Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? No. The most popular social media for quilters is by way of thread, needle and blocks of fabric. The traditional bedcovering made of leftover fabric has moved into the rest of the house. Quilters now create wall hangings, pillows and other home decorations using the traditional methods. Beth Rosene (left) and Carol Keller own and operate the Quilter’s Garden quilt and fabric shop in Princeton, Ill., along with Sassy Sisters, a clothing store. Rosene and Keller, both farmers with their husbands, create their own quilt designs and block kits, such as the “Barn to Quilt” project.
Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? No. The most popular social media for quilters is by way of thread, needle and blocks of fabric. The traditional bedcovering made of leftover fabric has moved into the rest of the house. Quilters now create wall hangings, pillows and other home decorations using the traditional methods. Beth Rosene (left) and Carol Keller own and operate the Quilter’s Garden quilt and fabric shop in Princeton, Ill., along with Sassy Sisters, a clothing store. Rosene and Keller, both farmers with their husbands, create their own quilt designs and block kits, such as the “Barn to Quilt” project.
PRINCETON, Ill. — When friends become business partners, something’s got to give. Usually it’s the friendship.

“We’re not even friends” was Beth Rosene’s response to Carol Keller.

Rosene approached Keller, who was then only an acquaintance, to talk about opening up a store that catered to and supplied their shared hobby — quilting. The two women met on the quilting circuit, as they traveled to different quilt shows, events and shops.

“I said I’ve always had this thing where if you go into business with a friend, you end up becoming enemies and Beth said,” Keller started.

“But we’re not even friends,” Rosene finished her sentence.

It’s safe to say that Keller’s fear did not come true, and that quilting, which has long been a traditionally social activity with women gathering to sew pieces of fabric together to make bed coverings, again showed it’s social side.

Since 2000

Rosene bought the building on Main Street in Princeton, and the two opened Quilter’s Garden in March of 2000.

Beth and her husband, Cary, are grain farmers, and Carol and her husband, Marty, raise grain and cattle.

Far from being enemies, Rosene and Keller reflect the social side of quilting, finishing each other’s sentences and occasionally laughing and giggling at a comment.

That’s the same atmosphere that they encourage in the shop and through the two annual quilting retreats and the classes they offer.

The social side of quilting — of being able to talk to people face to face and relax over a shared hobby, exchange tips and information — is why the traditional craft has maintained and increased its popularity.

“It’s so much the camaraderie,” Keller said.

“People love to get together to quilt,” Rosene added.

The retreats — a weekend filled with quilting — are conducted twice a year at the nearby Wise Guys Banquet Center.

“We meet at Wise Guys, and we take over the whole banquet center for the weekend. We just sew and snack and giggle. It’s that camaraderie and that we all love quilting and sewing so much,” Rosene said.

While the social side of quilting has stayed the same, the mechanical side has changed.

“It did start out as totally utilitarian. Women took apart worn garments or had leftover fabric from making garments, and they used that in quilting. Everything was done slowly and by hand and in groups,” Rosene said.

New Technology

Technology has advanced in the traditional craft. Machines dedicated to sewing quilts can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Quilter’s Garden offers all the tools and various fabrics needed to create quilts for gifts and for home decoration. Many younger people are getting interested in quilting as a way to create decorations for their home, such as wall hangings, pillows and throws.

The appeal of quilting is not just the social aspect, but of creating something tangible that can be passed to future generations.

“It’s something they can accomplish. It’s not only their hobby, but it’s producing something of use, and it’s such gratification to produce a quilt and then give it as a gift,” Rosene said.

Most garden communities have some sort of a garden club, a group of enthusiasts who gather to create and swap ideas, and Quilter’s Garden has its Garden Club. Garden Club is a group of about 70 quilters who meet monthly to work on projects, swap ideas, tips and tricks.

They also have an annual project, a quilt to work on that will be created in 12 months. But the design of the quilt has Rosene’s and Keller’s own stamp on it.

“One thing Beth and I have done is we design a lot of our own patterns, so that’s a unique feature of our shop,” Keller said.

This year’s project is called “Barn to Quilt.” Rosene drew on her and Keller’s shared farming and agriculture background for the inspiration.

Rosene drove in Bureau, Lee and Ogle counties and photographed various barns. She and Keller then turned the barns into quilt block designs and cut out the fabric for each block.

“We kit the fabric for one block, and it’s ‘block of the month,’ so the Garden Club members and the public can purchase one block a month. Then the next month, they come back, and we have another block ready,” Rosene said.

Keller and Rosene have degrees in home economics fields, and they both come from retail clothing and textile and crafting backgrounds. But they emphasized that sewing garments and quilting are two entirely different animals.

Even the tools used are different. The walls of the cozy back room in the shop are filled with the different rulers and rotary cutters, used to cut quilting material.

Accuracy is the most difficult skill to master in quilting, Rosene said.

“You need to be accurate, so learning to sew accurately and learning to cut with the tools because you don’t use the same tools from garment sewing to quilting are probably some of the most difficult,” Keller said.

Quilter’s Dream

The front of the shop is stacked with bolts of quilting fabric, and it’s here that Quilter’s Garden spaces itself ahead of the fabric departments in big-box stores.

“The basic fabric is on a greige good. The basic greige good of our fabric is much better quality than the basic greige good of a big-box store. Our quality is much better, so our quilts are going to hold up for many more years — they won’t start fraying or falling apart,” Rosene said.

Quilters can make pieced quilts, the traditional patchwork quilts, or they can make panel quilts, which are pre-printed and easier and faster to produce. Quilter’s Garden also offers a large selection of Shannon Fabrics Cuddle varieties, thick, lush fabric that resembles a luxurious fur coat.

“Once people make one with the Shannon Cuddle fabric, they want to make more — it’s so soft,” Keller said.

Classes at Quilter’s Garden teach new and beginning quilters the steps of getting started. Those who take the classes reflect a wide array of backgrounds ages — and gender.

“We’ve got a man tonight, two ladies in their 30s and another lady who’s newly retired and a couple of others,” Rosene said of one night’s beginning quilting class.

The classes are conducted on an as-requested basis.

The fear that Keller had, 14 years ago when her quilting acquaintance suggested they go into business together, appears to have been unfounded. Keller and Rosene are firm friends as are their husbands, they both said.

They extend that warmth and hospitality and sense of fun to all who enter their shop. In fact, quilting is such a social activity that traveling quilters even have their own guidebook, a thick volume that has all the quilt shops in the U.S.

“We get people from the Chicago suburbs, from Peoria and the Quad Cities, from all over,” Keller said.

But for all who enter the doors of Quilter’s Garden, they are more than customers. The thread of camaraderie and laughter and fun run through every encounter made through a common love of a traditional skills, that of sewing quilts.

“These people aren’t just our customers, they become our friends,” Rosene said.