Motherbility Mom is an ongoing feature spotlighting entrepreneurial moms. Find the whole series here.
“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” — Dorothy, “The Wizard of Oz”
Sometimes our yellow brick roads meander a bit before leading us right back home.
Thus has been Kate Rusi’s path to entrepreneurship.
Naturally creative (“Kate’s always been extremely artistic,” her mom Barb Glaeser said), Rusi nevertheless resisted turning a hobby into a business.
“I think that sometimes takes the joy out of (a hobby) in a way, and I didn’t want that pressure and stuff to be built on something that is usually my creative outlet,” she said. “And that creative outlet tends to be more of a meditative process for me. I just really cherish it, and I didn’t want to change that part of it.”
Still wanting to start a business, however, Rusi considered several options, including web design, graphic artistry, offering yoga-and-art combo classes for women, selling paintings and other creations, opening a wooden sign shop …
But nothing quite fit — until a chance conversation a little while ago at a quilting retreat.
Rusi and her mom have been quilting together for about 16 years, since Glaeser first attended a quilting retreat and brought 14-year-old Kate along.
“For me, because most of those women were my mom’s age and older, it was just like inheriting a bunch of more moms and grandmas,” Rusi said.
A few months ago, one of those friends, Rose Ann Mahnke, mentioned that she was selling her long arm quilting machine.
In an instant, Rusi found her business.
“I don’t know what happened, but a light bulb went off in my head and I was, like, ‘I’ve never long arm quilted in my life, but that’s going to be my business,'” she said.
“I left there that night and I literally don’t think I slept the entire night, because I drove all the way home thinking about it, came home and talked to (my husband) Ed about it, stayed up all night thinking about it. And I was like, ‘This is … yeah, I need to do this,'” she said.
Stitching it together
Quilts consist of three parts: the front, which is the patchwork of fabric everyone associates with quilting; the back fabric layer; and the soft, thick batting that goes in between.
A long arm quilting machine is the thing that stitches it all together.
Those stitches, however, aren’t just functional: Their swirls, patterns and color are an integral part of the quilt’s ultimate design.
Quilters don’t typically do the stitching themselves: Once they’ve created the front layer of the quilt, they bring it to someone (like Rusi) to stitch the final product together using a long arm quilting machine.
Machines vary, but the one Rusi is buying is 15-feet long and fully manual, not computer-driven.
Quilt owners can choose a pre-made stitching pattern or request a custom design.
For Rusi, long arm quilting is an extension of the hobby she loves, but it doesn’t detract from the joy she feels piecing her own projects together.
Mahnke, the woman who’s selling the machine to Rusi, has used it to stitch together countless love projects of her own, for her seven children and 14 grandchildren.
“It’ll be different not to have it, but it’s a good thing,” Mahnke said. “Now I’m glad that she bought it. I’m glad for her, ’cause she’ll do really well.”
The business of long arm quilting
All those quilters need someone to assemble the quilts they design.
Rusi said there’s a short supply of people with long-arm quilting machines, though: When she’s taken her own quilts somewhere for stitching, they’re not usually completed for two to three months.
(The actual stitching takes a couple of hours for simple patterns or a day or more for something more complex.)
Logistically, it’s not the easiest — or cheapest — business to set up.
First, there’s the question of where to house a 15-foot machine.
Rusi laughed, “And that’s when I kicked my kids out of their playroom.” (Their toy area was relocated from the basement to a spare room by the kitchen).
As for expenses, even used long arm quilting machines cost thousands of dollars. And there are supplies to buy — lots of batting and thread in a variety of colors.
There’s also the time it takes to master wielding the machine.
Rusi has been taking lessons from Mahnke, who volunteered her own unfinished quilts as projects Rusi can use for practice.
“Taking somebody’s quilt, right, and putting stitches in it is very scary because you don’t want to ruin this beautiful creation that they’ve made,” Rusi said.
While she hones her craft, she’s also attending to business tasks: She has a name for her venture (Wrapped Up In Art), an under-construction website and a Facebook page.
Rusi initially hoped to have her first paying customers in 12 to 18 months.
But she may need to move up her timeline.
Mahnke’s cousin already has a project she wants Rusi to finish.
And Rusi’s mom said a queue is building: “We have a lot of friends who are quilters who are just ready and waiting for when she’s ready to go.”