New quilt and quilt rack store plans May 1 opening

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
In the pioneer days of quilting bees, many homes were small and space was limited, so women would store their quilts on the ceilings.

“That’s back in the beginning days of quilting,” said Diane Claassen, who along with husband Dwayne, will open and operate Quilts and QuiltRacks beginning May 1 on North Main Street.

“When they wanted to work on them, they’d drop them down. They didn’t have saw horses, so they’d just use the backs of their chairs. Isn’t that fun?”

As the name of their new venture implies, the Claassens will offer a variety of quilts and quilt-display racks for sale.

In addition to the quilts and racks, they will sell quilting paraphernalia, such as quilted teddy bears, handbags, jackets, table liners and place mats. They plan to offer an opportunity for quilters to have a place to quilt, learn from each other and fine tune the skills required for the age-old craft.

The couple does not plan to offer fabrics.

“Fabric inventory is a large inventory that takes up a lot of accounting and more employees,” Claassen said. “Dwayne and I really want to start this with what we can handle. We feel like the fabric needs are filled by shops in places like McPherson, Newton and Hillsboro.”

Claassen formerly owned Claassen Financial Services in Hillsboro, a tax-accounting firm she sold in 2001.”I still do investment consulting as a certified financial planner,” Claassen said.

Dwayne is a retired farmer, who also operated a grain elevator and a windshield-repair service.

About 18 months ago, after Dwayne recovered from medical problems, Claassen needed something to occupy her extra time and began quilting in a small corner of their home.

“I thought, ‘I love the quilting, but surely there’s a little more than this little tiny corner,'” Claassen said. “So we decided to put something we love together with something that will fulfill Dwayne’s desire to go back to work.”

They plan to work together and cover for each other when one has to leave. Hours of operation will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

In December, they found retail space formerly occupied by Home Expressions.

“I just knew it looked like a quilt shop,” Claassen said. “It’s old, it’s new, it’s everything our quilts and quilt racks are all about.”

When the store opens, Claassen plans to have nine six-rung quilt racks filled with quilts. These unique stand-alone racks are 6 feet tall; made of oak, hickory and cherry wood; and feature 3-feet-long rungs for quilt display. They can be disassembled for shipping.

The racks were designed by Claassen when her daughter-in-law needed a way to display her family’s heirloom quilts.

In addition to the six-rung racks, the shop will carry smaller two-rung quilt racks and several styles of wall-mounted racks.

The racks are all made by local crafters.

“There are two wood crafters,” Claassen said. “And they’re each doing the two-rung quilt racks in three finishes-natural, cherry and dark walnut.”

Four lines of quilts will be available at the new store. Vintage quilts and national craft lines are antique and new quilts respectively. Heirloom Treasures and Quilts by Kansans are two lines made by area quilters.

“For somebody to say this is a quilt shop is one thing, but then to see what beautiful quilts are going to be in here is another,” Claassen said. “It’s an art.”

Claassen described the four quilt lines as follows:

n Vintage quilts. “A couple of them we found locally,” Claassen said. “But mostly, they’re from all over the country, wherever we could find them. Our vintage are all good quality. The value is in their design and history.”

n National craft lines. “We have a wholesaler,” Claassen said. “We looked for a good one so we could maintain a good volume of inventory.”

n Heirloom Treasures. “Those are the finer, generally whole-cloth quilts,” Claassen said of quilts made by area quilters.

n Quilts by Kansans. “Many of these are quilts that are popular right now,” Claassen said about the second line of quilts by area quilters. “Quilts by Kansans might be considered the more trendy quilts.”

The prices of the quilts will range from $85 to $2,000.

“The cost will depend on the amount of quilting, the quality of the cloth and the craftsmanship,” Claassen said. “But it’s all beautiful.”

Quilting as an art form and hobby has experienced a resurgence in recent years.

“Because people weren’t buying fabrics to make clothing-they were working and low-cost clothing was available-the fabric shops really pushed the quilt piecing,” Claassen said. “So there’s a major quilt-piecing mania right now.”

“But the hand quilting, there are still people, recently retired, who are getting into quilting and enjoying it.”

The quilts carried in the store will fit a variety of beds, and sizes will be identified by dimensions. To help complete the look, they will offer a selection of bed skirts.

In the back of the retail space, an area has been set aside for two large quilt frames and a baby-quilt frame.

On one frame, Claassen will keep a running project of her own quilt in progress. On Friday afternoons, she will take her quilt off and replace it with a quilt for a Friday Quilting Bee.

“All quilters are invited to come,” Claassen said. “Their incentive to come is the fun we’ll have. But more than that, the first quilt we will do is for charity.”

After the charity quilt is completed, the next project will be a quilt for a drawing.

“They can qualify for the drawing by being here at least two hours on at least two Fridays of every month we’re on that quilt,” Claassen said. “When the quilt is done, the person who’s name is drawn can choose to put it on the rack, sell it, and they get one-third of the sale.”

A second frame will be set up for beginners. “Beginners can come in any time they want, see if they enjoy the quilting, and we will give tips as we have time to sit down with them,” Claassen said.

Toward the front of the store, Claassen plans to have monthly window displays. Keeping to a theme every month, she and Dwayne will rotate the quilts in the window every few days to protect them from fading.

With their Web site quilts and
quiltracks.com, still under construction by mid-April, Claassen said they will be able to offer quilts and quilt racks beyond city borders once the site is fully operational.

“A quilt shop in Hillsboro is going to be fun to do here, but we know our market has to go to Hillsboro, Marion County, the state of Kansas and all across the United States to do well,” she said.

But drawing people to shop locally on the premises, she sees the new store as an attraction for retirees who like to travel the state and are looking for places to visit.

“Quilters will love our quilt racks, because they’ll want to show off all the beautiful quilts they’ve been making,” Claassen said.

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