SIOUX CITY | The clean, geometric, sometimes black, sometimes gray works of art draping beds and walls today are not your grandmother's quilts.

Borders and flowers are out. Solid colors and modern designs are in.

"They're not as into what you think of as floral applique," Jane Vereen, a quilting instructor at Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company, said of the women in their 30s who are taking up quilting because they want to make a special keepsake for their new baby boy or girl. "It's not necessarily a country look anymore."

That country look, however, is still popular with traditional quilters. Although quilting continues to grow in popularity, Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company owner Ann Brouillette, said the average quilter in Sioux City is between 60 and 80 years of age.

A 2014 Quilting in America survey found that there are more than 16 million active quilters in United States who spend a whopping $3.76 billion a year on the fiber art.

"(Quilting) just keeps getting more and more popular. I think a lot of it is due to Pinterest," Brouillette said of the image-collecting site, which is also frequented by artists, crafters and foodies. "We'll get young people and older people who are retiring and want to take up quilting."

A lost art

As a child, Brouillette said she loved going to the fabric store to pick out patterns.

Brouillette's mother made all of her clothing, and she, too, picked up sewing. But at age 16, Brouillette drifted from making clothes to quilts.

"My first quilt was made out of all the leftover fabrics from making clothes," said Brouillette, who went on to major in fiber arts at Iowa State University and has been in the quilting business for 20 years. "I've been quilting ever since."

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Home quilting

Quilting instructor Jane Vereen displays a quilt constructed from precut strips of fabric at Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company in Sioux City. The quilting supply store has seen a steady increase in the number of people pursuing the decorative and functional art.

Vereen also got her start sewing her own clothing in junior high and high school. Quilting didn't appear on her radar until a friend asked her why she had never made a quilt. In the early 1980s, Vereen she sat down with a small group of young, newly married women to quilt for the first time. She found a supportive, social atmosphere in which to learn to piece together a blue and white calico quilt with muslin.

"One of the women in the group taught us one block at a time," she recalled. "It just kind of took off from there. I just enjoyed having something come together under my hands that didn't have to fit my body."

This process of hand-quilting, Brouillette said, is a lost art.

Today, quilters bring the top of their quilts, as well as the batting and the backing, to Brouillette's store, 3011 Hamilton Blvd., to be stitched together in a pattern that runs across the quilt. A computerized quilting machine does the work, because frankly, Vereen said most women today don't have time to hand-quilt.

"It's really changed the face of quilting because people can do the part of quilting that they like the best, which is piecing the top together," Vereen said. "The machine will stitch the stitching. It can be an overall complete same pattern over and over or if you're really, really good at the computer part of it, you can individually place changes in the pattern all over it -- that's called custom quilting."

Getting started

A first-time quilter sees a beautiful photo of a finished project on Pinterest, walks into Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company and points to her smartphone asking, "How do I make this?"

While Vereen finds quilting to be a soothing, stress-relieving activity, she said not everyone will see it that way.

"A lot of them have stuck with us. We see many, many of the same people," she said. "Once in a while, we'll get someone who'll say, 'This was not for me.'"

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Home quilting

Owner Ann Brouillette sews a binding onto a quilt at Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company in Sioux City. The quilting supply store has seen a steady increase in the number of people pursuing the decorative and functional art.

Brouillette cautions beginners to start small with a table runner until they learn how to put together the basics -- squares, half-square triangles and flying geese. They'll also learn the process of adding borders and sashing and the basic terminology of quilting.

"Don't make your king-sized quilt," she said. "You'll start and you'll give up because you won't know what you're doing. It's very overwhelming."

Brouillette said you'll need the following supplies to quilt:

  • Sewing machine (cleaned and oiled)
  • Cutting mat
  • Ruler
  • Rotary cutters
  • Pins
  • Small scissors
  • Thread
  • Seam ripper
  • 100 percent cotton fabric
  • Pattern or pattern book
  • Iron
  • Ironing board

Making a basic queen-sized quilt, Brouillette estimates would cost about $350 -- which includes fabric and professional machine quilting. Landscape and abstract art quilts, which are hung on walls like paintings and entered in quilting competitions, cost much, much more to create.

Although Vereen said quilting instruction videos are available on the internet, she said independent brick and mortar quilting stores are the best places to learn how to quilt.

"We help them with problems they're having with construction of the quilt. We offer space back here if they want to use one of our machines to work out what they're doing," she said. "It's a hobby. It's supposed to be fun. If it's causing you to pull your hair out while you're home because you can't figure out what the instructions say, we don't want that."

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Home quilting

A detail of a section of a quilted table square, part of a beginner class project, is shown at Heart & Hand Dry Goods Company in Sioux City.

Fabric selection is something Brouillette said new quilters struggle with. She can point them to a wide selection of precut fabric that lets them skip hours spent with a scissors. These precuts are called layer cakes, jelly rolls and charm packs, depending on their sizes.

"They're ready to sew together. If you wanted to sew one to the other, you could," Vereen said. "Lots of times we just take a pack of 5-inch squares and have (customers) start sewing them together in rows. We teach them how to press correctly and sew the rest together until they have a cover the size they want."

Vereen said the time spent cutting, sewing and pressing is worth it.

"When you're working on something for hours and hours at home and you bring it in and you stand up in front of other appreciators and hold it up and they all go, 'Ooh! Aah!' you're back at that sewing machine the next day," she said.

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Health and Lifestyles reporter

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