Saturday, November 18, 2006
Early years of machine quilting
I went into this machine quilting business because I wanted an income while also being a full time mother and sole supporter of my family.
I bought my first quilting machine in January 1981. Back in those good old days the manufacturers advertised “Earn $75 to $100 an hour” which was very good money. I fell for the hype and bought a Singer upholstery machine rigged up on a table with tracks. I cleaned out what was my living room, had the machine delivered, then sat back to wait for toppers to beat a path to my door.
Hmm… what’s this? Not a single customer even after I put flyers all over town. Ok, I thought, what am I doing wrong? I joined an online newsgroup. Back in those days email lists were called newsgroups. I joined one that was about starting a business and one on frugal living. (There weren’t any that I could find for machine quilters.) I learned as much as I could in the newsgroup but I also went to the library and checked out lots of books on starting a business.
I called the phone company to get listed in the yellow pages. The phone company had me be listed in 9 different county phone books of the surrounding area around Louisville. I was listed for two years. You know what? Not one single phone call from any of the listings. I dropped that.
Then it was suggested that I look into making samples for fabric stores. So I went to the fabric stores and asked. 5 fabric stores and not a one of them wanted “machine quilting”. They only wanted hand quilting because “only hand quilting should be done on a quilt.” Machine quilting looked like a mattress pad and no one wanted that on quilts.
Next I started seeing other machine quilting flyers in some places. The price was “king size, $35, plus free backing, free batting, and free thread.” I simply couldn’t compete with those prices! I had a family to support. I went back to work in the corporate world while continuing to find a way to make my machine quilting business a success.
I still made my own tops and quilted them. I began trading finished quilts for things we needed. I needed a refrigerator so I traded 3 quilts for a used one. I needed an oil change for my car so I traded one with the mechanic. Etc.
This went on for a few years and I continued to learn more about machine quilting. Somewhere along the way I joined with many others around the country in a campaign to get our profession accepted in the quilt world.
Along came Marcia Stevens, the leader in getting recognition for our industry. She started the first major quilt show for machine quilting only, no hand quilting allowed. As of this day there are two major shows for machine quilting. http://www.mqxshow.com and http://www.imqa.org All the rest of the big quilt shows have allowed machine quilted quilts to be entered.
Marcia started a newsletter called Unlimited Possibilities that was published 4 times a year. It started out as just a one sheet newsletter and has grown into a full magazine. It was sold recently and it’s now sent out 5 times a year. http://www.upquiltmag.com
Marcia created 2 videos which revolutionized the machine quilting quality. (no longer being sold) In my opinion Marcia and her husband Tom did as much for machine quilting as Eleanor Burns did for the toppers. Without those two we would all still be struggling with no recognition for our machine quilting craft.
When machine quilting started getting recognized as usable, I started investing more in my business. I searched for and bought everything possible to help me be a better machine quilter. I figured if I couldn’t sell my skills at least I could be the best darned machine quilter I could be! All the learning has worked.
A couple of years ago I announced to my customers that I was quitting because I just couldn’t keep my old machine running anymore. It was in the shop more than it was in my studio and costing a fortune to get worked on constantly. My customers (my dear friends) pooled enough money among them to buy me a new Gammill quilting machine just so I wouldn’t quit yet. It was a loan and I pay the group back faithfully. Only 3 years more and its all paid. My old Singer was given (free) to a young lady whose husband knows how to keep it running. She started her own machine quilting business.
Over the last 26 years I’ve worked very hard to become a true professional machine quilter. Not only do I keep up with new trends in machine quilting but I also keep up with new trends in creating quilt tops. In order to do a great job of quilting for toppers I need to understand the newest top construction techniques.
My business is now what I would consider successful. My waiting list is always full. I will always be willing to help a newbie in the industry just the same as others used to help me. I will never be a famous author nor will I ever be asked to be on a quilt tv show. I am content to know that in my small part of the world my customers know me and trust me. They are not just my customers; they are my long time friends. Until tomorrow….