Meet the Sponsors/Giveaway: Stitch Simple

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With so much competition between fabric shops these days, it’s hard to stand out. Stitch Simple does it with a completely unique spin on the fabric shop concept: owner Jen Madsen offers prewashed, and (if you want) precut fabric and custom quilt kits (including the new Quilt Kit du Jour, which just launched yesterday). That’s on top of a cool selection of fabric and spectacular customer service. If you missed it the first time around, check out my review earlier this year of Stitch Simple and their Quilt Kit #3 — there you can get a more in-depth idea of what the Stitch Simple experience is like.

I was especially curious to get a peek behind the scenes of Stitch Simple and was excited to get to know Jen better. So everyone, meet Jen. Jen, meet everyone! Stay tuned after the interview for a Stitch Simple Quilt Kit du Jour giveaway.

Where do you live? What is the textile/crafty scene like there?
I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the textile/crafty scene is pretty conservative and traditional.

How did you get the idea for prewashed, precut fabric and quilt kits?
I launched the Stitch Simple beta site on June 25th, 2008 and we had our grand opening three months later. It’s kind of a long and convoluted story about how I got the idea for Stitch Simple. I started sewing and quilting when I was 9 and I progressively sewed less and less over time until I stopped completely when I went back to school to get my MBA.

The first thing I wanted to make when I got back to sewing was a quilt and when I started getting everything ready I thought, “This really stinks. I wish you could just buy it already washed, pressed and cut.” I thought for sure someone would be doing that, but they weren’t. There were folks selling precuts of course, but they weren’t washed and I just don’t sew anything without washing the fabric first. Also, all of the kits on the market didn’t let you choose the fabrics and I think that is the best part of sewing.

I understood why retailers weren’t offering it the way Stitch Simple does. It requires a pretty unique setup. I was exposed to some interesting ideas about operational models that allow for both fast service and custom orders in grad school and I thought the textile industry would be a great place for me to try them.

What surprised you most about the business?
I was really surprised at how many people wanted us to choose their fabrics for them. And what’s even more surprising is that I’ll put together three or four ideas for a customer based on what they tell me they want to do (e.g. make a quilt for a grandchild, a nephew or friend) and 9 times out of 10 they take those ideas and switch them around a bit — maybe change the order of the fabrics or take most of one idea and then add one different fabric. Then when they come back to order refills, they’ve really gotten into fabric selection and almost never request help.

That’s where I got the idea for Stitch Simple Quilt Kit du Jour. People want choice, but they also are sometimes overwhelmed by it and need a starting point or a second opinion to get comfortable with all the possibilities.

Is this your full time job? What else do you do to make ends meet?
Stitch Simple is my full time job. I moonlight as a columnist for the Examiner.com and I also teach Beginning Sewing for the Southwest Minneapolis Community Education Program.

How would you characterize your shop?
This is a really hard question for me to answer. I think of the shop like I think of our patterns — a blank canvas where customers can see their ideas come to life. I try to offer a broad fabric selection so there is a little something for everyone to create a quilt to suit their specific tastes. Then we take what they want and do all the boring steps so they can get right to fun part of sewing. I like to imagine that Stitch Simple is everyone’s faithful sewing assistant whose only concern is what you want so I feel like the shop’s character totally changes based on the customer and what fabrics they’re using, if that makes any sense.

What are your hot sellers right now?
Hoffman’s Beep! Beep! Collection that we featured in McCall’s Quick Quilts earlier this summer continues to be incredibly popular. In general, anything for little ones has been hot. I don’t have any data to support this opinion, but my gut tells me that in this economy children are being spared the hardship.

Beep Beep Quilt

Do you run the shop alone or do you have help?
I handle most day-to-day operations solo. I have an awesome web developer, Steph Lucas, who helps me with large website projects and I also have an amazing saleswoman, Julie Cotton, who heads up our presence at local markets and quilt shows. I’d also be completely remiss to not mention the help of my entire family, my husband Eric and our cat Gabe. They keep me laughing so I can keep moving forward.

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Gabe crashes the photo shoot for Quilt Kit Number 3.

How do you deal with the challenges of the current economy, and increasing competition in the online fabric retail market?
Patience is key for a concept like Stitch Simple. We don’t have huge sales and coupons every second — because I feel like our pricing is incredibly fair for the unique service being offered. It’s certainly true that you can pay less for the fabrics you see at Stitch Simple, but no one else offers it like we do — so it’s not an apples to apples comparison. Also, our kits are refillable, and that saves customers money because we don’t make them purchase another instruction manual if they want to make the same kit pattern again.

Most importantly, I pay extra special attention to our email subscribers and they get exclusive deals like the free fat quarter on Tuesday. My philosophy is that if someone provides us their email address so we can contact them when something new is available, I don’t have to spend as much money on advertising. I like to say that I like my customers better than I like Google — so I’d rather give them my advertising dollars in the form of a coupon than pay to run a bunch of ads.

This approach has been really successful for us. We have very few customers who’ve ordered a kit and not gotten at least one refill (our record is 7 refills from one customer) and we get referral business all the time. Focusing on our email subscribers lets us give really good deals that are worth mentioning to friends and family — so every time we announce an exclusive sale for our subscribers, we get lots of new subscribers.

What are the (other!) biggest challenges — and biggest rewards — of being a fabric merchant?
The biggest challenge is getting the word out about Stitch Simple. Since it’s not something anyone else does, no one knows to go looking for us until someone else tells them that this kind of service is available.

The biggest reward is preparing fabric for customers who otherwise would not be able to make a quilt. We have a number of customers who have lost strength in their hands for one reason or another. They can push it through the machine, but it takes a considerable amount of strength and dexterity to cut your own fabric. We also have lots of customers who are just so busy that they wouldn’t get the quilt done if they had to do all the prep work. I personally fall into that second category and when I’m making demos for new kits, I like to wait a day between prepping the fabric and sewing just so I can pretend for a moment that I’m a Stitch Simple customer and it came to me in all those neat little squares. I really enjoy the experience in pretend mode, so I hope that all of our customers like the real deal just as much!

Ellie Fun pre-cuts

What’s your personal stash like?
Old. I love a lot of the contemporary fabric designers, but I’ve got a real soft spot for vintage fabric reclaimed from curtains, scarves, men’s dress shirts and whatever (especially if there’s gingham involved). My favorite fabric from my stash right now is the green and khaki butterflies with ferns below. This fabric has such a story. It was first a bedspread, then a set of curtains at my husband’s family cabin and last year for Christmas I made it into headbands for his cousin’s daughters. I’ve got enough left for a small quilt, but I can’t quite bring myself to use the last of it just yet.

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Who are your favorite designers, from the past and/or from the present?
I adore fellow Minnesotan Darlene Zimmerman. Especially Hints of Prints. I personally like to use almost solids and solids quite a bit, even though that doesn’t seem to be the way of today’s quilter. I do like some prints but I notice that I prefer ones that don’t have a large number of different colors in them. I particularly love Harmony Susalla’s Field of Honey We’re waiting for it and Garden to arrive late September/October and I can’t wait to get into it as soon as it’s here.

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Thank you so much, Jen!

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QKDJLadyforKimGiveaway Time! Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win the inaugural Quilt Kit du Jour. The kit design is by Jennifer Madsen, and the fabrics are from P&B Textiles’ Bliss Collection, which I can’t believe I missed! These kits are great for first-time or experienced quilters — even if you’re experienced, it’s a treat to work with the perfectly cut prewashed fabric. Two runners up will receive prewashed fat quarter packs of the Bliss fabrics.

Details: The winner will get to choose the 35″x35″ size (great for a baby quilt or wall hanging) or the 52.5″x 60″ (lap quilt size). And if you already happen to own this kit, you will get the fabrics in the refill and a credit for the price difference to spend on something else.

Please note that the 35″x35″ version of Kit Number 7 includes a fourth color choice for an extra border around the whole thing. We can make that choice for you our let you pick it out! It also includes backing, while
the 52.5″x60″ does not.

The giveaway is open to readers worldwide. Comments will close and winners drawn randomly next Wednesday, 9/9/09, around 9am Central U.S. time.

143 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    What a cool business idea, I love testing out color combinations on the quilt kits.

  2. kristen says:

    What a wonderful idea. One of these kits would be perfect for my friend who is confined to a wheelchair. She has difficulty cutting fabric because of her lack of reach.

  3. roisin says:

    this is such a great idea now that everybody seems so busy these days. how nice to have all on the tedious business os washing & pressing done for you!

  4. Jessica says:

    Thanks for sharing Stitch Simple…I hadn’t heard of them, and I buy a lot of my fabric online. I will definitely remember them when I need to make a quilt fast!

    I’d love a chance to win this awesome giveaway!

  5. Suzanne says:

    Stitch Simple is amazing! I’ve ordered from them before and the way she packs up your kits is amazing…even includes extra pieces for future repair and for practice piecing. I’d love to win a kit from Stitch Simple!

  6. Sequana says:

    What an interesting idea! It’s nice to see something brand new…..

  7. Michelle says:

    I HATE CUTTING FABRIC. HATE IT. HATE IT.

    How great to offer it all precut. I’d be quilting up a storm if I didn’t have to cut all the fabric myself in my tiny (dark, spider-filled) basement studio.

  8. Kelli says:

    Gorgeous! I’ve got my fingers crossed!

  9. Nanna says:

    Oh this would be so much fun to win!

  10. Amber says:

    I love this whole concept! Especially when you are too busy to cut fabrics out…it would be nice to have a few around so projects could get done faster!

  11. Lauren says:

    great ideas! It makes quilting so much less time consuming!

  12. hwar says:

    LOVE this idea!

  13. molly says:

    awesome business concept! i don’t enjoy cutting much either…

  14. Leigh says:

    fabulous! I do love this idea – I love precuts, and I use them unwashed just b/c I’m lazy! If they were prewashed – how much better is that!!!

  15. Kelly says:

    I love this business idea! Perfect for people who don’t have time/hate cutting fabirc.

  16. Barb says:

    Wow, what a cool concept. Thanks for sharing – I love the interview as it is always interesting to get a behind the scenes look at the fabric retail business.

  17. Shari says:

    Wow,I sure wish I had known about Stitch Simple before today. I have had to wait almost two years for an injured hand to heal enough to be able to cut the fabric for my first quilt!
    Stitch Simple’s unique product/service will probably be the buzz of our next quilt group meeting.
    Who will win the quilt kit? Hope it is me! Thanks for the chance to enter the giveaway.

  18. RobinW says:

    This is such a super idea.

  19. Kathi D says:

    I think it’s an inspired idea for a business, and Jen does such a wonderful job. I received one of her packages of fabric, and the attention to every detail is exquisite. The package is simple and pretty, and everything is perfectly laid out and documented so that you know exactly what is inside.

  20. Sheri K says:

    I love this concept, and also this giveaway! Look forward to hearing who the winner is!!! Go Stitch Simple!

  21. fabfabrique says:

    i wish i had thought of that!!! great idea. any chance you want to open a columbus, ohio branch? :)

    thanks for sharing!

  22. chris says:

    this model sounds like a great concept. i am heading over right now to take a peek around the website.

  23. Jennifer B says:

    very cool, thanks for the chance to win this great giveaway!

    ejxd95@gmail.com

  24. Michela says:

    This is so totally brilliant! Plus, people are always asking me to teach them how to quilt, and this could be the perfect thing to get them started.

  25. Patty says:

    I love the idea behind Stitch Simple and am going to their site to look around. I’m sure I can find lots of fabrics and kits I’ll love.

  26. Mary P says:

    Very fun! I’d love to win.

  27. Maria says:

    What a wonderful idea!! Gives me inspiration too for making use of my MBA that’s sitting idle while I raise the kids.

  28. Sara R. says:

    What a great idea! And the fabric colors are so juicy!

  29. GTM says:

    wow, I like this unique value they bring. I’ll have to check out their site. =)

  30. DianeY says:

    Right now, I’m sewing more childrens clothes, but I’m itching to get back to quilting. For both I hate the cutting!!!! This sounds like a dream come true!

  31. Jane says:

    Oh, I love this concept! Would I ever love to win! Thanks for the giveaway!

  32. Megan says:

    What a great idea! And I love those fabrics!

  33. strikkelise says:

    Prewashed fabric? What a brilliant idea!
    I didn’t know this shop, thanks for the introduction.

  34. Tish says:

    I’m itching to try my hand at quilting, so this would be perfection!

  35. Jenn says:

    I hate prewashing and really, really love your business model. Very cool!

  36. craftytammie says:

    I love the idea of prewashed fabrics! I am always so impatient to get started, I used to skip that step a lot. Thanks for sharing, and great prizes too!

  37. Nancy says:

    Some great ideas – a novel business! Thanks for the giveaway!

  38. Harley says:

    That’s just an awesome idea. And I love me a good kit!! :D

  39. J.P. says:

    The kit looks like such a help! Plus, Gabe is a cutie!

  40. Phyllis says:

    What a wonderful idea! I truly enjoy the whole process of quilting, but having fabric washed AND cut would allow more time for SEWING! Also love your logo…..

  41. Rebecca says:

    Wow! Really awesome! I’m excited to have learned more about you! Thanks for the interview and the giveaway!

  42. Kris says:

    what an awesome business and I do like that it’s in Minneapolis (my hometown!)

  43. Shannon says:

    I really want to make more blankets! I can’t get enough of them!

  44. michaela says:

    What a brilliant idea! As a new quilter – halfway thru my first quilt top – I’m loving the idea of someone else doing the washing, cutting and pressing. Please sign me up!

  45. Mama Gast says:

    What an amazing service you offer. SO glad to hear about it!!! Very innovative.

  46. Jenny says:

    cutting fabric can be a real drag…to be able to start a quilt immediately is terrific idea…thanks for the chance at this kit. Id love to give it a try!
    krousegirl2 at aol dot com

  47. Brina says:

    Love this idea…thanks for the chance to win this kit…id definitely go for the smaller kit to not loose momentum on the project! all in one ready to go! thanks for the chance
    blrohloff at aol dot com

  48. Claire says:

    What a novel idea…pre-washed fabric is a must for my sewing. Even with allergy pills, I can spend only a limited amount of time in the physical fabric store before my eyes start watering and itching. I don’t mind cutting fabric too much, but if my tools aren’t sharp, it can be really annoying.
    Love the photo crash – ninja cat!

  49. Debra says:

    Great idea from a fellow Minnesotan! Wonderful giveaway!

  50. Paula says:

    What a great idea for a business! Good luck! And thank you for the giveaway!