Nana’s Cottage Quilt | Thinking of a sewing machine as a power tool
Nikki Rainey has always loved sewing. Throughout moving with her husband from military base to military base, she channeled her love into the art of longarm quilting (quilting finishing).
Now based in Colorado Springs, she was able to partner in a fabric boutique with her friend Marybeth Wujcik and her dream of owning a physical store came true at Nana’s Quilt Cottage.
“I’ve found [now] that I passed on my passion for sewing. The seam does not meet an age criterion. You don’t have to be a certain age to love sewing and love creating. Their whole motto at Nana’s Quilt Cottage is “Get Creative”.
Rainey says his creativity was right there in the fiber arts. “I play with a needle, thread and fabric. But there are so many other people who love creativity in other areas, whether it’s paper crafting, woodworking, or other artistic mediums. It’s really fun.”
Rainey is self-taught. “But I’ve been sewing since I was 14.” She learned to sew in a home economics class, which isn’t really offered in high schools anymore. “That’s where I learned to sew from a teacher who took a while and showed me some skills. She kind of let go of the reins and let me go my own way and create. I’ve just been a sponge to absorb knowledge, and I’m sharing that knowledge.
She explains: “The tools that we use today, if my grandmother had had those tools, my God, that woman would have been on fire because even without the tools that I have, she was on fire.” Rainey is proud to come from a long line of quilters. His business partner, Marybeth Wujcik, also comes from a sewer line. Marybeth is Rainey’s silent partner and still consults regularly on a variety of topics.
Wujcik opened the store in 2010 with the vision of having her own quilt shop. She had worked in the fabric industry for many years in retail and she felt she could pass on a lot of knowledge to others. She and her daughter opened Nana’s Quilt Cottage in December during a down economy. Rainey explains: “I was there [initially] visiting her as a customer at Nana for many years.” In May 2014, Wujcik asked Rainey if she would be his business partner.
Rainey was able to invest in the business thanks to her extensive quilting experience of nearly 20 years. She had started quilt-finishing businesses at many of her husband’s stations in places such as Manhattan, Kansas, El Paso, Texas, Columbus, Georgia, and even a small town in Germany, while teaching others how to sew. military wives.
“We took that [long arm] machine with us overseas everywhere. And I finished people’s quilts. But I learned very quickly that there weren’t as many people sewing as I thought. So, I had this idea. I said, “Well, if I teach people to sew and quilt, they’ll need my services because I’m the one finishing the job.”
Build and scale a textile business
Rainey brought that expertise to Nana’s tenfold. “Owning a traditional fabric store has always been my dream. The long armament was [simply] my way of getting [there] …just to build myself up and educate myself, and also just to be part of the industry. So right now, I’m living my dream at the pinnacle. I am on top of the world.
But as anyone who’s ever built a business knows, it’s tough and it takes everything to get there, Rainey concedes. “There’s a lot of equity and I didn’t know anything about running this type of retail business.” Rainey had been running his long arm business for, at that time, 14 years.
“I actually kind of took a pay cut when I came to the store because I basically said… my way of buying from the stores is I give all my profits from my long armament into the store. It was my buy-in, which was the most gracious buy-in ever. I didn’t have to go get a loan and write a check. I bought with my work and my loyalty so I had to learn a lot of things I had to learn how to order fabric and not over order and how to keep stock and inventory correct [as well as] work with vendors. I also had to learn to say no.
Find the learning curve
One of the biggest learning curves and happy accidents of recent years has been the influx of online learning, which has only increased with the pandemic. This allowed Nana’s to attract new prospects. “Our core clientele, our top 20 clients, they are all over 60 years old. But we welcome many more young mothers. She says younger clients have a much more limited income and limited disposable cash. “It requires a slightly more modern approach while understanding that clients sometimes need to work with what they have.”
While Nana’s is primarily a quilt shop, Rainey says they also teach how to sew bags, clutches and fun little things. “Our goal is to teach people how to sew and to keep doing things they enjoy.”
Some of these new designers create handbags, tote bags, grocery bags and other practical items. Rainey says this is reflected in the fabrics Nana wears, but also in the design of the store. “We have more of a modern feel…bright, fresh fabrics. You’re not going to find your grandmother’s reproductions here. You’re not going to find 30s and 40s fabrics here. [The mills] keep printing these colors because people love them. But it’s not Nana’s. Even though we have a grandmother’s name, we have a very new vision of sewing.
Rainey says “when you quilt or do something [like that], it’s a tangible hug. It’s something you did. It’s a piece of you, in your heart, that you give to someone else. So it’s something tangible. It’s a real hug from you to them. It is a gift of love that is made by your creativity because only you can make it that way. It’s not something you bought at the store. It is an expression of art.
Rainey says some artists use a brush. Some artists use a pencil. She uses a sewing machine and thread. It is his medium. “That’s how I create, and that’s how I show my artistic expression. My artistic expression is not something flat that is on a wall – although it can be on a wall – but my artistic expression is also something that I can wrap around my body. I can carry my things in it. It’s something I did with my hands and my machine.
Rainey says she does all her work by machine. “I am by no means a hand quilter. Not that that’s a bad thing or anything. It’s just my style. My power tool is a sewing machine.
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