Less than two years ago, Sophia van der Harst was thinking about moving back to her native Holland.

Hundreds of Mill Valley kids and their parents are thrilled they were able to convince her to change her mind.

Van der Harst is perhaps best known locally as one of the founders of The Planet, the children’s drop-in day camp and activity center near Richardson Bay near Seaplane Adventures and the office buildings that house Glassdoor. Focused on interest-based learning, the center has long had a reputation for getting kids interested in an array of hands-on mediums, from sewing and jewelry-making to woodshop and myriad arts and crafts.

For 20 years, Van der Harst was responsible for much of that acclaim. So when she decided to leave the business, word of her plans to move back to Holland, which she left in 1985 to attend the American Music and Dramatic Academy in New York City, spread quickly.

“I started getting so many calls and emails from parents: ‘Where are you teaching now?’” van der Harst says. “It made me re-think things. But it also made me think, ‘How are you going to survive in Mill Valley running a sewing studio?”

The answer, in decidedly simple terms, is all about the Poekie.

Poekie (rhymes with “spooky”) is a Dutch term of endearment used by many moms in Holland for their babies. In 1998, the Waldorf-trained van der Harst turned that word into a thing – a cute, pillowy stuffed animal that has inspired children to “create, craft and imagine” is the central piece of a sewing system that teaches kids a variety of skills.

In response to the outpouring of interest in early 2014, van der Harst decided to try building a business around the Poekie, and the Poekie Nook was born. She rented a room at Scout Hall and thought to herself, “How the heck are you going to survive in Mill Valley running a sewing studio?”

“I was shocked – it was immediately a huge success,” she says. “Kids just love the Poekie animals – they have become so popular.”

By the time summer arrived, van der Harst was running out of space at Scout Hall, which was in the early stages of an extensive renovation. She moved the Poekie Nook to a space on Miller Ave. briefly but had to leave because she was drawing so many children that it was creating parking issues for the property owner. Now she’s at 238 East Blithedale, in an even larger space at the back of the building that houses Pharmaca.

As demand for the Poekie has increased, van der Harst has been expanding her line of Poekie kits, allowing children to print out patterns and create Poekies of their own. She plans to have kits for all 70 Poekie animals available online soon.

Van der Harst has also launched a series of after-school sewing classes by well-known local sewing instructor Pia Anderson. Those classes center on creating clothing and bedding accessories for Poekies.

After a circuitous career that has spanned the European garment industry and high-end fashion designers in New York to the former Alpha Graphics on Miller Ave. in Mill Valley and later RAM Print & Communications in Strawberry, van der Harst is now completely on her own running a business, with all of the thrills and anxiety that come with it.

“It’s been crazy and incredibly exciting – what a whirlwind,” she says.

The 411: Poekie Nook is at 238 East Blithedale Avenue. More info on Poekies, sewing kits, classes and much more.

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