The Weekender: A stitch in time
When Steffani Burton left Brainerd for big city life, she didn’t expect to return home in her 20s.
“I grew up wanting to get as far from this town as possible,” Steffani said.
The energetic even chaotic life around Phoenix provided a 24-hour clock of events and activities. The city fit Steffani’s high energy personality. She was a member of the wake board team and an avid equestrian. She enjoyed high fashion and the night life. Commuter traffic on six lanes of highway was the norm.
After three years of college studying to be a civil engineer, things changed. The 25-year-old said she decided not to do what was expected and took a chance on a career shift to something she really wanted to do. Something that would tap into her creativity. She added a year of college and studied design at Arizona State.
After graduation in 2009, missing family and in the midst of a tough job market, she returned home.
“It’s been a lifestyle change,” Steffani said.
But the slower pace also meant time to sew. As a child she never thought she’d be the third generation involved in the family business. It’s not that she didn’t appreciate the garment store her grandmother Lou Rademacher started in 1970 and the quilt and fabric business her mother Deb Burton grew on South Sixth Street.
Like others in her family, she learned how to use a sewing machine at a young age. But the earth-toned quilt fabrics didn’t inspire her. She loved bold prints and bright colors. Not one to sit still or let her hands be idle, she was home for about a month when she showed her mother a bag she created.
“She was blown away,” Steffani said. “She said ‘you can sew?’”
Steffani said she had actually been listening all those years at home.
She told her mom if she wanted to get young women in their 20s and 30s into sewing they needed to make a change. The antiques that once filled the second floor of the Country Fabrics and Quilting store were replaced by bolts of colorful fabrics, patterns and samples from sun dresses to aprons, bags to children’s clothes, shirts to lap quilts.
“This is what we want to sew,” Steffani said. “This is what we want to create. The happy colors. The bags. The stuff for our kids.”
Steffani was able to make the second floor her own space. Bright bolts of fabric line nearly every nook and Amy Butler designs are prominently displayed. Steffani said the upstairs renovation at the store has done just what they hoped it would, show people sewing could be cool.
“It’s been a whole movement in the industry,” Steffani said of the modern fabrics. “If we are going to do another 41 years in business we better get those girls hooked now. It’s been fun. It’s brought Mom and I closer together, sewing together. It’s just been a great two years.”
Mother and daughter sew together nearly every day. They begin the day and often end it sewing. They enjoy the creative aspect. Deb Burton said they eat, breathe and sleep it.
“It’s what we do,” Steffani said. “It’s what we love. It consumes our lives — but in a good way, a happy part of it.”
Then came the icing on the cake. Steffani designed a shoulder bag purse and submitted a sketch along with color palette to a magazine. Her design was chosen for the cover of Stitch magazine’s design issue coming out this late summer/early fall. The magazine touts the issue as “38 innovative projects for fall.”
And Country Fabrics and Quilting was chosen as one of 11 featured shops across the United States for the fall of 2011 issue of Quilt Sampler magazine, published by Better Homes and Gardens.
The magazine is published twice a year. Top quilt shops across North America are selected with a panel of experts narrowing applications. Nearly 3,000 quilt shops are eligible to apply.
Better Homes and Gardens came to the Brainerd store for the photo shoot and interviews, but the staff was sworn to secrecy. Store employees design an original quilt for the magazine. The magazine reports quilters are known to travel to visit all shops in each issue. American Patchwork & Quilting magazine reported the American quilting market is made of 11 million households and the industry has an annual expenditure of $2.7 billion.
Social media is also changing the scene. Steffani blogs, uses Flickr to share photos and updates the website. The Internet provides access to designers and the breadth of fabric and ideas out there with shoppers buying fabric online.
Deb Burton said the new generation of modern quilting is bending the rules. The simple style incorporates clean lines and big pieces of fabric. If a mistake is made, it becomes part of the piece. It’s opening the age-old tradition of sewing to a new generation.
“I’m just very proud to say we are in our third generation,” Burton said.
“Women need a creative outlet,” Steffani said. “If you can thread a needle there is something you can do. I want to get those young girls sewing. That homemaking craft should never be lost. You should always know how to fix something. It’s that connection to the past and the pride in making things.”