Getting Stitched in Smith Center
Along U.S. Highway 36, it is pretty hard not to notice the giant Smith Center billboard advertising for the many businesses in the town. Looking at the sign, one might notice a quilt shop promoted, but not just any quilt shop; this shop is what dreams and heirlooms are made of.
Quilted Four Patch, Inc. was formed less than two years ago by four women, Karen Cole, Mary Ann Schemm, Sue Kirchhoff and Junelle Hills, with a dream and years of experience in the art of quilting between them. Their path to get to this point was as unique as a quilt itself.
Karen has sewn for a number of years, mostly apparel type sewing. Her mother quilted everything by hand, but she really didn’t start quilting until about six years ago when she decided to take her first quilting class. She pieced and sewed together a blanket for her granddaughter. Karen asked her mother to hand-quilt the blanket. “She didn’t believe I put it together,” she remembers. But after a little convincing her mom did quilt it for her. Two years later, her mom passed away. “I was more driven to quilt at that point,” Karen says.
Mary Ann “got serious” about quilting in 1999 when her oldest daughter decided to get married three weeks after the youngest daughter was graduating from high school. “At 2 o’clock in the morning when I couldn’t sleep, I would go down and sew.” She learned the basics from her mother, but taught herself as the techniques of quilting changed.
Sue has always been a self-taught seamstress. She sewed clothing for her children and when they left she took up quilting. During a bout of cancer, Sue’s husband bought her a brand new quilting sewing machine. “That got me really into it,” she remembers.
Junelle learned quickly that being a farmer’s wife included lifting way more than her body could handle. She instead worked for a fabric store in Colby. This experience led her to open a custom window treatment store in 1988 in Colby. In 2002, the fabric store asked Junelle if she would be interested in purchasing the fabric store. A month later, Interior Connection and Quilt Cabin venture was in full swing.
The four women’s paths crossed when Junelle thought about opening another quilting shop in Smith Center. Due to the distance between her current shop in Colby and Smith Center, she decided not to open the shop despite the growing excitement.
Mary Ann and Karen started discussing the possibility of opening a shop of their own for some time. They decided to look into the option further when Junelle opted not to open her business.
“We really assessed the market area as well as we could,” Mary Ann says. “We knew it would be a huge risk in a small town, but we figured why not in Smith Center?”
With both women working at the local bank, Mary Ann as vice-president and Karen a cashier, they knew they needed a good manager. Their eyes turned to Sue. At the time Sue was a bookkeeper for the family business. “Karen, being one of my friends, knew that I was getting burned out,” Sue says of the new business offer. After six months of serious thinking, Sue took them up on the offer to manage the store and become a partner in the corporation.
After finding the manager, it was decided that Karen would keep the books and work with the technology end of the business while Mary Ann would arrange and supervise the quilt classes and advertising. Junelle was soon asked to join the business as an advisor due to all her previous knowledge with her store in Colby. Bringing Junelle into the business also provided the opportunity to order in larger quantities at a discount rate, and allowed for special request to be fulfilled more quickly. “It seemed like once we made the decision, things just seemed to keep rolling,” Mary Ann says.
A building opened up in downtown Smith Center that was perfect for their vision, with a few coats of paint and some cleaning it seemed as things were coming together. The ladies asked their husbands to take on the shelving needed for the store. “They were excited for us,” Sue says of the support from the spouses. After several late nights and 60 feet of shelving later, Quilted Four Patch, Inc. was ready for business.
“We gained possession of the building the first of July,” Mary Ann recalls. “Our grand opening was August 21st.”
Quilted Four Patch, Inc. offers several lines of fabric that range in color, style and texture. It also has a wide range of patterns, tools and sewing machines available for purchase, along with classes for all ranges of abilities-from beginner to advance.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the willing teachers that have so much talent,” Mary Ann says of her instructors. The first classes were so overwhelmingly well received that they had to turn people away. But that hasn’t stopped the flow of customers. “We try to listen to our customers and our teachers on what is out there and what is current, what they are wanting to do,” Mary Ann explains, which keeps the inventory fresh in the store.
In addition to quilting supplies and classes the store also offers an array of soy candles, teas and even consigned antique furniture.
They maintain contact with their faithful customers through newsletters and a website www.quiltedfourpatchinc.com/. The quarterly newsletter includes helpful information on classes offered, new items in the store, some helpful tricks and always a recipe. The website also has enrollment and class information along with who is displaying quilts.
“The personal attention is what sets us apart,” Sue says. The attention to details includes having what the customer needs. Karen explains that their employees can help customers with everything from picking out patterns and material to troubleshooting and custom orders. “We all manage to have our little niches and input,” Karen says.
Sharing quilt ideas from the classes and area quilt guilds is also important to customers the ladies believe. Every two months Quilted Four Patch, Inc. offers an art display of quilts from classes or area quilt guilds. “We encourage the public to come in and look,” Mary Ann says of the exhibit. Sue is quick to point out that they also provide trunk shows that illustrate quilt patterns that are available in the store and showcase what has been made in classes.
Customers come from all over the United States, including Hawaii and Maine to visit the quilt shop. Even customers from Canada have stopped by. “We are thoroughly grateful for every customer that walks through that door,” Mary Ann says.
The main goal of this Quilted Four Patch, Inc. is to serve the customer to the best of their ability. “You put your heart and soul into your quilt,” Sue says. “If you are going to go to the time and dollars, you might as well buy the quality fabric that is going to become an heirloom.”