By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View
Surrounded by a Quizno’s, a package store and a saddlery, the Sew Special Quilts storefront suggests it’s just one more small business, one of several that comprise The Market at Boerne Stage. Yet walk through the front door, past the colorful fabric and sewing machines, and you will discover at the back of the shop a bright, cheerful classroom that buzzes with folks seeking something more than batting and bobbins. You see, in an expanding sea of subdivisions, traffic lights and fast food joints, a lot of people come to this hidden room to create and connect with others through various classes and activities.
“I think women in general have a need to be creative. Quilting gives us that outlet through choices in color and texture,” said shopkeeper Laurie Mangold. “We also have a need to commune and share. The classes help fulfill that need.”
According to Mangold, there are two independent groups, or bees, that use the classroom regularly. The shop also sponsors embroidery and sewing clubs as well as regular quilting classes. And beginners are welcome.
“In our $5 Quilt Class, everyone is a stranger at the start,” said Mangold. “But by the fourth class, I can’t get people to stop talking. Before you know it, they’re going to Starbucks before or after class. One of the women in a recent class just found out she’s having twins and that got everyone talking and offering advice. It’s more than just a place to learn, it’s a place to have fun.”
Long-time customer Algine Perry got hooked on the $5 Quilt Class a few years back.
“Every month you get a package and can put together a block,” Perry said. “At the end of the series, you can put together a whole quilt. The monthly class is a wonderful time for people who don’t know how to quilt to learn…and the store and its classes offer a nice sense of fellowship.”
“My husband calls the store “Cheers for women”,” said Mangold. “We don’t drink, but we come together with common interests and come to appreciate one another.”
Mangold sees a rise in the number of quilters in lock step with Leon Springs’ rapid growth.
“We see little community groups forming all the time in the area,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many women who, when they first move somewhere new, look for a quilt shop to visit, maybe even before they pick a church. Every church can be so different, but most quilt shops are pretty similar and it’s easy to get acquainted with people. I know one woman who moved here recently whose own daughter threatened to drive her to our shop personally if she didn’t get here on her own before last Christmas.”
While Mangold concedes that most of her customers are women, she is quick to add that there is no “typical” quilter.
“I’ve taught people—of both sexes—from ages seven to over seventy,” she said. “And, yes, we occasionally have a man in the classes.”
“I have a twenty-year-old son,” said Lenora Daly, another store regular, “and he started quilting about eight years ago. He’s made four of those fringe-y quilts for girlfriends. I joke that before he gets married half of the girls in Boerne will have a quilt from him.”
“My perception when I was younger was that quilting was only for older women,” said Perry, whose adult son recently took up sewing. “I think there are a lot of young people [quilting] today who never would have tried [it] before.”
Mangold credits quilting’s initial appeal to most of her customers with a desire to leave a legacy to family and friends.
“I made my first quilt when I was pregnant with my first son, over forty years ago,” said Daly. “I finally put it together and finished it just a few years ago, to give to my grandchild. I guess you could say that I came full circle with that one!”
In addition to helping her customers create family heirlooms, Mangold helps quilters find simple but useful ways of volunteering their skills in service to the community.
“We try to undertake some sort of project at the end of each year. Once, we made lap quilts for chemotherapy patients,” said Mangold. “We open up the project to anyone who is willing to come work.”
Last December, twenty quilters made 150 pairs of colorful pajama bottoms for St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in just a few days. During the project, the classroom was filled with laughter and activity as each participant dedicated herself to one or more tasks, including cutting, piecing, sewing, ironing, and folding. For all of the labor, the room took on a festive air as the quilters shared their work, caught up with old friends, made a few new ones, and enjoyed a bounty of cold cuts and other snacks.
“I think it’s awfully nice of Laurie to arrange [this service project],” said Perry, who was one of the volunteers. “And she donates, too, the machines, the thread and a lot of the fabric, too.”
“Almost all of the sewing guilds are making things for others in the community,” said Mangold. “There are women making quilts for our returning servicemen. We make quilts at my church for Meadowland [Residential Treatment] in Boerne. People ask me all the time ‘When do you stop? When do you run out of quilts to make?’ And I say there are always people who need to be comforted.”
There seems to be no shortage of women willing to help comfort, especially when the rewards are so immediate.
“Women who like to sew like to be around fabrics…and we enjoy the fellowship of a special project, too” said Perry, with a chuckle. “So pretty much anything that goes to a good cause, we’ll do.”