Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Quilters Have Success Squared Away

By Robert Holmes
TheStreet.com Staff Reporter

6/26/2007 10:08 AM EDT
Click here for more stories by Robert Holmes

Starting a company with only a few thousand dollars in hand seems like a daunting task, unless the business benefits from user-submitted content.No, we're not talking the Internet or YouTube.com here. Starting a small business now with little cost doesn't have to be digital -- this one is something very tangible, even old-fashioned: quilt-making.

Leigh Lowe, owner and founder of Campus Quilt, established her company as the thesis project for an M.B.A. degree at the end of 2000. Now in its seventh year, the business has grown leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings.

"I launched the business out of my apartment," Lowe recalls. "I was 24 years old with $5,000 I had saved from my first job out of college. We basically only made quilts for my friends and family that year."

One of the reasons a business such as Lowe's can succeed is because it relies on its customers to provide a bulk of the raw materials. Campus Quilt's specialty is transforming old concert t-shirts, or just about any type of fabric, into a high-quality, future-heirloom blanket. Lowe was her own first customer as the business was coming together.

"My husband and I each have a quilt commemorating our college days," she said. "After that, every t-shirt I could find went into one test quilt or another."

The Process

Buyers begin their order online or by phone with a $100 deposit. Campus Quilt then ships out a mailing kit that contains everything one would need to package up their shirts, including a prepaid mailing label. (There will be more about that later.)

The quilt is assembled within two or three weeks after the company receives the shirts, and the balance is then due upon completion. Prices for quilts run from $125 up to about $400.

For a fee around $25 to $150, depending on the quilt's size, customers can add a 1 1/2 inch sashing between each t-shirt square. Embroidered lines are available at an additional cost as well.

We do a lot of t-shirt quilts for graduates, concert-goers, and athletes of all kinds," says Lowe. "But, we can also make almost any customized quilt requested of us."

Lowe points out that old concert t-shirts aren't the only items the business has received in buyers' packages. Campus Quilt has made quilts out of photos, baby clothes, swimming suits, ties and baseball hats.

"One customer had us make a quilt from a collection of golf towels. It was a really neat project," recalls Lowe.

Customer Care

As her business is still relatively small, Lowe is able to provide personal care to every client. As there is a certain sentimentality involved in swapping a closet-full of shirts for an embroidered quilt, Lowe insists on the best customer service available. And that service has paid dividends, through word-of-mouth business.

Typically, a representative from Campus Quilt will respond to customers via email in less than 24 hours within ordering a mailing kit, explaining the entire process. Once the customer authorizes a deposit for the job, a quilt kit is mailed, including directions, labels, color swatches for the border and backing, and spaces for special instructions.

Campus Quilt provides each customer with email updates throughout the process and, usually within three weeks, the finished product is mailed back.

Lowe says she has learned how powerful the individual customer is through reviews of the product, even though the company has been profiled on big media outlets including NBC's "Today Show" and the "Rachael Ray Show."

But most important, Lowe knows that it's the customer that matters most. After all, Campus Quilt's customers aren't just paying for a product, they're practically providing it themselves.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Patterns of Controver

Debating the legend of quilts as Underground Railroad maps

By Diane Cole
Posted 6/24/07

Fact, fiction, folklore, or a bit of all three: Did runaway slaves seek clues in the patterns of handmade quilts, strategically placed by members of the Underground Railroad?

This ongoing debate surfaced as front-page news earlier this year when a New York City Central Park memorial to Frederick Douglass was slated to include two plaques referring to this code. Historians cried foul—loudly. There is no evidence for such a code, says Giles Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. "I know of no historian who supports this idea, and it's extremely rare to get that kind of consensus."

Mention of the quilt symbols in that plaque's text will now be omitted. But the quilt key legend itself remains very much aboveground. Since 1999, when Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard published their bestseller, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, the secret-code story has woven its way into American folklore.

But historians note that the sole source for that story was one woman—Ozella McDaniel Williams, a retired educator and quilt maker in Charleston, S.C., who recounted for Tobin a family tradition that had been passed down to her through the generations. Embedded in 12 quilt patterns, she said, were directions to aid fugitive slaves on their journey to freedom. Depending on the pattern, a seemingly innocent quilt left on a porch or fence or hung in a window could signal to slaves on the plantation to get ready to escape (Monkey Wrench pattern), go north (North Star pattern), or zigzag to throw off pursuers (the Drunkard's Path pattern).

Although Williams died shortly before the book was published, her 73-year-old niece, Serena Wilson of Columbus, Ohio, says she also learned about the hidden maps from Williams's mother. "The quilt code was kept secret because it was dangerous to talk about escaping," Wilson says.

Misinterpret. But there is no reference for the code beyond that family, contends Fergus M. Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. "There's no mention anywhere by anyone, African-American or white, of any quilt being used at any time." Nor do coded quilts from the period survive. Quilt historian Barbara Brackman notes that there is abundant evidence that slaves did sew quilts and that abolitionists made quilts to raise money for their antislavery activities. But some of the patterns that are said to be part of the Underground Railroad code did not exist until well after the Civil War, Brackman says.

Tobin believes her book has been misinterpreted. Numerous details ascribed to the story—like hanging quilts along the way to indicate safe houses—"simply aren't in the book," she says. Moreover, "We make it clear that this was Ozella's story only," she says, and that such codes "could have" been used in this way and only on one particular plantation. "We're not talking about hundreds or thousands of folks using this code," says Tobin. "The story has grown in ways that we had not intended."

This story appears in the July 2, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.


Friday, June 22, 2007

In stitches: Quilt show appeals to high- and low-tech


Peninsula Clarion

Verna Espenshade experienced machine quilting when she came to Soldotna three weeks ago. Originally from Pennsylvania, Espenshade is impressed by the delicate textures and loops a fabric freestyler creates, but says real quilting is done by hand.

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said, “but it’s not authentic.”

After 30 or 40 years of quilting, Espenshade can tell the difference between a hand-sewn quilt and a quilt done by machine just by looking at the fabric.

“When (quilting) started out people used patches from left-over sewing,” she said, scanning the walls of Cook Inlet Academy’s gymnasium at this year’s Quilting on the Kenai quilt show. “They didn’t strive to make something so gorgeous. You just needed a cover for your bed.”

Looking over quilts covered with star and diamond patterns, hand-dyed prints and tiny yo yos (squares of fabric stitched and pulled tight to form a pocket), she pointed to a rosy quilt in the corner and said it was hand-sewn.

“That’s very old,” she said, “you can tell by looking at the fabric.”

Quilts ranging from table runners and wall hangings to king-sized decked the walls of Cook Inlet Academy for the quilt show. The event started on Thursday and will last until Saturday afternoon, culminating in a treadle race and fashion show. The Art to Wear fashion show will be at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Mary Lee of Anchorage said the quilt Espenshade pointed to was known as a variation on a broken dish and was made from 1930s fabric blocks found in an antique trunk.

“(We) sewed it by hand and put it on a white background,” she said.

Entering a quilter’s world is to enter a kaleidoscope of color, patterns and fabrics. In this world of needle and thread, it’s easy to picture a circle of ladies engaged in an old-fashioned quilting bee. Nowadays, computerized sewing machines have brought the art of quilting into the 21st century.

Sharon Hale of Soldotna said she loves her sewing machine, but there were definitely purists out there. To her, the thing that makes contemporary quilting different from the quilts our grandmothers make are oranges, purples and other bright colors.

“Quiltmakers from years ago would roll over in their graves if they saw these colors,” she said.

Hale originally made her living sewing clothes, so instead of making bedspreads she quilts jackets, vests and other garments.

“It has a lot of the same techniques,” she said, “(I use) more beads and threads. You wouldn’t want all that stuff if you were going to put it on a bed.”

Thirteen years ago Pat Reese, owner of Robin Place Fabrics in Soldotna, originally held the show at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center with her four children to help her.

“It was quite an experience,” she said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”

With more than 150 exhibits and vendors, Reese said she expects 1,000 people to come have their quilts appraised, vote on their favorite quilt, compete in the treadle race and view the fashion show.

The treadle race was Jess Tubbs’ idea. President of J&H Sewing and Vacuum, Tubbs said he grew up playing with a treadle sewing machine and could sew faster than his brothers and sisters.

“Everybody gets a kick out of it,” he said, talking about the race. “As far as I know it’s the only one in the world ever.”

Way different from today’s high-tech sewing machines, these machines are heavy, made of wrought iron and are 80 years old or better. Tubbs said the contestants have to get through a three-foot long piece of fabric and whoever reaches the end first wins a race. When all the winners have been determined, they compete, vying for a Pfaff Smart 100 sewing machine.

“The people that sit down to those treadles, they get so much energy pumping the treadle that we started have holders for the chairs,” Tubbs said, “because they’re pushing the chairs away.”

After more than 40 years of pumping a treadle, Tubbs said even the fastest quilter can’t beat him.

“I’ve eliminated myself from the competition because I would be afraid of walking away with the grand prize,” he said.

In addition to the treadle race and fashion show, visitors will have a chance to get their quilts appraised, vote for their favorite quilt, view antique quilts and participate in lectures and demonstrations. There also will be a quilt walk with opportunities to win raffle prizes as well as the grand door prize, a Pfaff S1100 sewing machine. For more information and directions to the event, visit http://www.robinplacefabrics.com/Special-Events.php.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Scrapbook Decor: Creating a Family Album Quilt

Frances Burks

Scrapbooks date back as far as the 1590s, when "commonplace books" included drawings, newspaper clippings, and diary notes. British philosopher John Locke published New Method of Making Commonplace Books in 1706. In it, Locke offered advice on preserving ideas, proverbs, and other items. You can carry on the scrapbooking tradition and enhance your decor by creating a family album quilt that incorporates your family tree or marks a special family occasion. By doing so, your cherished memories will become part of your surroundings every day instead of being hidden away inside a photo album or box.

Whether you make a family album quilt yourself or have it made for you, here are some tips on how to create a quilt you'll love:

Getting family members involved can make the family album quilt-making process even more fun and the resulting quilt even more precious. For example, if you incorporate family photos into the quilt design, get comments from people in the photos and use their comments in the quilt design as well. There are plenty of products available for transferring images and inscriptions to quilt fabrics. You can even print images and words on fabric using a computer printer. Check craft and fabric stores and the Internet for more information on such products.

If you have a large number of photos, you may find it difficult to decide which ones to use for your family album quilt. To help simplify the process, sort your photos in chronological order. While you're sorting, themes likely will begin to emerge. You then can pick your favorite theme and use the corresponding photos in the quilt design.

When selecting items to use in the quilt design, remember not to limit yourself to photos. You can use memorabilia to tell a story just like you would use a photo. For example, transferring to fabric images of ticket stubs, old postcards, and newspaper articles can commemorate special family trips and accomplishments
Consider sewing buttons from favorite garments onto your family album quilt. Additionally, quilt blocks can be created using fabric from family garments, including baby clothes and souvenir T-shirts. You can help tell the story of the garments by including the names of the people who once wore them along with the garment's purpose.
You can create a family tree signature quilt simply by having family members sign their names on fabric squares that will then be used to make the quilt. If you have a large family, give each segment of your family their own quilt block. For example, the names of a daughter, her husband and children would all appear in the same block. For best results, have family members sign the squares with a permanent fabric marker, or transfer computer-generated signatures to the fabric.

Quilts often have been made to mark a special family occasion, particulary weddings. If you choose to make a wedding quilt and incorporate photos into it, you may find it difficult to decide which photos to use. If so, here's a hint: Choose your favorite photo and make it the focal point of the quilt layout, then surround that photo with other photos you think complete the story of the moment.

Whatever scrapbook decor project you may choose to create, it will be a worthwhile endeavor. While scrapbooking preserves memories for generations to come, scrapbook decor personalizes your surroundings with fond memories every day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Learning her craft one stitch at a time

Burlington County Times

SOUTHAMPTON — Susan Painting has learned her craft one stitch at a time.

The 67-year-old retired school teacher and Southampton resident has been quilting since 1985.

Later this month, a 96-square-inch quilt that she completed last year will be an entered in the prestigious Vermont Quilt Festival, held annually at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction, Vt.

Painting said she is honored to display her work at the festival.

“I never expect (to win) anything,” she said. “It's a real joy to see your work hung and to know that your peer group gets to see it.”

Nearly 200 quilters from the United States and Canada are entered in the festival, which annually attracts thousands of quilt enthusiasts from all over the world.

Along with the quilt contest, the festival features several special exhibits and workshops with nationally known quilt artists.

Painting took up the hobby because she wanted quilts for all of the beds in her home.

“I didn't think I could afford what I wanted, so I figured I would just try and make one,” she said. “My goal is to complete one bed-sized quilt per year.”

In 1987, Painting started a guild locally with some friends. The first meeting was at her Southampton home in May of that year. Soon after its inception, the guild began advertising its meetings, and members came up with a name, the Berry Basket Quilters.

Today, the guild Painting helped establish has 100 members from all over the county and meets monthly at the Medford Leas continuing-care retirement community. The members share their creations at each meeting.

In October, members of the Berry Basket Quilters will host their own quilt show at the Mount Laurel Senior Center on Mount Laurel Road.

Painting has also participated in another festival in Vermont every year since 1988. It was at that festival last year that her latest quilt was discovered.

Richard Cleveland, a founder of the Vermont Quilt Festival, saw Painting's blue-and-white quilt and suggested she enter it in the Vermont Quilt Festival this year.

“I had always wanted to make a blue-and-white quilt, so this one was very special,” Painting said.

The quilt is the largest she's ever crafted. It took her six months to make.

“My true love is the old, traditional patterns,” Painting said. “I love the antique quilts. I have made a few that are fairly contemporary.”

Earlier this month, Painting hosted a quilt-making demonstration at the Medford Historical Society's quilt show, which was held at Kirby's Mill.

Painting said no one in her family ever quilted, but she hopes to pass her creations on to her own family members.

“They can be very simple, or they can be very detailed,” she said. “It's a great hobby.”


Believe it or not, some men quilt

by Jennifer Priest Mitchell

If you saw Bob Eldred at his “day job,” where he works for Homeland Security at the Portland International Airport, you may not think that he quilts in his spare time. But he does. And he’s proud of it.

“Well, my wife’s been quilting for 30 years, and I’ve been trying to get her to go fishing with me all this time . . . and I figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” he said.

Eldred is one of many male quilters who belong to the Northwest Quilters, and who call upon their patience, artistic ability, and, oftentimes, a desire to do something productive while visiting with wives, daughters or friends. He explained, “It is a lot of fun and it is a good way to spend time together. You feel good when you finish something. It was Christmas 2002 when I made my first quilt for my very best friend. People love the quilts.”

His humor and modesty are endearing, as this towering man laughs and shares tales of some of his favorite quilts, and this hobby he loves sharing with his wife. “I don’t make mass quantities or do it every single day,” Eldred said. “I quilt when I want to, when I feel like it. I’ve made a total of 10 or 12 quilts of which I have none. I made one for a lady I work with who had a baby. Most of my quilts I’ve given to charities. We give them to the firefighters at Christmas. Last year Northwest Quilters as an organization gave 600 quilts to charities.”

His first quilt was a stack and flash style, just a bunch of squares of fabric, as he put it. His wife of 40 years told him that was an easy design, and he has since advanced in the types of patterns he attempts.

“We have eight sewing machines,” he said of the home he shares with his wife and revealed, “and well, I have a Kenmore. It is just two steps above a basic model. I am actually trying to learn long arm quilting and I am hoping to get a bigger machine. I enjoy it, but I have to say I am more impatient than the average quilter.”

Eldred has worked the graveyard shift at the airport in Homeland Security for 5 years. He is what they call a “Lead” and he chuckles and said that when people first find out he is a quilter, they give him a weird look. More than 6 feet tall and weighing in at 210 pounds, he realizes he may not look like most quilters, but he says he has grown to enjoy this hobby and he likes that it gives him and his wife a chance to spend more time together.

“My aunts and my grandmother were all quilters,” he reflected, “and I’ve known how to sew since I was a child. My neighbor who lived behind us when we were young used to make old-fashioned, hand-tied quilts and I grew up with one of her quilts. This hobby always brings her to mind because of that.”

Originally from California, Eldred transferred to Portland 30 years ago through work. He loves Oregon and calls it God’s country. He praises the pace of life, the clean air, and he explains, “The people here treat you like people. This is home.”

He and his wife are proud of their six children and eight grandchildren and he laughed and piped up, “We treat our grandkids the way all grandparents should treat their grandkids — we love them, pump them full of sugar and send them home!”

Currently residing in Cedar Mill, Eldred’s next quilting project will include some appliqué and be a special gift for a special friend. His wife, Maureen Orr Eldred, is the president of Northwest Quilters. When asked what it is like for the two of them to sit down and quilt at the same time, Eldred didn’t miss a beat and said, “Well, I swear a lot and my wife giggles a lot!”

For more information about Northwest Quilters, visit the Web site www.northwestquilters.org.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Quilters piece together soul-touching book

By Judith Farrell, The Daily News

“American Patchwork: True Stories from Quilters” edited by Sonja Hakala, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 217 pages, $23.95.

There is no better remedy for the soul than this collection of 67 stories contributed by quilters nationwide and edited by Sonja Hakala, who has a knack for nurturing her readers.

Pop culture would have us believe that no one quilts, no one crochets, no one knits. Seldom do publishers consider handmade crafts like these to be relative to the new millennium.

So it is with great pleasure that I share this collection with readers.

In the introduction, Hakala adds a bit of history, “The origins of quilting in America lie more in the region of legend than truth.”

She also captures in few words those incentives that motivate quilters: “…quilting can be an act of will, of self-expression and of love. Quilting keeps the hand and mind busy so that the heart can heal when there’s trouble.”

Each short narrative addresses a unique view of quilting. One woman delivers handmade quilts to the children’s ward of local hospitals as part of Project Linus. One woman’s story about a Fabric Connection project matches quilters with others like them south of the boarder.

One woman relates a story from the past. She and her husband were stationed in Germany. The Post Exchange had a limited supply of cotton fabric; her husband, in “full battle rattle,” crossed the East German border to get her a variety of prints and solids.

In another account, Laurel tells readers that she purchased a quilt shop rather than see it go out of business. A couple of male writers explain that, although they are novices, the creative nature of quilting attracts them to the craft.

A humorous story by Becky Sunderman is a guide to finding places to hide a quilter’s stash. Between the mattress and box springs, in the freezer marked “beef brains,” in the trunk of the car, in empty luggage are all ideal hiding places. Evidently, the desire to create a quilt leads to overstocking.

A reader can’t help but notice the names of the authors of the brief anecdotes — once common, are no longer splashed about at family gatherings. There are dozens of similar names; to be fair, a few more modern names dot the collection, but the classic names add credibility to the collection.

The stories are informative — all about things that matter to quilters and those wannabes. The Crazy Quilt, Nine Patch and the Log Cabin seem to be the easiest patterns to duplicate. Quilters can hand sew, machine sew or tie a quilt — whichever they prefer. The scrappie and sampler are the most versatile.

The narratives drop names that seem to matter a great deal. The Vermont Quilt Festival offers workshops to quilters. The Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery displays quilts from improvisationalists like Nancy Crow.

Lynn Heath “started quilting because quilts don’t talk back.” I truly believe that that is why anyone enjoys a hobby or craft.

Judith Farrell, a high school teacher, lives in League City.