Fashion & Apparel

Fashion & Apparel

Interview with Jeannie Bush, Quilter

Talk about how you discovered quilting and first became really passionate about it.

I was the reluctant quilter. I used to stop at grandma’s house on the way home from school and have to help her put a quilt on the frame or tie a quilt. I resented stopping there instead of being with my friends playing after school. I vowed I would never partake in such a waste of time activity! Fast forward 35 years and some friends were learning how to quilt. They weren’t going to talk ME into that waste of time, but I didn’t want to miss the socialization, so I would sit with them and chit chat. Soon they pulled me in. . . I made my first quilt to give to my son, Adam, for his high school graduation. A memory quilt with friends and teachers going back to nursery school signed it and gave advice and wishes. It turned into the “ice breaker” at college. A talking point.

Describe the process of learning how to quilt. How difficult was it?

I went along with friends who were learning to quilt from a very talented quilter. As she taught us how to do simple things, then more complex, we became a quilting group. We called ourselves the Association of Sweatshop Sisters. Yes, we were a group of! Each of us has an A.S.S. name. Our teacher is UpYerA.S.S., the eldest in our group is Sweet A.S.S., the gal that never does her own work is Kiss A.S.S., the gal that comes from the furthest away is CompA.S.S., and I am Hard A.S.S. (I was not there when they named me, but they felt I was a pretty strict disciplinarian with my kids!) We have 17 members now. Each in various stages of quilting ability. We help each other learn new techniques, share in each others joys, and carry each others sorrows. Once a year we hold “Quilt Camp.” We all make the same quilt, but in our own color version and size. We start sewing at 1pm on Saturday, stay up all night, and quit sewing on Sunday at noon. Some of our daughters have joined. Some to quilt; some to socialize . . .little do they know what is ahead for them!!! Women gathering has long been a major source of support.

Walk us through the creative process of quilting. What are the steps?

A quilt from new fabric: Sometimes I see a design and want to bring it to life through amazing fabrics. So the hunt is on. Each quilt shop has a different “flavor.” It is energizing to see, touch, and smell all the beautiful creations that fabric designers create. Sometimes I see a fabric and need to create a quilt that showcases that fabric. Then the hunt is on for additional fabrics and a design that will make people stop and go “Oh, my god!” The marriage between the design and the fabric is the key to bringing the quilt to life. Looking back at some of my early quilts, I missed the mark on that marriage and now say, “What was I thinking?!”

Memory quilts: My dream is to have the finished quilt continue to be the voice of the person who has passed from this world. At this point, many times the opportunity is lost to create a memory quilt because our society pushes us to clean everything out in the three days between the death and funeral of our loved one. I try to talk to as many Palliative Care, Hospice, Nursing Home, and Pastoral Care people as possible to plant the seed to slow that clean out down. Once the clothing, hats, hankies, etc, are given away, the opportunity to bring a memory quilt to life is gone. This misguided activity is often thought to bring comfort to the bereaved by “out of sight, out of mind,” but we never forget those we love. It is better, in my mind, to turn grief into comfort by making clothing, etc, into a tangible piece that will bring good memories to the people still on earth. The scent of our loved ones can stay in fabric for a couple decades. Scent is one of the scenses that brings the strongest emotions and can take us back to a much gentler time, turning grief into comfort. But back to “How do you start?” I sit down with the family or loved ones, and get to know the person they loved so dearly. By hearing their stories, I will make a connection as to what would bring them the most comfort: a pillow, a bear, a clock, a wall hanging, a box, a quilt. Whatever will connect the clothing to what can be made.

The marriage between the design and the fabric is the key to bringing the quilt to life. Looking back at some of my early quilts, I missed the mark on that marriage and now say, “What was I thinking?!”

And now comes the Art of Writing. Along with each piece I create, there is either a personalized fabric label or fabric story book. This is what bridges the past to the present and to future generations. The loved one’s story lives on with the quilted treasure. Remembering them reminds us that they mattered; really mattered.

Most people consider quilting a hobby. For you it's a business. When did you make the decision to turn quilting into a business?

I wanted my art to be taken seriously, and in order to do that, I need to be a formalized business. In a hobby, many times you make many of the same things. In my business, no two items are ever the same. Unique pieces of art. I want each piece to touch someone’s heart. Making my quilting a business is a deliberate action. Hobbies you do “whenever.”

As a small business owner, you work for yourself. Share with us some of the experiences you have as a self-employed business owner.

This is the second business I have started. My first business (the science part of me) is Amenity Electrolysis, LLC. With the help of the Small Business Development Center, I went from zero to full booked in 18 months. My business plan was to go from zero to fully booked in five years! So when I wanted to develop my quilting into a business, I again sought the council of the SBDC. What did you learn from the experience? I learned that a business plan is essential. But having one is not enough. I must execute it. Work the plan. Many artists fail miserably in this area.

Discuss the importance of marketing, along with some of the challenges you've faced.

With Amenity Electrolysis, nothing was work of mouth. Marketing was a huge challenge, but the things I developed worked. With Quilting From My Heart (QFMH) there is word of mouth at every corner! But the challenge is to make sure that word of mouth is accurate. My best marketing has come from creating a comprehensive packet of the services I provide. That give people ideas. I do presentations on how to plant the seed in people’s minds not to throw out their loved one’s clothing immediately upon death. I do presentations for Hospice, Palliative Care, Nursing Homes, Pastoral Care, Funeral Homes. . . anyone that has a link with dying, death, bereavement, and grief. It is the personal contact that really makes a difference. HARO has been an area that I have been able to educate consumers, too, in a number of different venues. My website, doing trunk shows at quilt guilds, and health fairs has also been beneficial. In the marketing arena, I research, research, research and place myself in the demographics that put me in front of those that need me.

Many small business owners burn-out from the workload. What are some of the self-care strategies you employ to avoid burn-out?

I have the best of both worlds: a balance between my need for science (electrolysis) and the need to be creative (quilting). Do you worry about ever getting sick of it? Each time I deliver a finished piece, see tears of joy, see the person stroking the clothing or fabric, I am renewed in my journey to turn grief into comfort. Or when I deliver a piece made from new fabric and the person stands in awe and says “I never imagined something so stunning,” I am renewed. If I have a double, I go back to my favorite book The 10 Laws of Enduring Success by Maria Bartiromo. The dog-eared pages bring me back to center.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue Quilting as their full-time career?

A business plan is a MUST. But having a plan is not enough. We must FOLLOW THROUGH! So many artists think “if you build it they will come.” Not so. Many think if their art is so beautiful, everyone will want to pay for it. Not so. We have to create the value, show the consumer the benefit in their life. We need to educate the consumer. Be an expert in our niche. For me, that is making a piece of art, not a quilt that anyone can make. Not a t-shirt quilt with nine squares of t-shirt fronts, but a well thought out design that tells the world who this person was and why they mattered. Find your niche and develop it. Be the expert, not a jack of all sewing!

A business plan is a MUST. But having a plan is not enough. We must FOLLOW THROUGH! So many artists think “if you build it they will come.” Not so. Many think if their art is so beautiful, everyone will want to pay for it. Not so.
  • Tammi Edwards
    Tammi Edwards

    Author, Journalist & Art Enthusiast | Tammi Edwards is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) where she earned two Bachelor's Degrees, and later a Juris Doctor (JD). Her interest in an artistic career took root while an undergraduate at UCSB when the LaBelle Modeling Agency contracted her as a model & voiceover talent.