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How it All Started...

Updated: May 30, 2023

Tori McElwain from The Quilt Patch by Tori

 

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Growing a Business During COVID: It all started with a need. That's how everything starts, right?


I needed to help provide for my family, but I also needed to be present for my family.


I am an Active Duty Army Spouse, which means I have no chance at a steady career down any traditional path, so I needed to create a mobile career.


Now, I run a successful small business from home. I get to structure my days and raise my son. Thanks to technology, I get to work and connect with quilters from all over the country, and even a few different countries (Hello Canada and Australia!). Even if you're not interested in starting your own business, I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain!


My love of Quilting goes back further than just starting my business.



I grew up around quilts. When my twin sister and I would go to our grandma's for sleepovers, we would build our beds out of quilts. We always fought over this one really soft, pink, lacey quilt, and my sister would always win! I think she still has that quilt to this day.


My mom didn't quilt much until I got older, but she found her love of quilting on her longarm. I helped load and unload many quilts onto that 12-foot frame. My mom's friend taught me some basics (my mom's teaching style and my learning style didn't quite mesh...). I mostly retaught myself whenever I wanted to make a quilt.


My favorite memory of quilting as a teen was when my sister, mom, and I made two T-shirt quilts in one weekend! Mom pieced, my sister pressed, and I was the "runner" between them! By Sunday afternoon we had two quilt tops ready to quilt. We took them to the mountains for our first jobs as Girl Scout Counselors. They were double-batted, backed with flannel, and so warm! Which was good, because at night it would get down to the 30s, even during the summer in Big Bear, CA.


Flash forward...


I married my husband and two weeks later he decided to join the Army. So, after Basic Training and Officer Candidate School, I moved into a one-bedroom white-walled apartment across the country from where I grew up. To make these white walls into a home, I quilted. I made a big rainbow-colored quilt (pictured below). The pattern is called Venetian Windows.


For every house we lived in, I made a new colorful quilt to brighten up the space and make it into a home.


I earned my Teaching Credential at our first permanent duty station (permanent as in living there for 3 - 4 years), as well as my Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I completed Graduate School from Texas A&M Central Texas after surviving my first full year of teaching Kindergarten and our first 9-month deployment.

I finished out my 3rd year in the classroom and had my son 7 days later! We moved again 3 months later. This time, we had 7 months before we were to move again. I couldn't teach. I couldn't substitute teach. I couldn't leave my 3-month-old. I found myself restless and feeling guilty. So, I used the skills I had built up in my favorite hobby and I started a quilting business. I was making and selling quilts. To keep costs as low as I could, I taught myself everything I needed to know, and I started pattern designing and free-motion quilting to avoid sending quilts to other people.

Then we had our 2nd move in the same year. I was making almost the same amount of money making custom quilts as I would have been teaching and paying for daycare for 1 child. So, as a family, we decided I would stay home and grow my business.


I was lost. My business took a hit when we moved and although I sounded confident pitching this idea of building my quilting business to my husband...I had no idea where to go from there. I spent 9 months trying.

Then, COVID hit the US the next year, 2020. I feverishly started making masks for donations for everyone in our community. I had paused quilting and was using up my stash very quickly.


At the time, I kept seeing an ad on Facebook about growing a Quilting Business. It was free and it was being offered by Shannon Brinkley. I thought "Why not?".


It is called Patchwork, and it opened my mind to the possibilities of what a career in the quilting industry could look like! It had the potential to replace my teacher's salary and it looked like sew much FUN!


I got to work!


I jumped into Shannon Brinkely's paid Patchwork program (after her free one) with both feet! With Shannon's guidance and community support, I created a business plan. I designed a website, wrote up my hand-drawn patterns, found pattern testers, developed my first quilting classes (Learn to Quilt Series), and even wrote a self-published book!


I was motivated to help quilters who didn't know where to go to start, to learn, to find support, to grow; everything I wished I had access to when I started quilting.


I worked when my baby (turned toddler) slept. I researched and perfected, collected and tested, emailed and blogged. I worked hard designing classes (virtually and in person!) that quilters would find fun and greatly informative, bringing in everything I had learned from graduate school and teaching in the classroom.

Building a business turned into an amazing experience where I now get to teach and work with amazing quilters from all over the country and even in other parts of the world!


At the end of 2020, I planned and executed my first Quilt Along, finished my first series of patterns, and taught consistently at my local quilt shop. I even had the honor of presenting Trunk Shows for a few amazing Quilt Guilds!


Today, I am proud to say that I tripled my income in 2 years. I have a wonderful community of quilters in my Skill Building Block of the Month, I am helping to guide them in learning new Quilting Skills, and I have a wonderful assistant to help me keep up with my growing small business!


I love being able to raise my son and work!

Thank you for being a part of our community!


 

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