wholesale presence in brick and mortar stores in Wisconsin and beyond, to expand my nature-based product line, and to get more involved in the community in West Bend.”