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Following A Dream - Sunflower Quilts

Following A Dream - Sunflower Quilts

Written by: 
Carrie Nelson

Jill Rimes and Jamie Mueller are the mother-daughter team behind Sunflower Quilts.  They live in Houston and St. Louis respectively but their close relationship and combined skills have made them a very dynamic duo, the creators of one of the most popular notions in the business, the Thread Cutter

Jill and Jamie at Fall Quilt Festival in Houston

It started with quilting, falling in love with the process of making a quilt.  Both are largely self-taught - Jill learned to quilt in 1987 from library books and Jamie happily says she grew up under her Mom's quilt frame and began collecting fabric before she made her first quilt.  That led to designing quilts, writing patterns and opening a shop selling patterns and kits.  In the years since then, Jamie has become an accomplished longarm quilter who specializes in freehand-free motion quilting, they've authored a book and have quite a few "ideas" in the works. 

Sunflower Quilts Ruffled

Jill and Jamie's designs include this lovely Ruffled Baby Quilt made with Jelly Rolls strips and a simple ruffle. 

Of course we love this Grunge quilt.  It's a great example of how well Jill and Jamie take a simple, clean design and create impact with their use of color and pattern. 

Feeling Grungy

An Hourglass block and 16 colors of Moda Grunge makes a terrific lap quilt that is perfect for kids, a picnic and just snuggling on the couch.  (It's also easily made larger.)

All of these quilts are what led to the idea for the Thread Cutter.  We asked them how the original idea came about.

We opened the quilt shop in 2004 and quickly realized that we needed it.  When you own a shop, you need to make lots and lots of samples to sell the fabric and/or a specific pattern.  Chain-piecing became our best friend!  (If y'all haven't tried chain-piecing, you should!) But when you piece as many as a hundred units at a time, it's very time-consuming to have to cut them apart with scissors or a rotary cutter.  We looked through every notions catalog we had to see if there was something - anything! - that would make the process faster and easier.  When we couldn't find anything, we started thinking of what we could make that would serve the purpose.  So Jill asked her husband, Logan, to find her a rock that was about "this big" - a specific size and height.  At the time, there was a company that sold single blades that you could stick to the side of your sewing machine so Jill glued one of those blades to the top of the rock.  It was our prototype and we now call it the Original Thread Cutter.  

Sunflower Quilts Thread Cutter Chain Piecing

Chain piecing.  It's a good thing. 

The next question was obvious - how did Jill and Jamie get from the "rock cutter" - from "this is a great idea" - to creating an actual product? 

We made them ourselves - by hand!  Logan and a friend helped us get the right design, get it properly licensed to a company, and then when the license expired, we were able to take back complete ownership.  The first color produced was orange because the company producing the Thread Cutter chose it to match their other products.  While we would have picked another color, maybe the orange was good luck?  Mostly we were just happy to get it made and out in the market.  Because we'd owned a shop for years and seen the changes in business, we shifted gears to focus on promoting and selling the Thread Cutter.  We truly believed that it was a notion people needed and would actually use.  Our favorite Moda rep was Jim Salinas and he was very instrumental in helping us move forward with our business by always encouraging us. 

The Sunflower Quilts Family

The Sunflower Quilts family - clockwise from upper-left - Logan, Jill, Laurel, Jon, Jared and Jamie.  (Laurel is Jill's daughter-Jamie's sister, Jon is Jill's husband and Jared is their son.)

Once the product is complete and available, the challenges don't get easier.  It often means navigating types of businesses, legal questions and a financial risk.

When we took back control, it was a whole new world.  Even though we knew the quilt shop business, manufacturing was a whole new ball game.  We went from buying a hundred of something at a time to buy thousands.  It was daunting to write those checks because even though you're confident you have a good product, there's still a risk.  But we've learned to trust our gut.  So in 2006, we were making a hundred at a time and selling out in a day at the shop.  When we went to Fall Quilt Festival in 2016 and sold a whole lot more, we knew this was going to work.  We also received great feedback and it's been non-stop ever since. 

Sunflower Quilts All Hands On Deck

The family that binds together stays together!  Jill, Jamie, Jared and Laurel were frantically finishing memory quilts made from Jamie's grandmother's clothes for her Dad and his two sisters.  They were given to them for Christmas.

Of course we had to ask about what's next, is there another big idea in the works?

Maybe yes but we can't talk about that yet.  What we can share is Idea Day.  It's a new series of videos that we will post once a month on our blog showcasing timely projects, e.g., the December video will have several Christmas/Holiday themed projects.  We're having so much fun creating these new projects that it's hard to decide which projects will make the final cut.  The video will show each project, include details about size, materials needed and notions, there will be tips.  The videos won't include the project instructions, those are in the Idea Day pattern book that will be available on the website.  The PDF-format book will include all of the month's patterns, and individual patterns for each project will also be available.  At the end of the video, there will be a coupon code that will make the book for the first five people who purchase it.  So you'll want to watch it all the way to the end as soon as it's posted! 

Idea Day at the Old Shop

It's clear that Jill and Jamie love their work, and enjoy sharing it with each other.  (Facetime allows them to work together like they were in the same room.)  So we asked a few more questions...

The best part of our job is working with each other and doing creative work.  The worst part is the computer side of it and writing the books - we'd rather be sewing!  Accepting the constant change in the industry and evolving with it is a challenge, but being honest and following our gut instincts has served us well.  In the end, this is what we want to do and we're willing to take the risks.   

And the best adivce we'd give others is to follow your dream.  Be willing to share your passion with others, and be generous with it. 

Thank you to Jill and Jamie! 

We hope this leads you to turn your big idea into reality, to live your dream.

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