Quilt Sampler owner Donna Bacon said even though she has degrees in music and public administration, sewing has been her lifelong passion. To that end she spends everyday surrounded by hundreds of colorful quilts at her store at 719 W. State St. in Kennett square.Although the popularity of quilting in the United States declined in the 1950s and 1960s, a nationwide revival of interest in quilting began in the 1970s and led many women, including Bacon, to form quilting clubs, attend classes, and buy new fabric-rather than use one of Dad's old flannel shirts - to create decorative quilts.
Bacon's interest was deeper, however, than merely making quilts. "It was always just a hobby for me. Yes, I made quilts for my family, but what I really wanted was my own shop." So after many years as a teacher and business administrator, she opened her own quilt shop in rented space in Unionville.
Because the Unionville space was limited and was not hers, Bacon shopped for a suitable building she could modify to meet her needs. She found it in an ancient stone house on W. Baltimore Pike. Built in 1799, the year George Washington died, and thought by some to be owned by William Penn's daughter, Laetisha (although she died over 50 years before the house was built), the house was enlarged significantly around 1820. Over the next century, the current home of The Quilt Sampler saw some rough days. Bacon said, "The house was rented as a duplex for over 100 years, you could tell by how the interior was divided. And then it flooded and stayed vacant in disrepair for 10 to 12 years."
With tender loving care and what Donna Bacon describes as "a fantastic contractor," she turned the proverbial sow's ear into a charming showplace for quilts of all kinds. Her tumble-down, two-century-old stone house now sparkles with red-trimmed windows outside and quilts of every imaginable design inside.
The Quilt Sampler is not only a unique Kennett Square jewel, it is also a significant catalyst of local economic vitality. Bacon's shop has spawned a cottage industry comprising 125 quilters who consign their output to Donna for display and sale. Most of the quilters are local, living in Wilmington and nearby townships in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Although her inventory includes a number of truly antique quilts ferreted out of lofts, blanket chests, and spare bedrooms across the countryside, most of her quilts were created recently in craftspersons' homes. Bacon said, "Quilting is therapeutic, and what was a hobby for these people is now a home-business. Besides, for me and this shop, the more variety, the better it is for sales." She also said her customers don't have to be satisfied with the selection on hand: "Quilts can be made to order. We can custom-make a quilt with the customer's colors, design, and use in mind."
What are the basic quilt-making steps? Bacon describes a series of seven:
Design the piece or pattern, with colors in mind - creativity required Choose the fabrics - more creativity needed Connect the pieces with needle and thread to form the quilt's "top"
Overlay an optional applique Baste, or join together temporarily, the three or four layers of the quilt. The top, the cotton batting to give it body, the backing, and the applique if used "Quilt," or ornamentally stitch together, the layers (very tedious, but can be done by hand with needle and thread, a sewing machine, or a commercial computer-aided sewing machine Bind the edges Bacon said, "These steps might seem simple when taken one at a time, but the whole process can be daunting to a hobbyist wanting to test the waters." That's why she developed and teaches a series of workshops for budding seamstresses to learn the fundamentals of quilting.
She said, "With these workshops under their belts, quilting students find that they have the confidence to engage in more advanced classes that involve making a quilt from start to finish." Donna teaches her workshops on the second floor of her stone-house shop, where students gain inspiration from the varied and copious inventory.
What does the future hold for quilting, Bacon and her stone house?
Thriving up and down the eastern seaboard for hundreds of years, quilting seems to be here to stay. But with changes in sewing machine technology and de cor preferences, the humble quilt has been given new life. The Millennium model programmable sewing machine from Quilting Machines International, for example, sells-with extras-for nearly $18,000, while excellent machines for home use sell for several hundred to over a thousand dollars.
Quilt designs themselves are in the midst of a renaissance. Bacon described one of her quilts with a foliage and flower applique as "fiber art," or, more directly, "textile art." She said, "The first step in the process-designing the quilt-is requiring more and more of an artist's sense of form and color." And as these works of art begin to decorate not only beds but also walls, they are commanding higher prices.
For the future, Bacon envisions another round of workshops addressing the fundamentals of quilting as well as new workshop on applique to address the increasing interest in figurative quilt designs. She would also like to have a hobby center so that quilters and other sewers could experiment and exchange ideas. "Remember," she says, "quilting is therapeutic."
And for the old house? Perhaps another renaissance is in the offing, this time in landscaping. A visitor notices the beginnings of such change near the rock wall adjacent to the back door. Here, a birdhouse has been innovatively set into the creeping foliage ascending the wall. Bacon observed that it has her husband's touch.