Happy FriYAY, my dears!
It's good to be back! I spent several hours in my sewing room tonight (be sure to check out yesterday's post for a video tour!)-- I started on the first clue of the Bonnie Hunter Mystery (I know, I know--I'm a full month behind. ackkkk), and I pressed and cut some fabric for John's new stocking (his from last year got passed to Ian) and for a Christmas mini for our front door. Speaking of which, does anyone else hang mini quilts on their doors? I think it's super fun!
But back on track, today I'm bringing you an interview with my friend Andi Barney. She's the co-owner of Red Hen Fabrics, as well as MFEO, and a couple endeavors with her husband as well. To be honest, she's so amazing, I've lost track a little bit. I know that I'm taking my scissors to Red Hen to get sharpened in the spring when I bring my Singer in for an annual service. And I know I'm popping in the shop next week for thread and a big Andi hug. Enjoy, friends!
1) Tell us a little about yourself—your family, your quilting, other creative interests, etc. Though most people don't see this side of me up close and personal, I am definitely a mother and a wife before anything else. Our son is 7- years-old, and we homeschool. My husband recently left his corporate job so that we could pursue our various businesses and dreams. It's important to both of us to raise Aaron in a free-thinking, entrepreneurial, follow-your-dreams environment. Aside from Red Hen Fabrics, my sewing machine service business, and the new laser cut applique business, Paul and I also own a custom laser engraving and cutting business. Obviously, we don't like to sit still!
Clearly quilting is my passion, but it was a long road getting here! I didn't have any quilters or people that sew in my family, so it's something I stumbled upon accidentally. I've always had a creative spirit about me - I was a graphic designer for 15 years, and my hobbies ranged from Cross-stitch in the 80s, to rubber stamping in the 90s, and a short time in Scrapbooking in there early 2000s. I loved all those things, but none of them lit a fire in me. They seemed like activities to pass time when I had nothing else to do.
Then I had brain surgery in 2008 to remove a tumor from my pituitary gland, and while I could move around and function at home, I was house-bound because I couldn't drive and Paul had to work... so I took a basic sewing class at Joann's (after Paul taught me how to thread and use a sewing machine). I thought I was going to have this amazing, custom wardrobe by the time I went back to work, but that did not happen. Garments are not my thing!
Two months after surgery, I found out I was pregnant with my miracle baby, and I was overcome with the urge to make a crib quilt and sew some things for the nursery. It was an awful first quilt, but that first quilt I made for my son really started it all. I started a tiny little online retail fabric business in 2010, which grew to the point of being unmanageable. I also contracted with a lady that owns a tshirt business for three years, so to say that quilting has encompassed all areas of my life is an understatement.
What I really like to do on my "free time" is show quilts. I don't get to do much personal quilting right now, but I know this is just a season. I would much rather freemotion quilt all day long than piece anything, so most of my personal quilting goes in that direction. Cindy Needham and Kelly Cline are some of my most recent influences, as they work with vintage linens. Sharon Schamber will always be one of my biggest influences ever - if she says do it, I do it. Lisa Calle, Bethanne Nemesh, Margaret Solomon-Gunn, Jacquie Gering, and Sue Nickels are a handful of my other favorite quilters.
2) Tell us about Red Hen Fabrics. Where do I begin? I know I'm biased, but it's one of my most favorite places on earth! We have 7,000 square feet, so not only an amazing space to work with, but we get to do a little bit of everything. We have always had a good selection of basics, batiks, Asian, reproduction, modern, juvenile, etc. We've brought in a lot of Moda, Riley Blake and other popular brands this year, and still growing! We still have the largest notions and thread selection of any shop in the area (and rumored to be the largest in Georgia, but that's unconfirmed).
We are very socially-oriented, so we are building out our classroom in 2017 to be more like a retreat space - 24 permanent stations with actual countertops instead of tables. There will be an ironing station and iron for every two people right there at the sewing space. Our cutting tables will be higher than average table height for comfort. We'll also have a video screen to project for classes and presentations.
Our classes cater mostly to beginner and intermediate quilters, but we are bringing in some advanced classes as well. My beginner freemotion quilting class is probably one of the most popular. I can longarm, but I much prefer to quilt on a domestic machine. So I've taken my passion for FMQ and turned it into a 5-hour beginner class, covering thread, needles, different sandwiching techniques, machine set up, and everything you can think of to get going. I know the biggest issue with FMQ is a mental block, not one of mechanics, so I try to help each individual get over the mental block with quilting.
I started offering a Featherweight Maintenance workshop this year, and it has been such a big hit! It's one of my favorite classes to teach, too. We also do a quilt start-to-finish class for those that want a whole lof skills all at once, various technique classes based on templates, rulers or specific patterns, and we're bringing in other experts to teach bag classes, paper piecing techniques, and maybe even some serger and garment classes. The sky is our limit!
We decided to become a full-service shop to the best of our abilities this year, so we added in-house sewing machine service, repair and restoration. We have a full Innova longarm studio that offers quilting services with two quilters on staff, longarm lessons, longarm rentals, and longarm sales. We're bringing in scissor sharpening after the first of the year, and we are working with Fanmore scissors to be a dealer of their products. If we can think of any other one-stop-shop services to add, we will!
Red Hen Fabrics has been around since 2003, but it is a whole new shop now. My business partner and one of my dearest friends, Brie Klug, bought the shop in June of 2015. It was her dream to own a quilt shop! Unfortunately, about 12 weeks into her dream, Brie's health declined pretty rapidly. She has a multiple chemical sensitivity issue that is very much an auto-immune disease, which kicked into gear with 12 hour days surrounded by the chemicals in fabric finish. At the time, we had met to talk about me servicing sewing machines in the shop, but turned into my stepping in to help get the shop going while Brie sorted out her health issues. By October of last year, we became co-owners of the shop and found a way not only to make it "work", but to make it thrive. Brie hasn't been able to set foot in the shop - or any quilt shop for that matter - since then, so it was a challenge to handle business with all the hurdles.
On paper, the whole situation sounds like a disaster - I mean, stressful situation, health in jeopardy, not knowing if two people can work together at all, much less under these circumstances... but it has been the most amazing, growing experience I've ever had. We work so well together, we're both hard workers and don't stop until the job is done. We have a nice balance both in our taste and our ideas, and we aren't afraid to sort out the hard things when necessary.
From this experience, MFEO was born, our laser cut, pre-fused applique business. In many of our conversations, it kept coming up that Brie's real dream is to design applique. She is such an incredible designer with amazing vision, so we had a collection of applique together in no time. Having a place to put her creative passion is exactly what she needed, so we made the leap this year to bring our products to market. We wanted a non-fussy way to do applique, so it's focused on machine applique, but we wanted the designs to still be very elegant and tasteful.
MFEO stands for "Made For Each Other", which is from a famous line in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle". Calling each other "best friends" seemed kind of cheesy, but we do have a habit of constantly being on the same page, finishing each other's sentences, and completing each other's thoughts. We always jokingly said, especially in such a strange set of circumstances, that we are MFEO. We feel our applique designs, fabrics, and technique are all made for each other, too. We are aiming to take our product to Quilt Market as an exhibitor in Fall 2017.
3) You also own and run the Atlanta NW Sewing Machine Service and Repair and have a nifty new work bench. Tell us about that, too? For my first Mother's Day, my husband, Paul, bought me a 1957 Singer 221 Featherweight. They were just starting to become really popular again, I think because the younger generation started to recognize them as the absolute best portable machine out there. We collect old things, and as a new quilting enthusiast, sewing machines seemed like a natural addiction for me to take on!
The simple, elegant mechanics of that little machine ignited a spark in me that I did not see coming. I started researching machines and studying their history. All machines, not just Featherweights. I was struck by their beauty, their function, how much history was made from sewing machines. I started collecting them when I could find them for cheap or free, and started "tinkering" with them. This grew into a passion for restoring old machines that were forgotten about, or had been neglected and stored away.
Word started getting out that a crazy lady with colored hair (Purple at the time I think?) was restoring machines and working on old machines that dealers said couldn't be fixed, so I started as a hobby business. In 2015, right before Brie and I started working on Red Hen Fabrics together, I started growing my service business from home. I officially moved my business into Red Hen Fabrics in January of this year, and there was no turning back.
I'd say at least 85% of my business is vintage or antique machines, mostly machines that dealers won't mess with. I restore a lot of treadle machines, rewire a lot of electrical machines, and search out parts that are really hard to find. I decided to add computerized and modern machines to my list of services, so I spent three days certifying in Texas with my two mentors in January.
There's a rumor circulating that I have 90 sewing machines in my house. Yeah, the rumor is true! Old sewing machines are kind of like cats - they multiply, they show up at my door unannounced, and it's hard to get them to leave! I'd say about 40 of those are part of my personal collection, the other 50 or so are meant to be restored and sold or given away. I have several non-profit companies I'd like to work with that will hopefully benefit from a collection of working sewing machines.
4) How is creative community important to your work? The creative community is definitely the heart of my work! It is an absolute dream to work in an industry that is centered around creativity! I originally joined and helped start up the Atlanta Modern Quilt Guild so that we could build a community of creativity. I am finishing my term as President with the East Cobb Quilters' Guild, and that Guild has always been a creative community for me. This has bled over into the quilt shop, where we foster and promote creativity and freedom to try new things on a daily basis.
I am a firm believer that we learn more from each other in interaction than we do in formal learning environments, and this is a theme you will find consistently in my life. Our way of homeschooling our son fosters this. The nature and method of our classes in the shop demonstrate this. My interaction with Guilds both as a member and speaker show this. Creative community is absolutely the heart of everything I do.
5) What advice do you have for quilters and designers along their creative journey? My number one piece of advice for all quilters is to stop comparing yourself to others. Especially if you are a new quilter - remember that ALL quilters start in the same place. I'm a big believer that we are not necessarily born with a specific talent, it comes from the things we choose to focus on and pursue. Some people become so obsessed that they are incredibly accurate quilters in a short time. The rest of us may struggle with making perfect points and quarter inch seams for a lifetime. Just remember when you see an amazing quilt, you are seeing their end work, not what their quilts looked like when they first started.
My second piece of advice is to try things! Even if they look intimidating our out of your skill range, do it! You have nothing to lose except beyond thread and fabric. You may hate it. It may not be for you. Oh, but I can tell you, more often than not, doors will open when you try new things. Especially things that are really hard and on a different creative plane than you are used to. Allow yourself to grow and stretch and stay open-minded to knew techniques.
My third piece of advice is to seek out a community to foster and nurture your creative spirit. Never in my life have I experienced a community like I have with quilters. It's comforting to know that you can visit any corner of our country and find yourself a group of quilters and have instant friendships. We light up when we talk about quilts and thread and fabric... having a group of people that also light up is an incredible feeling! Quilt guilds are not for everyone, believe me, I understand. But check for meetups, classes, and groups in your local quilt shops to find those quilters. If you don't find anything, start one! If you are lacking a group of people to share your passion with, I guarantee you, you aren't alone.
hank you, dear Andi! I can't wait to see you next week! If y'all are local, be sure to drop into Marietta to visit Red Hen, Atlanta NW Sewing Machine Service, MFEO, and the sweetest group of quilters you'll meet! If you aren't local, be sure to visit Andi on the Atlanta NW Sewing Machine Service Instagram and Brie on the Red Hen Fabrics Instagram! And you can find both ANWSM and RHF on Facebook, as well.
Happy making this weekend, dears!
(PS All photos provided by Andi, with two taken from the Red Hen Instagram.)