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How it all started


The story behind my quilting passion and why I turned it into a home based business


My love of quilting started very young.

I remember it being one of my favorite childhood hobbies, but not something I had told anyone about until I started created my first quilt in the 8th grade. This was part of my "Textiles class", and our teacher introduced us to the craft. We made oven mitts to start, but she really got me fascinated by hexagons which are used in many quilts.

So subsequently, I learned English Paper Piecing, where you stitch together hexagons into patterns that eventually become a beautiful quilt! My dad created two templates from metal for me to trace both my fabric shapes and card templates and I used my Grandmother's huge stash of dressmaking fabrics to cut all my hexagons from.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this craft would end up being something I would do throughout most of my adult life!

This has never been finished, though worked on a few times over the years.



The next attempt at quilting was in 1991 when I signed up at a local TAFE college for 2 terms to learn all the basics of quilting. I made my first Queen sized sampler quilt over 8 months of non-stop stitching by hand. I was hooked!

I learned:

    • How to Draft my own patterns
    • Paper templates
    • English paper piecing by hand
    • American hand piecing
    • Hand applique - needleturn, freezer paper applique, fusible applique, reverse applique and more
    • Transfer quilting designs
    • Hand quilting with a hoop

This hobby is now a very solid one with much, much more to come that I had never dreamed possible!  


A Passion is born

 While there were no quilters in my family when I was growing up, my grandmother was a seamstress and fostered my love of sewing and crafting by teaching me how to sew clothing, knit and crochet. My first sewing machine arrived for my nineteenth birthday, and I sewed a lot of my own clothes for the next few years.

I started my professional career in a bank and worked in different branches and banks on my way up to consumer lending and securities, as well as corporate banking briefly. I loved the interaction and challenges with consumer lending, dealing with numbers, cashflows and balancing people’s expectations on what they could truly afford and achieve.

Once I had moved to my third bank in the city, I discovered a quilting exhibition in rural South Australia (where I was chasing my husband to be) and fell in love with quilts. Back in the city, I researched and found a comprehensive course in learning the skills to design, draft, hand piece, applique and hand quilt my first sampler quilt - all at TAFE. There were no quilt shops in the city at that time, only a fabric dressmaking shop with a small range of 100% cotton quilting fabrics.

After moving to the farm, getting married and starting a family, I had more time to indulge in my passion of quilting and continued to learn and grow with local mentors. I was never one to follow quilt patterns and started drafting my own - all prior to the internet and owning a computer! I loved working out the math and writing the instructions. My inspiration mostly came from the various Australian and American quilting magazines that I had subscribed to.

I was encouraged by a friend, who was publishing with the Australian Patchwork and Quilting magazine, to submit one of my designs to be published. This was the start of designing and publishing over 65 patterns in magazines, books and newspapers around the world over the ensuing years, including a mystery series in a Canadian rural newspaper where I had the most wonderful emails received from similar farming quilters. It truly is a worldwide passion.

In 1998 I registered my business name ‘Constantine Quilts’ so that I could legally run my first micro business with my publishing and teaching activities. The name originated from our family farm – Constantine Farm – as the original owners came from the town of Constantine in Cornwall, England. Of course, this name had meaning to myself and my family, but no one else would recognise this until I could regularly use it in all these publications.

This was my first experience in understanding marketing and branding, and I strongly believe that the slow process of providing valuable content with quilt pattern designs was far more beneficial than paid advertising that did not come for many years after. I published quilt patterns in magazines and had guest contributions in international quilting books from well-known authors that gained me the credibility and name recognition that set me up for success in my retail business that followed


I loved machine quilting on my domestic machine, but I kept looking and researching the larger industrial machines that were specifically designed to quilt quicker with less stress on your body. These were marketed to those passionate about machine quilting and to create your own home-based business by finishing other people’s quilts.

The next step was starting my own quilting business after purchasing my first second hand longarm machine in 2000.

 There are many who love creating the beautiful quilt tops but do not enjoy the finishing process, which provided the perfect opportunity for me to expand my business by offering to finish customer’s quilts, while paying off my first second hand longarm quilting machine.

Of course, with a big machine I needed both new tools and to learn the art of longarm machine quilting. Machine quilting rulers were primarily manufactured in the USA at the time and exchange rates were around .51c, which made them extraordinarily expensive. Being a farmer’s wife, we discussed this issue and chose to research on creating my own here in Australia.  


Meanwhile, my ‘No Frills’ rulers by Constantine Quilts were born, along with my first website designed in MS Publisher (oh my goodness, I hear you say!) to sell them nationally and internationally to machine quilters that were flocking to forums and email groups that were popular at the time. Facebook did not yet exist and there were very few companies producing these tools.

With the Australian dollar so low, USA quilters started to notice my rulers as extremely affordable, even with international shipping, and I started to export them and get noticed online far more than I ever expected or intended. It was a huge learning curve to understand how to take payments, ship safely and learn to market these.

My biggest opportunity was being invited to teach at a major machine quilting expo in New Hampshire, USA, and finding a distributor who could stock my rulers at this show while I was promoting them in the classroom. As a non-resident, I was unable to legally retail these myself.

I eventually ended up with two USA distributors for my rulers for a number of years. Before exchange rates and a huge increase in designers and smaller laser cutting machines available, resulted in the market becoming quite competitive.

I'm now on my 5th machine with the last three being A1 longarm quilting machines all with the Intelliquilter system installed on them. My studio is very crowded with all three machines setup to use.

Stay tuned for more...

Tracey


Categories: General