Online community brings quilters together from all over the world
Thursday, Sep 18, 2014 11:53 am
The Prairie Quilt Militia (PQM) was launched on Facebook by Airdrie’s Sharon Blackmore in July of 2014 and already boasts 130 members from Canada and the United States. The one thing they have in common is their love of quilting.
Blackmore said she came up with the idea after closing the quilt store she ran in Airdrie for five years with her business partner, Devon Lavigne, in 2011.
“We did mystery quilts at the store and that’s really where this kind of started. They were always really popular,” Blackmore explained. “We did a one-day mystery quilt where they paid their fee, came in and picked out their fabric and we cut it for them. It was a very simple pattern but it was still a full-size quilt that they could sew in one day; go home with a quilt top at the end of the day.”
Blackmore said they did the one-day mystery quilts every six months and it was something the store was well-known for.
“When we closed the store, the big thing I missed was the social aspect and getting to visit with people,” Blackmore said. “Because the mystery quilts were such a fun, popular day, I decided to continue with them but do it on Facebook.”
Denise Chapman is an Airdrie quilter who’s been doing Blackmore’s online mystery quilts since the beginning.
“When (Blackmore) owned the Prairie Quilt Mercantile, I actually took a class there and I used to shop at her store all the time,” Chapman said. “As soon as I found out about the mystery quilt-alongs online, I joined right away.”
Members of the PQM have unlimited access to the closed group for one year for a flat $40 fee. Blackmore hosts two mystery quilt-alongs per year online. A step is released every two weeks and it takes six months to complete one quilt. Blackmore supplements the written instructions with videos of her doing tips and tricks related to each step.
The first mystery quilt-along Blackmore hosted online had more than 1,300 members from around the world. It attracted a lot of attention because of the gimmick Blackmore used; it was run like an online dating forum and had the apt title of “Plenty of Fish.”
“I flipped it into ‘I promise you’re going to fall in love with the quilt,’ and I also wrote a cheesy little love story to go along with it about a man and woman that meet online,” Blackmore said.
The community of quilters Blackmore built online through her original mystery quilt-along in 2011 also got to watch as the group leader and her husband, Jason, fall in love. Blackmore decided to include many of her new quilting friends in her wedding; the Blackmores were married in March of 2014 at their home during a wrap-up party for one of her Airdrie quilting workshops with many quilters from the online community in attendance.
“We got married on our steps and all the ladies were standing around taping it with their iPads,” Blackmore laughed. “We could hear them saying ‘no quilt retreat is ever, ever going to measure up to this one.’”
Blackmore decided to launch the PQM as a closed Facebook group in July of 2014.
“The reason for the closed group is I want the control over who’s in my group. A lot of the ladies were making mystery quilts for gifts for other people and they didn’t want everyone to see their posts,” she said.
“I also couldn’t upload PDF files to the Facebook event; you can only upload if it’s a group. I wanted to be able to post the PDF right in the group. If you didn’t make it a closed group, someone could have access to what everyone else had paid for.”
For Kathryn Jasper, a member from near Olympia, Washington, the fact the group is now closed to members only is a benefit.
“I enjoy a closed group because we can chat the way we want between each other and it doesn’t just go out into the overall world,” she explained. “I also think Sharon deserves payment for the wonderful materials she supplies to us.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of support among the people. It’s very friendly,” Chapman said. “I love the tips; I have learned so much as a result of doing these online quilts. The little tips have made sewing so much more pleasant and much easier for me.”
“I know of some homebound or isolated members,” Jasper said. “Some live far away from other people, some have physical issues and are not able to get out very often, and I think this is a good benefit to them. Anytime night or day, you can get on there and chat with people or see what they have written. It’s a nice way of having connection with people when you don’t have that opportunity in your daily life.”
Blackmore’s online instructions are extremely detailed, something she says she does for a reason.
“Typically you don’t get that much instruction in a pattern, but I want my mystery quilts to be in the forum of learning and education,” she explained.
One of the things Blackmore stressed is that her mystery quilts are for everyone, regardless of the level of expertise they may think they have or the number of years they’ve been quilting.
“I stopped labeling my designs as what level you’re at as a quilter and started looking at them as a time investment,” she explained. “If you’re willing to commit the time to it, the difficulty shouldn’t matter because the steps are so simple.”
Chapman said the step-by-step instruction Blackmore offers in the mystery quilts is exactly the kind of push she needed to get over her fear of biting off more than she could chew.
“A few years ago, if I’d seen ‘make 98 half square triangles,’ I would have been aghast. But I was like ‘oh, that’s an easy step’ and then ‘wow, I can’t believe I just said that’,” Chapman said. “It’s a result of all the tips and stuff that (Blackmore) has provided that make that an easy step.”
“I really love it,” Blackmore said. “When I get feedback at the end of a mystery quilt where somebody says ‘I can’t believe I made that,’ that’s the gratification for me.”
Blackmore also offers longarm quilting services from her home in Airdrie for those quilters who want special thread work done on their artwork.
More information about the PQM including a link to join, as well as information about Blackmore’s longarm quilting services and examples of her work, are available on her website, loveshackquilts.com