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. Patty Ojeda says:

    This is a great idea for someone who has limited reach or painful arthritis. Now why didn’t I think of this?!
    (smile)

  2. Katie says:

    This is a neat idea. Thanks for sharing about this business.

  3. frog says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Stitch Simple. I rather enjoy doing the prep work but I don’t have a great deal of time. And as a beginner quilter, I know that I need to take my time cutting so that it turns out right. Combine prewashed and cut fabric with a choose your own fabric or some colour guidance, and the idea is a complete winner.

  4. dayang says:

    hi..
    thank u for the giveaway..
    plz count me in..

  5. Julie Dees says:

    Thank you for entering me in the drawing. I really enjoyed the interview with Jen & learning how she got started.

  6. Nicole G says:

    What a great interview. Fantastic ideas!

  7. skippingdaisies says:

    For years i have wanted to try quilting but the idea of cutting all the fabric, killed any inspiration i had. I hate cutting fabric!! These kits are a fantastic idea and pre-cut fabric has inspired me to make my first quilt. Thanks for a great giveaway. Fingers crossed….

  8. Sandy Olson says:

    I have ordered from Jen and have nothing but praise for her product and service! The fabrics are a delight to work with and what a pleasure to have everything cut EXACTLY RIGHT so they fit together well on the first try. One thing I would like to suggest is that she branch out into die-cut triangles or even flowers etc. that would be appliquéd. Or perhaps offer appliqué as an option, to sew on top of some of the traditional pieces. The patterns using only strips, squares and rectangles start to look so similar to one another that no one stands out on its own much. This is one top-notch company!

  9. monica says:

    Thanks for the great interview. It’s great that they help speed things up for the quilter who’s pressed for time or who just wants to sew and not do any of the prep work.

  10. Deb says:

    I enjoyed reading the interview and would love to be entered for your giveaway! Thanks!

  11. Debi Lohr says:

    I have visited the site and love the concept. The new fabrics are awesome and I need to revisit her site.

  12. Ellen Lutz says:

    Thanks for the wonderful interview,I love the new fabrics and Have visit her site,The fabrics are sinply wonderful,And the quality is excellent,all prewashed and pressed and the packaging is amazing.I would love to be entered for the giveaway!Thanks!

  13. I would love to make the lap quilt! Gorgeous fabrics…awesome giveaway!

  14. Jane says:

    I just found your site and the concept is great. I will have to spend more time looking around at all the different options your company offers. I wish you the best of luck and hope you are successful.

  15. LaNan says:

    I just came across your website and what a unique idea. It’s inspiring to hear about your venture. Good luck for much success.

  16. Penny Lynn says:

    Since TIME is the most valuable thing we have, this is a gift-of-a-business! To be able to sit down and sew, while eliminating the pre-wash, cutting, fabric selection? Excellent. Thank you, Stitch Simple!

  17. Ronna says:

    In these days of rush rush rush its so good to see how I can get in some sewing for me time. What a great idea1

  18. tracy_a says:

    What a cool idea – thanks for the info!

  19. Mary-Ellen says:

    This would be pure luxury.

  20. Carrie L says:

    I would love to do this! Thanks for a fun giveaway!

  21. barefootT says:

    Stitch Simple…Great name, great idea!!!

  22. Judy says:

    Such a COOL idea! I don’t so much mind the washing, as I have a machine that does it FOR me, but I hate pressing the stuff when it’s all wrinkly!

  23. Robyn says:

    Lovely Idea!

  24. Jacqui says:

    I definitely fall into the second group – especially after cutting out my first quilt and hating the experience! I’ve had my eye on Stitch Simple for awhile and it’d be fabulous to win something of theirs!

  25. LeAnn B says:

    I’ve used Stitch Simple before and LOVE them! I love that they are always expanding patterns and fabric selections. It is SO nice to get a box with instructions (including phone help if necessary) and washed, pressed and cut fabric. They even give you some extras to practice on.

    If you haven’t used them yet, go try!

  26. Renee E says:

    WOnderful interview. I would love to win this great prize!

  27. Kate says:

    I’m not great at cutting- this would be such a great help!

  28. Katrina says:

    Love the Quilt Kit du Jour!

  29. Lindsey says:

    I’ve never quilted before (always wanted to, but have been somewhat intimidated). Stitch Simple takes out all the prep and guesswork. I can’t wait to try it!

  30. carmel says:

    i have a very small baby! so i want it! :-)

    thanks for the great giveaway!!

  31. javede says:

    I didn’t know something like this existed! I would love to win.

  32. kelly says:

    What a great interview. I wasn’t familiar with Stitch Simple before but will certainly check it out now. Thanks for bringing more new and interesting content as always (and for the giveaway opportunity!)

  33. sfer says:

    Really amazing giveaway!
    Thanks so much for the opportunity!! :-D

  34. Darla says:

    What a wonderful business concept! I had not heard of Stitch Simple. Thank you for sharing!

  35. amye says:

    wow-what fun! this is a great idea for new moms who want to make a quilt for a new baby but certainly do not have the time (or energy) for all of the prep work. good thinking!

  36. Patty Ojeda says:

    This is such a great idea! I know that I need help when I am trying to audition fabrics for a quilt and I always look to my LQS ladies to help me out.
    I would love to win this!

  37. Mama Spark says:

    I love the idea of this. There is another company that repurposes fabric and sells it for quilting too. Both are fantastic ideas.

  38. Julie C says:

    I just found your site…and I love it! Someone who shares one of my passions….FABRIC! I hope to visit often. Blessings!

  39. Sarah G. says:

    Great fabrics and quilts – I would love to try one of her kits. No cutting – yay!

  40. Linda says:

    I love the Stitch Simple idea. I read an article about Jen and Stitch Simple in our local newspaper. I bought a precut kit from another company a few years ago and did not like the unwashed fabric.

  41. Anita says:

    Amazing – just when you think there could not possibly be any new ideas in the quilting world, someone comes up with a product/service that no one else has thought of.

  42. Jamie z says:

    I will definitely be checking the shop out! Sometimes I just want to get started not mess with the fabric.

  43. Marilyn says:

    Pretty colors and love the design!