A Girl, A Quilt, and a Dream
(Published in Small Town Living Magazine, Apr/May 2008, http://www.stliving.com)
by Susan MacAllen
Country gals on the web might be interested to know that one frequent poster, known by the handle Mennonite Farm Girl , is actually Ruby at Homemade Stitches. Ruby established her company in 1993 to serve fellow quilters who wanted their finished quilt tops hand-quilted. Homemade Stitches works with expert Amish and Mennonite quilters from across a five-state region in the Upper Midwest, to turn out beautiful finished quilts that have garnered consistent praise from her customers - like the one from Alberta, Canada who says, "I sent two quilts down to Ruby from Homemade Stitches quilting company. I was absolutely astounded at the quality of the quilting that she sent back and the timely manner in which it was done. . Any quilting in the future that I need to have done will be sent to no one else except to Ruby from Homemade Stitches."
Ruby recalls the peace of country life growing up on a Mennonite farm in South Dakota. As an adult, she found herself at a professional crossroads: she was without a college education or formal skills, and needed to make extra money to support herself. She found her heart digging into her past for an answer, and Homemade Stitches was born. She is committed to treating customers fairly by providing her service at competitive pricing; she also feels a responsibility to the Amish and Mennonite women who quilt for her, to provide them with steady work for decent pay. Ruby takes pride in the integrity and ethics with which she runs her company. She thinks of Homemade Stitches as their endeavor as well as hers, and is determined to run a top-notch company for everyone involved.
The company has grown steadily in fifteen years, but is still run out of Ruby's home, with plenty of the respect for rural craftsmanship and customer service that inspired her so long ago. Ruby maintains her ties to her roots, even disappearing from time to time to stay with Amish friends. Staying close to her roots helps her bring a certain commitment to her work, "It’s all about making others happy!" A happy customer makes it all worthwhile, for all of them.
An expert in hand-quilting, Ruby continues to cater to customers who dream of a specially-finished quilt. She has expanded her company to offer custom Amish-style quilt making, and an Amish-inspired pattern line. Ruby goes out of her way to accommodate the needs of her customers, even finishing an unfinished project of quilt squares for one desperate customer, who writes, "....Recently I asked Ruby if she would be able to finish these two quilts for me and also have them quilted. Finishing other people’s UFO’s was not a task she usually took on. She kindly committed to do this.... When these two quilts were returned to me, again I was so overjoyed at the quality of workmanship I ended up in tears. These two quilts were stunning to say the least" (see the gold and black star quilts in photos). Ruby discovered that she enjoyed doing custom work, and now does it regularly.
Information on any of these services can be found at her website, http://www.homemadestitches.com. Homemade Stitches is also featured in the new "The Quilter’s Catalog: A Comprehensive Resource Guide" by Meg Cox.
Ruby answers the phone at Homemade Stitches with a warm, friendly voice, easily provoked to laughter and poking fun at herself. She is a joy to talk to. "Oh, some customers call me just to chat . . . I always like to do that!," she laughs.
Q: How did your interest in quilting begin?
A: What I guess I remember is .... as a child when my mother and grandmother were quilting, I was sitting under the quilt frame, and singing the old Mennonite hymns, and understanding how happy these women were in their simple life, and wanting that happiness for my own life.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working with your Mennonite family and Amish and Mennonite friends?
A: You know, to tell you the truth, they have all become like family to me. We all share the same ideas about quality and care in our work . I consider it "OUR business", not just mine, and I feel I have to make it a success for all of us.
Q: Do you ever find it difficult, living between the two worlds?
A: I gotta be honest with you, my physical being is in the city, and my heart remains on the farm! I don’t know how else to say it to you, Girlfriend! (laughs)
Q: Do you make quilts for yourself?
A: I do. As a quilter, I make traditional quilts for my own home, but as a custom quilter for others, I make all types of quilts. Thats why I call it "custom" - its whatever style and pattern the customer wants. All fabric used is high end fabric from quilt shops.
Q: There are some other hand-quilting services out there. . . but yours has a great reputation. What makes Homemade Stitches different?
A: It’s my work ethic . . . I am fair to customers. Only expert hand quilters work with me . . . I am very careful about that. And we always use the best quality materials, whether it is thread and batting for hand-quilting, or fabric for a custom quilt, it is all high-end, shop-quality stuff, like an heirloom needs to be.
Q: You started with a few quilters and an idea, and now it’s been fifteen years! Are you ever surprised at the success of your company?
A: Well, quilting is a huge industry . . . and I know that there are people out there who want a quilt hand-quilted, sometimes simply because the style of the quilt demands it. . . and although I do admire machine quilting too, I still believe that an heirloom, to be passed down in a family, is best hand-quilted, don’t you?
Q: What advice would you have for other country women, for starting a home-based business?
A: Go with your passion . . . go with what you like to do . . .you have to love it, or it will never work!