The Free Motion Quilting Project: A Studio Tour and Dream Remembered

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Studio Tour and Dream Remembered

Yesterday I received an interesting call from a nice guy named Doug:
"Hi Leah, my wife and I are from West Virginia and passing through North Carolina. We were wondering if there was any way to come by and meet you. My wife, Kathy, really loves your online show."
I thought about it for a few seconds and said "Sure! Come on over, just keep in mind that I'm human and don't have a perfect house."

It seems the state of my messy house was the last thing on Kathy and Doug's mind, though! They came over and we had a nice time talking about quilts and touring the studio.

Kathy had thought we owned a physical storefront quilt shop, but I quickly explained that starting a business like that wasn't possible for us back when I first started shooting videos.

On a tight budget and wanting to keep everything online, I couldn't justify the expense of renting a big building and having a huge overhead when the business was just beginning. It's hard to believe now, but I really started my quilt shop with just $300!

I could work with so little because Josh and I store our inventory and pack orders in our basement office. While it's not set up great for shopping in person, it can work in a pinch.
Kathy picked up an Isacord thread set and got to select the colors she wanted right off the shelf. We had a nice chat about which thread colors would work best over which fabrics and it was really fun helping her choose in person.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
After Kathy and Doug left, I thought a lot about the visit and about a dream I've had since I was around 12 years old - the dream of owning a storefront business.

When I was 12, the internet was inaccessible, YouTube couldn't even be imagined, the idea of be "blogging" like this wasn't even in the realm of possibility.

So no, I never dreamed of owning an online business, it just didn't exist then, but I did dream of running my own store.

As I got older, I began to realize just how difficult this could be: how much start up money I'd need, inventory, a good retail space, etc. It just seemed like a pipe dream that would never, ever happen.

Then the internet became a force to be reckoned with and I met Josh, who taught me how to build a website, and Chet, his dad who taught me how to run an online business. Suddenly my childhood pipe dream wasn't such a dream anymore. It could, and did, become a reality.

But I'll be honest...I've never really let go of that original dream to have a storefront. To have a physical place where I can talk and teach and help quilters find what they need. Where wonderful quilters like Kathy can stop in during her trip through North Carolina and not have to worry that she's bothering me.

It's a dream that still seems silly - the overhead is still outrageous, the costs still far outweight the benefits, but no matter how many times many people try to talk me out of it, I just can't let it go!

Part of the reason is I drive by THE PERFECT PLACE every single day. This space has been for sale on and off since we moved here 5 years ago. Last spring I finally broke down and toured the building and unfortunately it was PERFECT (unfortunate because it just made the dream harder to resist).

The front part of this building is broken into small rooms, great for packing and office space, but the back is one long open space, perfect for holding workshops with more than enough space for 20-30 quilters.

When I saw this room, when I let my imagination run wild with what I could do with it, I knew it would be absolutely, positively, perfect.

But it's also ridiculously expensive and overpriced for the location. I walked away the first time, knowing for a fact that it was just never going to happen for that asking price. I also reminded myself for the millionth time that staying online always makes more sense on paper and is the smarter thing to do.

But it's impossible to forget this! I drive by this building every single day to take James to school, and look at it and wish it was mine. It's like that space has my name on it, and I keep seeing my quilts hanging out front.

Last week I was doing some Google searches on land and property and ran across the space again. The price has dropped to buy it, and now the owner is considering leasing it as well.

The lease price, while still high in my opinion, is actually something I could consider...

I can almost hear several people say "NO! Beyond there be dragons! Don't even THINK about it. This economy is awful! You could lose everything! blah, blah, blah."

But dreams are dreams for a reason. I might never act on this space, but I can still dream about it, I can still drive by it every day and wonder what it would be like to fill this space with quilts and sewing machines and meet people like Kathy in person every day.

It's been for sale for 5 years. I can hope it stays on the market a bit longer, a bit more time to think and dream, and maybe one day it will be the right time for this dream to come true.

Now enough rambling about my obsession about this property! If you are traveling through NC and want to swing by and don't mind wandering through a house that has dirty dishes in the sink and more toys on the floor than a toy shop, feel free to contact me a day or two before your trip. I don't mind visitors and I'd love to give you a tour!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. I've had this same dream for a long time. I call it my retirement dream. I hope it drops in price again and you get to actualize your dream.

  2. Your dream sounds like my dream....although you are far younger and more talented and actually have time to have it happen. One must move toward their dreams in all actions to make them realities. Have you considered a LEASE TO OWN agreement? In this economy, it might make sense. You could try it and walk away if it isn't going to work. However, I would possibly finish your first BIG book to have some income working, etc. while it is beginning. Have you considered soliciting oldsters to help you get started? I love to work in my local quilt shop and do it for nothing.....just to help out. I am retired....and lonesome at home......a fun chance to be around what I love. Possibly you could even find investors.....many small investors. Don't get yourself too strung out.....but don't miss opportunities that may be there without you really noticing.

  3. Have you looked at houses that might allow you to have a "store" in the in law apartment or something like that. One of the local quilt shops is a little shed that her husband had built for himself a workshop and she quickly took it over.

    Keep dreaming

  4. Hi Crafty Maine Mom - I've definitely considered this, as well as adding an addition to my own home.

    The trick with a house is the size of rooms and layout. I could hold workshops right now in my home, but at most could fit 8 people, and we'd all be uncomfortable.

    This building I've been checking out has one HUGE room, perfect for large classes where everyone has plenty of space for a machine, a quilt, and all their gear.

    Don't worry, I'm definitely not going to stop dreaming about it!


  5. With lodging available on site, you could organize workshops with various reknown teachers for whom you can provide logding and, of course yourself also. You could sell the course material and supplies. Just a thought! I am from Canada ,near Ottawa Ontario, and dont'know much about your area of NC. I am always looking at retreats available, but most of them are located in California or near the west coast which would be to expensive for plane tickets. I would consider attending retreats on the east coast! I agree with the suggestion of the option of a LEASE TO OWN. You could have an on-line survey on your site to get an idea of the interest people would have in that kind of project! Don't give up on your dream yet!


  6. Anne-Marie - The building doesn't have quite enough space for overnight stays, but there is are hotels within a very short distance.

    The idea would be I would start with 1 day workshops teaching free motion quilting, then build up to 2-3 day retreats each month.

    I don't know that this would ever be a typical, traditional quilt shop with regular store hours, but instead a workshop/retreat learning center.

    Basically it would solve all my traveling problems. You all just come to me!



  7. Remember Mary Jo started in the back of her father's hardware store. I heard her place is for sale. She is could buy it!! We would all love that:)

  8. What an innviting dream! This place is set up very nicely for you. Decisions, decisions.

  9. That sounds perfect, i would come from Australia to visit your store! I have been eyeing off a building here that would be a perfect place, you never know whats around the corner !

  10. It doesn't have to stay a dream, even now! It has been my dream for years - and my shop opens 5 weeks tomorrow! Plan, plan and plan some more, and eventually it will happen! Best of luck to all of you who hold onto this dream!

  11. If you decide to go on with thsi space maybe you can rent to own. We can do that here so some or all your rent will be put on the price if you do decide to buy it at a later date. Lots of luck.

  12. Build it and they will come. :)

  13. Nice to hear I am not the only one who dreams "impossible" dreams. Good luck. One day it will happen.

    Peggy H.

  14. Go for it !! Do it now !! When you want something so badly that you can taste it - it will work out !! I think that people will hold tight to their "hobbies" - like quilting, the thing that probably gives them more satisfaction and peace than anything else. I will give up new clothes, new things for the house, traveling,(except to quilt shops) I can keep going with my quilting and sewing. Good luck with this... I think it is YOUR time !

  15. I am online also and would love to be a brick and mortar. It is so hard to justify the expense. I hope it works out for you.

  16. I say go for it. If things get a bit tight you might consider renting the front rooms out to help cover costs, or, if the owners are desperate to sell make a much lower offer (after all 5yrs is a lot of rates to pay on a building you want to get rid of). It comes down to believing in yourself & your business but you wont know until you give yourself a chance. Wouldn't you be happier knowing you gave it a shot rather than wishing the days away?

  17. If none of us had dreams what a sorry world we'd live in - sometimes dreams are the things that inspire us to explore ourselves and sometimes we actually develop and get closer to the dream in the process
    Good luck and if it's meant for you, you will get it in due course

  18. Hold on to your dreams. I know that you are a wise and patient woman. So it's up to you when to take the plunge. I have total faith that you will succeed in what ever you choose to do, because you will MAKE it succeed. Live large!

  19. Is lack of space prevents to do?
    If it is a dream to have a business
    publish a good book on the stitch or sell the publishing rights to 5letnyuyu publication, your knowledge of just what can help you realize your dream.

  20. Leah..thank you so much for your utube videos..I am trying free motion quilting for the first time really and I had a real disaster on my hands! Now I have practiced what you shared..and I have HOPE!
    I am an artist(as are you) in Saluda, NC and I would love to meet you in person one day:)! About your dream? I have co-owned two galleries Michigan and recently in my town. I can say from experience that it is a joy talking and sharing 'in real time'. Have you considered showing other artists works/quilts? and beginning a c0-op place? where other folks shared the expenses? Hope you consider it because your dream is worth exploring ALL possibilities:)! Meet you soon I hope!

  21. In Torrance, where I live (just south of Los Angeles) we've had a couple of fabric stores close in the last five years-- and others spring up to take their place. The successful ones resemble your dream-- they hold workshops, have wonderful samples to preview and one even has a Singer sewing center where they teach you to use your sewing machines, embroidery machines and sergers. You could consider teaming up with a sewing machine sales team or with a repair service to offset the costs.

    After watching you the last few years, I think this is a dream that's well within your reach, if you're careful and think it through. And I'd love to visit.

  22. I would be one of the first to be very cautious about starting a business in this economy.........but
    I also think I am not you, energetic you! If you have a succesful on-line business now, couldn't/wouldn't you still have a sucessful on-line business if your storefront didn't work out? Just a thought.
    I also encouraged my husband to encourage his daughter to follow her dream of fashion design school. She never finished her last semester of college, but is designing and selling clothes 4 years later, good for her!
    There is/was a local on-line quilt shop near me. She also invites her customers to stop in and shop in person, in groups, or just pick up their order so she doesn't have to box and ship it. She still sells, but has quit buying new fabric to become a fabric sales rep. Her dream is evolving.
    I hope yours evolves into the dream of your future, lol, what ever that means.
    Happy 4th to you and your family.
    blessings :o)

  23. A dream is always something to hold on to, its what gets us through the bad days.
    I would sound a note of caution... people I know who run shops or teach, often end up fully occupied, to the extent they don't have time to make their own work - only samples or examples for the workshops. Meeting and sharing with people is good, but if it takes away from something else where is important, you will need discipline to maintain balance.
    If this building has large workshop space, consider hiring it out to other art groups, painters or other stitch genres. A group who regularly meets would give you a regular income Or even as an exhibition space. If you want a break from workshops, then a two week exhibition in the space would mean it wasn't stagnant space. I know some shops which reserve one wall/area purely as an exhibition area for others, again a source of income. I've been to scrapbooking stores where they have a cosy sit and relax area, primarily for those who have to bring along the shopper - ie the husband sits himself down in a comfy chair, gets a coffee, the paper and chills, whilst the wife shops! You could combine the two, chill out zone, with guest artwork on the walls.
    Dream the dream.

  24. I say go for it. The back "bedroom" could serve as a retreat space for quilt quildes, that would help pay the rent. If you can add more to your shop along the way such as fabric or kits that would help even more. Quilters travel, they'll find you. You sound like you have enough drive and ambition, you'll make it work.

  25. I'm with you! I've been driving by my dream property for almost 20 years now. Three story brick barn that could be renovated into an amazing studio/class/dormitory/retreat center.


    I still need to wait for more of the little ones in my home to fledge...

    I'm willing to be patient.

  26. you should also contact the gals at In Good Company - a store/studio in Montana. They have a very unique business model that I could see working well for you.

    Tell them I sent you - or send me an email and I'll give you the details I know.

  27. So fun that you had a visitor!! I think it would be great fun to stop by and meet you someday too! I'm jealous!

    Good luck with your dreams and goals for your business. I'm sure you'll do well, whatever you do!

  28. Just thinking out loud here, and I haven't read all your comments, so sorry if I repeat something already said.
    Perhaps, since the place has been for sale for 5 years, you would work out a deal with the owner. Something like an affordable base rent, which would be something you could pay without too much of a stretch. You could then work out a system whereby as you got busier and more established, your rent could/would go up by a percentage of your gross receipts, to a max amount which would be something HE would strive for. I'm sure there are various ways to do this, but you both get a deal initially and can build to something you both want.

  29. I'm certainly no expert and I'm just thinking out loud...I would think the concern to having a b&m location is that you will find your pool of students isn't large enough to sustain having a permanent location. Maybe try renting a local gym or cafe from a nearby church or school for a few workshops...if you can see that the demand is strong and growing perhaps making the leap would be justifiable. Just a thought. Of course you teach already so maybe this isn't a concern. It is just what comes to my own mind :)

  30. Leah, you have more common sense than any person your age (other than my daughter) that I have ever seen. You make smart decisions, but I can foresee a time when you son is grown and your business has succeed to the point that finances will not be the major concern for you and Josh. Keep dreaming and I will be looking forward to attending a Leah Day workshop in her own space one day! I know this is an old post, but I value each post that you make and go back and read them over and again.

    Love you,


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