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The Widening World of Wool

For a long time, wool, one of nature’s oldest fibers, was neglected by quilters. We were all “100% cotton or bust!” True you saw the occasional vintage wool quilt but it was likely a crazy quilt and hadn’t been quilted but rather tied. And old wool quilts were heavy! Even if they were colorful or interesting, hanging them for exhibition was a challenge. But some collectors adored wool, especially after being exposed to work like traditional Welsh quilts. See photos from The Welsh Quilt Centre to understand why Welsh wool quilts started to inspire quilters worldwide.

American quilters in particular were resistant to using wool. We thought wool’s tendency to shrink was a drawback and we assumed wool anything had to be dry-cleaned. But somewhere about fifteen years ago, the tide turned. Sue Spargo, a quilter/folk artist from Ohio but originally a South African, had no built-in prejudice about the fiber. Rather she welcomed the intense colors achievable in wool fabrics and used vivid shades like lime green and hot pink in her work. She explored embellishing wool and expanded the traditional embroidery lexicon with new variations of the bullion stitch. Now a respected teacher and author, Spargo’s multi-layer wool stitched work is recognizable worldwide.


In a parallel trend, primitive stitchery fans who had formerly been using wool threads in cross stitch and crewel–but not much wool yardage–discovered wool plaids and plains in dark homey colors like rust and deep green and took the fiber to heart. What ‘prim stitchers’ taught us was that wool didn’t have to be turned under neatly like traditional appliqué but rather its roughness and tactile charm could be used to advantage. While primitive-style projects turned up occasionally in quilt publications, the arrival of the primitive style in the quilt world as a huge influence began in 2010 and the following year, a magazine devoted to the style called Primitive Quilts & Projects hit the newsstands.

Last year another publication titled Punch Needle & Primitive Stitcher became available.

What is appealing about wool now is that it is available to quilt shops in smaller cuts. No longer do shops have to order enormous fat bolts of wool and hope it sells! Everyone can dabble in wool. When doing wool appliqué, the background fabrics don’t have to be wool as well. We’ve broken the fiber barrier! Quiltmakers are using flannels and even flat-texture cottons for their wool appliqué backgrounds.

Recently at the International Quilt Market I noticed in addition to wool fabrics, kits, and wool-inspired books, that batting companies have taken up the wool banner. Hobbs offers two different weights and textures of wool batting. Hand quilters in particular have taken the Tuscany batt to heart. A revived Mountain Mist batting company spearheaded by Linda Pumphrey who literally ‘wrote the book’ on Mountain Mist quilt patterns, is just now offering a very soft and springy wool batt that’s 20% polyester and 80% wool. And watch the AirLite Batting Company, which is poised to enter the wool batting market with a new batt this Fall. If your customers are already working with wool in the folk-art Spargo-style, I saw new sizes of bullion needles at the Colonial Needle Company that they will appreciate. If you love wool, 2016 is going to be a very good year!

–Pepper Cory

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What’s App?

    Using the new Quilt Market app at the upcoming Spring Quilt Market in Salt Lake City

Although Quilts Inc., the entity that holds the trade shows for the quilting industry, has had an app for its events since Fall 2013, the Market app was always in flux and sometimes didn’t suit all mobile devices. The learning curve for developing an app for such a huge event and helping sometimes not terribly tech-savvy show attendees navigate the event has finally smoothed out. The Spring Quilt Market app looks like a winner! The app is now easier to download and use, works on all mobile devices as well as a website, and is available through either the Apple Store or Google Play.

If you plan to attend Quilt Market by yourself, you can certainly simply download the app to your smart phone. But if you’re attending with employees in tow, it would be a good idea to download the app to a tablet. That way, more than one person can view the maps and instructions and your group can plan what to do and where to meet.

Rhianna Griffin of Quilts Inc--the app minder
Rhianna Griffin of Quilts Inc–the app minder

The app caretaker, Rhianna Griffin from Quilts Inc.’s marketing department, gave me some advice. She said, “I’d check out the About section of the app first. There’s tons of basic information there such as the main hotels and their phone numbers plus a few discounts that you can’t find anywhere else. Did you know that you can get a 10% discount on Super Shuttle (to/from the airport) when you book online and use the link from this site?”

The all-important credential requirements are also listed on this page and a complete schedule of Quilt Market events. Speaking of events: there’s a category for Schoolhouse, the sampler-type sales presentations that take place prior to the Market opening. All Schoolhouse sessions are listed by time and location as well as the title and sponsoring company. Under Classes/Events all the Take & Teach sessions, hour and a half how-to classes, are listed as well.

The Map section of the app is a godsend for those of us who are directionaly challenged. If you ask a local for directions, remember that every route in downtown Salt Lake is given in relation to the central location of Temple Square. And the convention center is a 10-12 minute walk south and west of Temple Square. The Show Map is a layout of the convention center itself and will be invaluable as you plan which exhibitors to visit and as you search for the nearest rest room.

Don’t think that downloading the app will give you every iota of information you might need at Quilt Market. One detail missing is noting which exhibitors are new at this Market. Experienced Market attendees know to search out the newest exhibitors first since bright ideas often come from fresh faces. That info is still in the printed program. Although the Exhibitors section lists each company’s website and phone number, there’s not an in-depth explanation of what goods/services each exhibitor offers. Since our industry adores cute names, you’re still going to have to refer to the printed program to find out what “Miss Bunny’s Farm Frolics” actually sells! When you click on the names of some exhibitors (especially pattern designers) practically all their products show up. But, many fabric companies withhold images of their brand spankin’ new lines since they want to make a splash at Market. You still need to visit the fabric companies’ booths to see the newest prints.

Market 2015 Fairfield booth
Market 2015 Fairfield booth

Don’t wait until you get to Quilt Market to download the app: do it now. Look over the information and get your game plan in place. If you like to post on social media while at Market, tell your peeps to watch your shop’s Twitter account. Twitter is listed on the Quilt Market app but neither Instagram nor Facebook since neither is app-designer friendly. And if you’re in the habit of being online 24-7, know that WiFi access at the Salt Lake convention center costs $15 a day per device. But, here’s my freebie tip of the day: there are some free WiFi spots at the convention center–try the meeting rooms and the lobby areas!

Looking forward to all of you stopping by the AQR booth (#1924). Talk with the staff and let them know what you think of the magazine and the app!

–Pepper Cory

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Inspiration at the Diner

red neon sign at night - diner 200
Inspiration from the local diner.

Recently while eating at a diner, my attention was diverted by the napkin holder on the table. Folded paper napkins were jammed upright into the metal holder. Something clicked! I envisioned that napkin holder as a model for a pre-cut selection. Call it a “Diner Six-Pack.”

Orange napkins 200
A everyday item can take on a entirely new meaning.

At my next teaching venue I tested the theory and made up 72 Diner Six-Pack fabric selections. Each bundle contained six Fat Quarters sorted only by color. In three days of teaching I sold over 80% of my bundles. Only part of their attraction was the price ($15 for the bundle) but the folding of the fabrics where buyers could easily see all the offerings was another plus. When manufacturer-packaged pre-cuts are stacked for cutting, the top fabric is seen in full but the assortment must be rifled through to really see every pattern offered. How many times have your pre-cuts started to look ragged since curious customers cannot resist trifling with them?

How to make Your Own Diner Six-Pack Pre-Cuts

Choose six fabrics and cut into fat quarters. Make sure to include at least one solid (or a print that reads as a solid) in your Six-Pack color range. Fold as follows:

*Lay the fat quarter right side down with the cut 18” side toward you and the selvedge away from you.

*Fold the cut side in 1/3 of the way and follow by folding the selvedge edge over a third, covering the cut edge. Makes a long neat rectangle approximately 7” wide by 18” long.

*Turn the folded fabric clockwise on the table and fold again. Starting next to you, again fold a third in and followed by the third from the farthest side.

*The fabric is now a rectangle about 6” by 7”. Fold once in half like a little book, making sure all cut edges are neatly tucked in. Stack the ‘books’ of the different fabrics and arrange in a pleasing order.

*Cut a piece of card stock (recycled file folder works) in a rectangle 3” wide by 7 ½” long. Use a ruler to crease the card at 3” from each end. The 1 ½” (between the creases) in the middle of the card becomes the bottom that supports the fabrics upright, much like the bottom of the napkin holder. Stack the six FQ’s neatly within the card holder. You will need to also secure the bundle by cutting a 20” length of contrasting color ribbon or yarn, wrapping it around the bundle, and tying a bow.

We’d love to see your examples of folding fat quarters, whether this style or another. Post your pictures on our Facebook page.

fabric bundle 200
Fabric bundles ready for sale!

–Pepper Cory

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Selling–Rainbow Style

Recently I attended and taught at a large quilting event in the Midwest. I realized while perusing the vendor mall that many vendors showcased practically the same fabrics! There were the usual pre-cut assortments from large fabric companies, duplicating book titles, and even look-alike sample quilts in several booths. I couldn’t help but think that vendors missed the chance to move their older fabrics by not offering pre-cuts they’d made up themselves. I talked to one shop owner who said it was easier to order current pre-cuts than to deal with slicing up old bolts. But, I opined, the old bolts will still be there when you get home…and that’s money already spent! Isn’t it time to get the older fabrics out the door? Time to take them on the road!

Then I remembered something Kizer and Bender had mentioned in their article in the last issue of American Quilt Retailer magazine. (pages 22-26, February 2016, issue #127). The business gurus suggested displaying lines of fabric in color progressions or rainbow-style.

Thimble's Quilts
You can’t miss this display of bright fabrics in rainbow-style, the blue bench is an added bonus. It’s a simple showstopper.

There’s something universally appealing about a rainbow-style display of fabrics. It’s orderly and yet inspires creativity as shoppers run their fingers along the top of the bolts until they reach “their” color. The display invites them to choose and, like kids in a candy store always picking the same sweet, they will haul a bolt to the cutting table for yet another slice of their favorite shade. Why not apply the Rainbow principle to a bundle of pre-cuts?

Most strip bundles (jellyroll) are 2 1/2” wide strips and number from 40-42 strips per bundle. How about offering eight colors (six in the Rainbow progression plus black and white) starting with a solid strip of each color?  The progression is red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple—that’s six—plus some blacks and whites at the “end of the rainbow.” Roll the strips with the black and whites in the middle and then the progression of colors, ending with red. Package the strip bundle with a paper collar printed with your store name and contact info. The Rainbow bundle just became a marketing tool. Rainbows are popular throughout Spring and Summer. Rather than asking the customer to choose from all eight color groups, you’re offering a selection that would have taken most people hours to pick!

The Rainbow idea might be the beginning of an in-store competition. Who can make a quilt with the Rainbow bundle? First person to make something and post a picture of their creation on the store’s Facebook page gets a prize…

–Pepper Cory

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Welcome to Pepper Cory

American Quilt Retailer is pleased to welcome Pepper Cory as our AQR blogger. Her vast knowledge of the industry and her business approach will be a great addition to our team. Our goal is to provide another opportunity for quilt shop owners and industry professionals to communicate with each other. We’ll be working to make this blog a useful resource for you. Read on for Pepper’s first blog post.

Pepper Cory
Pepper Cory

First Dip in the Blog Sea

When the opportunity to write the blog Piece by Piece for American Quilt Retailer presented itself, I was intrigued. Sure I’d written blogs before but they were purely for personal interest. In my occasional posts on the blog Quilt Flap I chat about unusual antique quilts. When there was enough interest out there that I would be challenged to take more photos and in a month or three, write again. I wrote about teaching and my own quilting efforts-with an interesting family story thrown in here and there-in another blog called Pepper at the Quilt Studio. I viewed both my blogs as sporadic commentary on what interested me. If anyone who read the blogs cared to leave a comment that was cool.

But writing a blog for a business is a different breed of cat. One might even pose the question, “Why should a business write a blog?” When I delved into the subject, I realized there are numerous benefits to writing a business blog. I hope that in the future you as blog readers and shop owners will be able to relate to what I write, comment and communicate with AQR, and find in Piece by Piece some useful and thought-provoking snippets of information.

‘Snippets’ might seem an odd word to describe the content of this blog but that nicely sums up the first rule of blog writing: keep it simple, interesting, and to the point. Blogs deliver straight-to-the-reader information while at the same time a reader can use the blog as a channel of information back up the pipeline to the publisher by leaving a comment.

As a blog writer, you can learn about your viewers by checking your blog’s analytics. What’s that? Analytics are the statistics about your blog. They tell you how many people view your blog and which operating system your readers use (such as Windows vs Apple vs mobile phones). You’ll learn which topic lit a fire so that you can write better and more interesting content. And if you know how your viewers access you, you can design a smoother delivery, as in a simpler blog design that a phone user will appreciate.

And face it: search engines (such as Google) love blogs! Topics in your business blog, links to other websites, the photos on your business blog—all go out into the sea of information on the internet and get quoted and re-quoted and then linked back to both your blog and business website. But the thing I love best about blogging is that it gives your business a personal voice.

This blog Piece by Piece will come out every two weeks. We will bring you timely industry news and give you the “back story” on topics you first read about in articles in American Quilt Retailer magazine. We’ll pose some questions about our industry and give you a heads-up when our whiskers tingle and we sense a trend building. But most of all, we want to hear from you. Consider this your personal invitation to write to American Quilt Retailer and tell us the topics that interest and concern you.