Member spotlight: Jen M.

Jen is the current Vice President of the Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild.

Tell us about yourself.
I’ll start with my family. I’m a wife to a fabulously supportive and all around fabulous husband (Eric). I’m also a mom to a charming two year old son (Chas) and a mischievous but loveable 16 year old tabby cat (Gabe). I am originally from the small town of Strasburg, which is located out near the mountains of northwestern Virginia. My parents moved to Hudson, Wisconsin when I was 11 and after graduating high school, I moved back east to go to school in DC. After graduation, I moved back to the Midwest *temporarily* (I vowed at an early age to live some place with less brutal winters), but then I met my husband- who is a true Minnesotan and can’t imagine life without weekends at the family cabin and Vikings football, so I stayed. That was about 12 years ago and I can honestly say living here has grown on me (plus I work from home now and I don’t have to worry about driving much in the winter- that really helps)
Do you have a blog, Etsy shop, or other quilt-related business?
I own and run an online fabric shop called Stitch Simple that specializes in prewashed and (if desired) precut fabric for sewing and quilting. We also support other small businesses with our low minimum wholesale purchasing program aka the Stitch Simple Reseller Program. In addition to the work I do with Stitch Simple, I teach sewing through the Minneapolis Community Education Program.
Do you have any other hobbies, crafty or otherwise?
I love to cook and while I dabble in baking, I’m definitely a better cook. I also love to garden and read- but those hobbies don’t get much attention at this point in my life. I’m attempting to grow fruits and vegetables on my little balcony. This year I tried potatoes and strawberries. The strawberries are doing OK and will hopefully fare better next year, but the potato experiment wasn’t so successful. I think I spent $30 (not including my labor) to get 1/3 pound. They were delicious, but I know now that organic potatoes are worth every penny you pay for someone else to grow them!
How long have you been quilting, and how did you learn to quilt?
My grandfather bought me a sewing machine for my ninth birthday, so I’ve been sewing for 26 years now and I started quilting right away. I have taken some pretty long breaks from sewing and quilting while I was in school and when I had some jobs along the way that were non-sewing related and very demanding, so I haven’t sewn for the last 26 years solid. My machine came with a class and during that class they covered basic straight line quilting and patchwork.
Other than that, I’m pretty much all self-taught. If nothing else, I’m brave when it comes to learning new things, so I would just go to the quilt store and pick a pattern and do it. It didn’t always turn out, but I would inevitably learn something new from each pattern. I would also take basic quilt patterns and make them huge (like Alice in Wonderland huge). It is harder to hide mistakes on such a large scale, but it made a quilt go together a lot faster (plus I think it made me a more precise cutter since I knew my mistakes were more likely to show) and there is something to be said about getting quilts on the other side of the machine when you are first starting out. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment and energizes you to take on new and more challenging projects.
How many quilts do you think you have made? How many are still UFOs (unfinished objects)?
I’m really bad about keeping track of this kind of thing, plus most of my quilts are gifts to other people so I don’t have them around any longer. I can solidly count 18 quilts (35” x 35” or larger) that I’ve made (and completely finished) in the last four years. That doesn’t include small projects like my infamously teeny MMQG challenges. I don’t have a ton of UFOs (right now I have two- both from MMQG challenges or swaps)- not because I finish everything necessarily, but because when I’m stuck on something or don’t feel like finishing it I just turn it into something else or donate it and move on. A huge UFO pile is a real inspiration killer for me. I makes quilting feel like work and I don’t do my best when I feel like that.
How many hours a week do you spend quilting on average?
On average I only get about 1-2 hours of sewing time in per week- and depending on the needs of the household I might not spend any of that quilting (little man is growing like a weed and I always try to have at least a few mama made things that fit him at all times). My job sometimes requires I sew for 40 hours in a week, which isn’t common, but is sure awesome (mostly) when it’s needed.
Describe your first quilt.
My grandparents had a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina where my brother and I spent many summers. I can remember so many women from there who made quilts. I was really inspired by the simple aesthetic of plain square patchwork made from colorful scraps, so my first quilt was a doll quilt (for my Cabbage Patch dolls) and was made from various calico fabric squares. I don’t have it any more and I don’t have photos of it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve still got some pieces of the fabrics I used somewhere in my stash.
Which of your quilts is your favorite or are you most proud of and why?
This is a tough one. If forced to pick and choose I’ve had to say I’m most proud of a king size quilt I made for my brother. It is an enlarged version of the Stitch Simple Create Your Own Quilt Kit Number 3 (a stacked coins inspired design) and I’m proud of it because of how it all lined up perfectly (the secret is in using die cut pieces- I’m not bragging J). I keep meaning to get a photo of it when I visit him, but it never seems to happen. I wish I was better at photographing my quilts (better at actually taking them AND at taking good shots). I think I’m lackadaisical about it because I’m never happy with how my quilt photos turn out.
Where do you sew? Describe your space and your favorite quilting accompaniments (music, tv, wine, etc). Add a photo if you are brave.
I sew in a small corner of the Stitch Simple studio. I don’t do music, tv or wine when I sew. It is just me and my sewing machine in a quiet space (though I do enjoy an occasional cold beer or Manhattan when I’m done sewing for the day). Here is a photo. It is pretty cluttered, but I know where everything is. I see so many well organized, polished sewing spaces on the internet and while I’m drawn to them, my space just doesn’t look like that and I always end up feeling kind of bad about it. Hopefully my piles of this and that will make at least one person feel better about their sewing space.
Describe your fabric buying habits and stash. How do you manage your stash?
Because I own a fabric store, I don’t generally buy much fabric from anyone but Stitch Simple. There are of course exceptions because we don’t carry a large selection of fabrics that aren’t basic quilting weight (like utility fabrics, flannel or other specialty fabrics) and what I do buy I generally use up right away. I of course always have scraps to organize and there are a few special collections and vintage prints I’m sentimental about that I hoard, but I’d say I have a pretty small personal stash. For me, a huge stash has the same effect as a pile of UFOs- it stresses me out to feel like I have so much to do so I try not to overwhelm myself. Ideally, I buy something for a specific project and use it right away or else I make an entire project from scraps. I don’t like to have fabric around just for the sake of it- since I have lots of fabrics at Stitch Simple that I can use if I want to.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about quilting?
Hands down my favorite part is piecing. I just love seeing all those little pieces come together and I get such a charge when things line up like I want them to. My least favorite part is the actual quilting (which is why my local long arm quilter loves me so). I actually joined the MMQG with the intent that I would quilt more, and I’ve definitely done that but I’ve still yet to fall in love with that part of the process.
What are your current and/or long-term quilting goals?
To get really good at free motion quilting on my regular sewing machine.
What is one (or more) quilt technique you would like to learn or are afraid of?
I’ve never tried dying fabric, unless you count some attempts at batik from my childhood, and well, let’s say I still have a lot to learn in this area.
Who or what inspires you most in quilting?
Tile work is by far the most inspiring for me in quilting. I love surfing the internet looking at various projects made of tile. From mosaics to simple geometric patterns, I’m always inspired by what you can make with a few basic shapes and lots of color.
What advice do you have for new quilters?
If there is some part of quilting that doesn’t jazz you, hire it out or find a friend to swap the work with. I find that if I actually finish a project before I start on something else, the new project gets my full attention and turns out better- but at the same time I don’t think anyone needs to torture themselves by doing some part of the quilting process they don’t enjoy. I mentioned before that I don’t love quilting- and at first I honestly really dreaded it- so much that I stopped wanting to start piecing a new quilt (and that’s the part of making a quilt that I LOVE)… and then I found a long arm quilter who I trust (I hardly have to give her any instruction, I tell her my idea and she always picks exactly the right size repeat and thread color) and getting the quilts back from her really inspired me to keep going. It was a totally different feeling than when I was trying to do it all myself and WAY more enjoyable. There are lots of folks out there who like different parts- so celebrate your strengths and save the other stuff for later when you have more experience and more momentum to tackle it.

6 comments:

  1. I like your thoughts on quilting, Jen. Many of your feelings mirror my own (except I love free motion quilting and hate to sandwich a quilt).

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    1. Thanks Gail! I agree about sandwiching. I love piecing the top and binding the finished quilt. Everything in between is a struggle for me... but worth it in the end :).

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  2. You make me want to quilt moore Jen! And I love your work space! I wish I lived closer so I could take your sewing class!

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  3. Great interview and advice Jen. You forgot to mention that Stitch Simple is the perfect answer for people who don't like prepping fabric since you take that tedium out by selling pre-washed, pre-cut fabric so you can get straight to sewing.

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