Piecing together a business for quilters

A new Juneau business is offering quilters a service they usually have to send out for - and spend up to $200 in shipping

Posted: Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Sarena Mahle is handing out cards announcing the arrival of a healthy-sized 842-pound, 168-inch, bouncing long-arm sewing machine and the birth of her new business.

Mahle, owner and sole proprietor of Comfort Bound Quilting Co., said she has always loved quilting by hand but hopes her new machine will allow her to take her hobby to a lucrative business level of machining patchwork quilts for people all over Alaska.

Jaxine Anderson, owner of Rain Tree Quilting, an area quilting supply shop, said Mahle can look forward to plenty of business because there is nothing else like this for quilters in the area.

"There are only 10 people in the state who do this kind of work, but they are in Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell," she said. "This is going to be a real asset to the quilting community."

The quilting community, she added, is an ever-growing entity in Southeast. She said the Capital City Quilters Guild alone has 150 members and it attracts members of other quilting groups outside of Juneau.

Anderson said quilters can spend as much as $200 shipping their quilts to professional machinists in other parts of the state or in the Lower 48. Most of the cost is tied up in shipping charges and it can take up to three months to get a completed quilt.


"It will be interesting to see," said Ruth Johnson, member of the quilters' guild. "A lot of people ship their quilts out of town. They'll ship them as far away as South Dakota, Texas or Fairbanks. But with Sarena doing this I think she'll have people leaving some of their favorite designers because it will be easier to go to her."

There are three main components to a quilt. The quilt top is a patchwork of many pieces of fabric carefully placed in a pattern of the designer's choosing, Mahle said. The backing is a piece of plain cloth attached to the quilt top. The batting, the soft cottony filling in the middle, rounds out a completed quilt, Mahle said.

The creativity is in the quilt top. But fun and creativity end there, Anderson said. Most people who quilt will take the time to painstakingly sweat over ways to match the right colors, fabrics and themes for a quilt top but will send it to Texas or Fairbanks because machine-quilting is too tedious, Mahle said. People usually don't have the right equipment for the job, Mahle said, making it a frustrating and difficult process to machine a quilt.

Mahle does that part. She attaches the finished quilt top to a cloth backing and fills the center with batting. She then lays the quilt on her machine and adds an intricate pattern of stitches over the layers to attach them.

The machine can handle quilts made for a baby's cradle as well as king-size quilts, Mahle said. Further, she said, it can handle straight stitching, pantagraph stitching - which takes the stitch from edge to edge of the quilt - stippling, meandering and free-form stitching.

Ultimately she said she would like to do more free-handed stitching, allowing her to design her own stitching patterns across the quilt. She would also like to finish four or five quilts a day.

She also said her current production time runs about a week for any size quilt.

Though she hopes the business is a success, she said, she enjoys quilting and will continue that regardless.

"It's a work of love," she said. "You're not going to sit there making these tiny, tiny stitches and rip them out for hours for the money. It's not the latest and greatest fad. It's simply for the love of doing it."

Melanie Plenda can be reaches at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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