Joy of quilting is crossing generations

When people walk into Melanie and Steve Holodnak's quilt shop, some stare, some smile politely and some just come out and say it.

 

"No offense, but I really thought you would be older," one quilter recently told Melanie, an energetic 35-year-old mother of four.

At Memory Lane Quilting on Furys Ferry Road in Martinez, the Holodnaks are used to the stares.

"The typical image of a quilter is a 4-foot, 5-foot-tall grandma type," Steve said. They don't expect to come in here and see this blondie here."

Melanie spends hours behind a sprawling sewing machine, stitching together quilts dropped off for finishing touches by busy families, and that has kept their 1-year-old business thriving. Since Thanksgiving alone, more than 20 quilts have been dropped off at the shop for Melaine's hands to finish.

Her husband works the technical side of the shop, selling the Nolting Longarm machines as a distributor, proof that the quilting industry is being passed through generations, he said.

Despite its reputation as a fading, antique pastime, quilting is a growing, $3.6 billion industry nationwide and is seeping into new demographics and art forms.

Although the number of quilters in the U.S. is down 23 percent since 2006, to 21.3 million, the estimated value of the industry has jumped 9 percent, according to the 2010 study Quilting in America.

Steve Holodnak said he sees a greater interest in the craft because some women are turning their hobby into a money-making business.

In 2010, Holodnak sold nearly 100 Nolting Longarm sewing machines, which range in price between $3,000 and $25,000. Last year, sales in the Southeast lingered around 50 machines, he said.

"In an economy like this, everybody is looking for ways to make money, and with these (machines) wives are making money sewing quilts for people," he said.

The pastime is also staying alive in part because as generations grow older, quilting becomes an appealing hobby, said Aiken Quilt Shoppe owner Nancy Clifton.

With some quilts taking up to a year to complete, quilting can eat up long hours and cash. Sewing machines can cost between $200 and $8,000, and fabrics can reach into the hundreds for one quilt, Clifton said.

"When people retire, they have the time and funds to jump in and enjoy quilting," she said.

In their 2010 study, Quilting in America, researchers found that dedicated quilters -- defined as those who spend more than $600 a year on quilting -- are women in their early 60s, on average.

Most of those women have been quilting for an average of 16 years, so the hobby is often picked up later in life.

Although many women don't immerse themselves in the hobby early on, Jeff's Sewing and Vacuum shop manager Cathy Alva said many trends in the industry are aimed at younger generations.

Brighter, fresher contemporary patterns appeal to college girls and young mothers, she added.

Melanie Holodnak said T-shirt quilts are also catching on. Quilters weave the old T-shirts into the frame of the quilt. It's a creative way to preserve memories and sentimental items, Holodnak said.

The rising interest in quilting has allowed Holodnak to keep up with her passion and run a thriving business, one she plans to watch grow in the future.

"Most people my age are horribly busy raising their family, doing their careers and living their lives, and they don't' have enough time to slow down and do something like this," she said. "It's too bad because these are milestones, milestones that you get from making a half triangle square to a corner to a quilt. I hope to grow old doing this."

Pieced together

Facts about the average, dedicated quilter:

  • Female
  • 62 years old
  • Spends an average of $2,442 a year on quilting
  • Has been quilting for 16 years

Source: Quilting in America 2010 study

 

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