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Dawn Heese finds success as professional quilter

Friday, February 10, 2012 | 2:00 p.m. CST
Dawn Heese, CEO of Booneslick Trail Quilters' Guild, traces out a pattern onto freezer paper during her applique class at the Fairview United Methodist Church on Monday. Heese made the quilt hanging behind her using only one freezer paper pattern for each shape.

COLUMBIA — Dawn Heese has been piecing her quilting business together since her early years. She started by watching her great-grandmother quilt and then picked up the hobby for herself 13 years ago. But it wasn't until 2008 that she patched the pieces together to start a quilting business that united the old tradition with today's techniques.

Since then, Heese, of Columbia, has created a fabric line, multiple patterns to be used with her fabric and three books for quilting with the patterns — with a fourth being released in September. She is putting the finishing touches on her second quilting fabric line, mixing vintage influences with contemporary designs and techniques.

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In addition to her books and thriving fabric line, Heese, 44, also teaches appliqué and quilting technique classes in Columbia and throughout Missouri. She is the CEO of the Booneslick Trail Quilters' Guild, is a regular contributor to quilting magazines, often travels to show her products and speak, has two children and maintains a day job as a cosmetologist.

It must be something in her blood — all the women in her family were somehow associated with fabric and sewing.

"My grandmother quilted and was a seamstress, and my great-grandmother was also a quilter," Heese said. "As a kid, I grew up with textiles, and I've always been doing some kind of needlework."

Because she's a master of the needle, Heese does all of her quilting by hand.

"I've been told I'm fast," Heese said. "I like to have a couple things going at a time because sometimes I'll be working on something for a long time and I have to just put it away. But working with my hands is very relaxing."

Heese started quilting as a hobby in 1999, but it quickly grew into a passion. Although it wasn't until nine years later when Heese took it a step further. Her foot in the door, so to say, came when she sent in a pattern to be featured in The Kansas City Star's "Block of the Month" section in August 2008. Instead of featuring it, The Star  suggested she compile enough for a book.

"It was simple," Heese said. "I had an idea and I sent it in. The Star must have liked it because they extended the offer to publish a book with my patterns."

The book, "Geese in the Rose Garden," was the first of many. Her books showcase a different block — one unique square of a quilt — on every page that readers can copy with fabric. By the end of the book the readers have a quilt.

"I get my inspirations for making fabric and books from individual antique pieces," Heese said. "My fabric line stemmed from a vintage postcard and served as a kicking off point."

Historically, quilting fabrics and patterns have been modified and adapted to the changing times — but still maintain some aspect of the original pattern. Some of the patterns considered among the classics include Log Cabin Quilt Block, London Square Quilt Block and Double Pinwheel Quilt Block. All designs can be seen throughout history in many different variations and colors. 

One store near Columbia selling Heese's patterns is Material Girl Quilt Shop in Centralia. Meredith Stidham opened the shop three years ago with her husband with the goal of finding the balance between the old and new demographics in quilting.

According to Quilting in America, a publication of "Quilters Newsletter Magazine," the quilting business is thriving. In 2010, the U.S. quilting market was at an estimated $3.58 billion — up 9 percent from 2006. Fourteen percent of U.S homes have at least one active quilter, and there are 21 million total quilters in the U.S. However, there is not one central association for quilters, so many more people could be quilting.

The progression of  the modern quilt is rooted in pragmatism, according to Quilting in America's website. Early American colonial women used available material to patch pieces of cloth onto blankets that had been worn down. It wasn't until many years later, as industry boomed and fabric was manufactured in factories, that women started artistically crafting the patterns in today's quilts.

Modern technology has influenced the quilting business, as 91 percent of U.S. quilters own a computer and 73 percent actively access the Internet, according to the Quilting in America publication.

Heese started a blog to get her name out on the web in addition to having her work featured in quilting magazines. It also helps her communicate with quilters across the U.S. On her blog, Heese often incorporates book and pattern giveaways to loyal followers and offers her readers the chance to purchase her books and fabric lines on the site as well.

"I have a particular interest in Dawn's work because she is a young woman embracing the traditional aspects of quilting but applying them in a contemporary way," Stidham said. "I have a lot of respect and admiration for her to take this art she loves and continue to put it out there for all of us to use."

Stidham met Heese at an appliqué class Heese was teaching at Material Girl Quilt Shop. Connie Love has also participated in Heese's appliqué classes in Columbia.

"What I like about her appliqué classes is that she makes it very simple," Love said. "I love her appliqué and the rest of her work. I think I've purchased just about everything she owns."

Love is well acquainted with good quilting. She’s been doing some sort of needlework since she was 10 years old and is currently involved in five different quilting organizations.

Love and many others make up a tight-knit group of quilters Heese has met in her three years in the business. The act of quilting is as much about the social aspect as it is the final product.

"In the Boone County guild, there are really old ladies who’ve been doing it so long they can hardly see a thing," Heese said. "But then you have the professionals producing things that will take your breath away, as well as young women making their first quilt."

"It’s a wonderful support system," Stidham said. "When you have a needle in your hand and good friends around, it can put your mind at ease."

When the three women were asked if the art of quilting was a lost tradition, all were adamant that it wasn't. 

"That is a misconception," Heese said. "It's a multi-billion-dollar business that has weathered the economy pretty well. People need to cut back on expendable income like going out, but they still need things to do. So they stay home and quilt."

"It's a tradition that has come back," Love said. "There are so many fabrics and books that appeal to multi-generations."

Stidham agreed. "Quilting is very appealing because as women, we cook — they eat it. We wash — they wear it. This is something that if we create it, it's there forever."


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