Not just for grandmas anymore

LONDONDERRY - Fat quarters. Jelly rolls. Charm squares.

It's not New Orleans on the eve of Mardi Gras, but rather a quilting shop on Route 100 where you might hear those terms casually tossed around. It's a little jarring at first, but then again, the Waterwheel House Quilt Shop isn't just "your grandmother's quilt shop," as they say in some of their advertising.

"I can say that because I'm a grandmother," said Shelly Sas, a co-owner of the store. "One of the reasons I opened the shop was because I couldn't find the fabric I wanted to sew with."

What she was looking for, evidently, were the contemporary bright, bold and strong colors and patterns that leap out at customers from the shelves and racks. Organized by color, customers can easily pick out the fabric they want to work with, she said.

The Waterwheel House Quilt shop - there really is a waterwheel on an adjacent barn but it's mainly for decoration - recently became known for more than just its inventory, however. Quilt Sampler, an industry magazine and quilter's Bible, selected the shop as one of 11 it profiled in its current issue. That's gotten it some additional attention, Sas said. But the store, only in its fourth year of being in business, has also worked hard to get the attention of quilters from near and far, and ensure they come back for more than one shopping trip. Many travel considerable distances to get just the right stuff, she said.

It takes three to make a quilt - three parts, that is. There's a top piece that gets sewn together with a bottom piece, with a middle batting layer in between. A quilter will typically use a needle and thread to sew the three parts together. The patterns that result from stitching a multitude of different parts together are limited only by the creator's imagination.

But it's not finished quilts that customers come to the Waterwheel House for. Rather, it's the supplies and kits that enable the artist - for that is surely what is involved here - to assemble and put one together themselves.

For those who may not feel ready to tackle a quilting project right out of the box - or small bag of fabric and patterns - the Waterwheel House also offers sewing and quilting classes in a room off the main retailing area.

Like many others who came to Vermont, Sas and her husband, Andrew, the other co-owner, didn't arrive necessarily intending to open up their own quilt shop, or any kind of shop. It just worked out that way.

After being an art teacher for many years in the Washington D.C. area, the pair relocated to Vermont with the idea of renovating old farmhouses, while Shelly Sas planned to continue with her interest in art and quilting while exhibiting in major area arts and craft shows. That's what drew them to the building they converted into their quilt shop, which was an old farmhouse that dates back to the 1790s and is one of the oldest buildings in Londonderry. Andrew Kas, a building contractor, made the initial observation that it could be made into a nice little quilt shop. Which, after getting a zoning variance from the town of Londonderry to allow for commercial use, is precisely what they did.

Coincident with that, in 2008-09, came the Great Recession. But two aspects to quilting helped save the day. First, they were selling materials to enable people to make things, who were effectively exchanging their time and skills in place of money. That held appeal during a time of economic downturn, especially when the end result was something useful, decorative and handmade - like a quilt. Secondly - and Kas has noticed this among younger women who don't fit the typical stereotype of "quilters" - is a "do it yourself" ethic that has prompted greater interest in the art form. Online, on blogs and web sites, the Internet has helped spur interest as quilters exchange ideas, Sas said.

She also maintains a blog that she posts to at least twice a month, with pictures and ideas for her customers - and those who may become customers - to use. They also maintain a Web site that describes what they carry, but you have to come to the shop to get it. Touchy-feely commerce trumps e-commerce in this business, she said.

So - back to the beginning - what's a "fat quarter?"

In quilting, a fat quarter is a quarter of a yard of fabric, but cut in such a way - 18 inches by 22 inches - so that a quilter can cut regular squares out of it, as opposed to, say, a 9 inch by 44 inch strip, which would be considered a regular quarter yard. One yard of fabric would actually measure 36 inches by 44 inches.

"Jelly rolls" are pre-cut two and one-half inch by 44 inch strips tat typically include 40 strips of fabric, but not necessarily.

And charm squares? They're 5 inch squares of quilting fabric, which come packaged together to make getting started on a quilting project as easy as possible.

Got all that? If so, it's time to get out the needle and thread, get your packet of materials and the pattern, and get to work. Part of the fun of it is making something that's not only artistic, and uniquely individual, but also practical, and with winter around the corner, what's not to like about a warm quilt? Plus there's the no-guilt factor as well, said Sas.

"It's a year-round product, and it's not something people feel guilty about buying," she said.

The Waterwheel House Quilt Shop is located on Route 100 between Londonderry and Weston. For more information, call 802-824-5700.


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