OAKLEY — As avid quilters travel, many plan vacations on the lookout for just the shade of fabric and new idea to add to their stash, and to eagerly share their finds with friends.
That’s why the Smoky River Quilt Shoppe, 207 Center, in Oakley carries high-quality richly colored material and shows fashionable quilts in a attractive setting — completed with small-town friendliness.
“You have a lot of fabric is what people say when they walk in,” said Donella Younkin, owner of the shop she has owned for a little more than two years. “I have a lot to choose from.
“We bring people from throughout the area and the interstate,” she said. “I get people from Canada and had someone from New Zealand. I love the people that come in — that’s my favorite part.”
Once a requirement for cold winter nights, quilts have taken on a new life in recent years, providing a creative outlet where the sewer can make a quilt like no other.
Younkin stays on top of the latest trends and has a special skill to choose fabrics that people like. Work at the shop is a family affair, and her daughter-in-law, Lauren Younkin, who is a graphic designer, places the fabric into pleasing, contrasting and balanced colors, and patterns, which some customers say is the most difficult part.
“She has an eye for it. People like that,” Donella said. “People will come in and say ‘we have such a hard time putting colors together’ and here, it’s done.
“If I put something in the wrong place, she’s in there fixing it,” Donella said laughing. “She regroups my stuff all of the time.”
One of the latest trends is reproduction of feed sack material, which was used in the early 20th century by women to make dresses. Despite its diminutive source, the basically free fabric was available in every rainbow color, and was used as a marketing tool for sellers of feed. It generally took more than one sack to make a dress and farm wives might encourage their husbands to buy more than one bag to ensure there was enough fabric for new clothing.
“The younger generation is liking it,” Donella said. “It’s coming back.”
She currently has a quilt on display made of reproduction feed sack material.
Donella’s two most popular fabric lines are a product called stonehenge, which has a marbled look to it, and batik. Not too many stores carry the full line of stonehenge.
Batik fabric is a tightly-woven fabric that doesn’t ravel, with a high thread count, finish and a unique dye process so the colors don’t fade, Lauren said.
“It’s quality” fabric, Lauren said.
“People come pretty far to get stonehenge,” Donella added.
Donella picked up the quilting hobby herself when began working for the previous owner of the shop, which at that time included antiques. The antique store has moved next door, but Donella still quilts and offers classes.
She stocks quilt patterns, kits, templates, pre-cut fabric, fat squares, 108-inch wide fabric backing so the quilt doesn’t have to be pieced, and a full line of notions. She also has a long arm sewing machine for attaching the top, batting and backing.
“People come from Kansas City for my wide backing,” Donella said. “They don’t like to piece it.”
She maintains an interactive presence with her customers offering shop hops, block of the month, bed turnings and row by row.
Beginning in 2011, the row by row fad has spread across the nation where customers travel from store to store, picking up blocks to make a quilt.
The winner receives fabric, of course.
The bed turnings have turned into a hit with the hobbyists. The quilts are laid on a table on top of each other and then displayed one by one.
“Everybody around here who quilts comes,” with about 40 people so each can see what their friends and neighbors have done, Donella said.
She has seven sewing machines available for customers who need extra assistance with projects, with specials, or for those who simply like to socialize on Saturdays. Quilting traditionally has been a time for connections to be developed with friends and to create a useful textile, particularly in days past when quilts were hand stitched.
While fabric is available via the Internet, mortar and brick stores still attract browsers and buyers.
“Quilters like to see and feel fabric before they buy it,” said customer Audrey Evins, Oakley. She has been quilting since the late 1970s and exhibits quilts and buys fabric at the store.
“I’m at a stage of life where it’s fun to share what I’ve learned over the years,” she said.
Evins said she believes the secret to the success of the store is not only great fabric, but Donella’s friendly personality.
“She genuinely loves people and I think it shows,” Evins said. “Everybody that walks through that door, she treats the same. She’s great with people.
“Quilting is a worldwide thing and we’re all connected. People that aren’t in quilting don’t realize how connected the quilting world is.”