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Patience, piecing comes together with ‘Sew That!’

Patience, piecing comes together with ‘Sew That!’ Owner Ana Blickenderfer finds joy in hobby-turned-custom orders work

Ana Blickenderfer considers herself to be a mostly traditional quilter. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy trying new patterns or colorways –– she’s just drawn most to the tried and true. “I have a love for stars,” she writes on her website, www.icansewthat.com, where examples of quilts big and small flicker on slideshows.

She takes most of her custom orders through the site and Facebook, where she features table runners, pillow cases and patterned baby shoes.

Blickenderfer, who has been quilting for about 12 years and sewing since the age of 9, is highly invested in her crafty passion. Her business, Sew That!, places a large emphasis in creating “memory quilts”, pieces made from T-shirts or designed in memory of a person or event in the client’s life. Once, she deconstructed a wedding dress and pieced it into a beautiful quilt for her client to display –– after that, Blickenderfer said, she’s received more interest in similar wedding dress quilts.

“It’s really special. A lot of times wedding dresses are just shoved in a box,” Blickenderfer said. “That one took me a little bit longer because I was afraid of messing it up. You can’t undo that. You can’t just cut out a new piece of fabric.”

Sew That! originally began as a scrapbooking business for Blickenderfer before she realized interest in her quilted products was growing, and changed to the current name.

Now, her quilt orders, small home goods and baby products –– including shoes and the lovably named “ruffle butt” baby onesies –– means her work schedule is nearly booked for 2016, as Blickenderfer balances her business with her full-time Zoetis job and family. Her home studio, framed by a sliding wood-and-iron door built by her husband from materials in the family barn, is busiest in the fall and winter as people picture themselves wrapping up in memorable blankets.

A highlight in the business growth came when Blickenderfer upgraded from a single domestic machine, joined by a 12-foot longarm quilting machine that binds together a quilt top, batting and backing. Using the longarm, Blickenderfer will freehand the finishing touches on her quilts –– she doesn’t use computer design programs –– or she takes in pieced tops done by other quilters and completes the project for them. The machine gives her so much more design freedom, she said, it’s hard not to wish for more.

“I started with a smaller longarm,” Blickenderfer said.

“I would like to upgrade to the bigger one, but I struggle with that too because if I get the biggest one, I’ll probably want a bigger one. But there isn’t a bigger one.”

It’s the larger quilting projects that give the most sense of accomplishment to her. She generally starts encouraging customers to submit holiday orders by September and meets them for a design consultation, discussing price, preferences and order size. It may seem like an early deadline, but the crafting process takes time, Blickenderfer said. “Quilting takes patience, and not everybody has patience for it,” Blickenderfer said. “A lot of people come to me with a general idea of what they want, but they’re not sure how to execute it themselves.”

Quality is precious to Blickenderfer, who submits quilts for national and international competitions across the U.S. She’s taken to submitting the same quilt to multiple contests and comparing judges’ notes on the craftsmanship, and she’s invited to shows that individually select competitors. “Sometimes (judges’ comments) are polar opposites, and something that one judge critiques you on, another judge will praise you for,” Blickenderfer said. “I find that very interesting. I want to know if I’m improving for one, but I also want to know what people say. If people are really unhappy I want to know.”

She also travels for both her quilting business and Zoetis, and is in the process of training for instructor certification on a detail-oriented paper-piecing technique by Quiltworx, which requires Blickenderfer to complete five quilts through the process and travel to Montana in June for training.

With the possibility of teaching new classes in the future, business as usual –– and the amount of custom orders she takes –– may change as she stays focused on family and balance.

“I’ve been struggling with that, working more and trying to figure out how to balance my personal life and being able to make quilts for myself,” Blickenderfer said. “It’s all part of being in business. I’m not exactly sure what I have in store for the future. I will definitely be quilting, and if someone asks me to do something for them, I’m not really sure if I could turn them down.”

By Kate Hayden [email protected]

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