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One of America’s best

By ANDREA FURLONG

needle
From left, Woolen Needle store owner Mary Blythe and employees Brenda Hooper, Annette Boland and Carla Brinkman prepare a quilting kit at the Woolen Needle June 4. The business will be featured in the fall issue of Quilt Sampler magazine as one of the top quilt shops of 2010 across the U.S. and Canada.

A Williamsburg business has been named in the top 10 of its kind in the United States and Canada.

The Woolen Needle received word from Better Homes and Gardens four months ago that it was chosen to be among the top 10 quilt shops of 2010 featured in the company’s fall issue of Quilt Sampler magazine. But, the store has had to keep its title a secret until recently, when Better Homes and Gardens announced the fall winners at the International Quilt Market May 21-23 in Minneapolis.

Being named in Quilt Sampler’s top 10 is like winning the “Oscar of the quilting world,” according to Woolen Needle employee Carla Brinkman and store owner Mary Blythe. So, Blythe was not only elated, but shocked when she heard that the shop was chosen from over 3,000 eligible businesses, because most shops are chosen via an application process, and the Woolen Needle had never applied.

“It’s a lengthy application and we decided we just didn’t want to do it. Plus, we kind of felt like it would be tooting our own horn,” Blythe said.

Shortly after being notified of their nomination in February, Blythe and the rest of her full-time staff (Carla Brinkman, Annette Boland, Brenda Hooper and Julie Zuber), had two weeks to develop three original designs for the company. Better Homes and Gardens chose to feature the shop’s smallest design — a cornucopia print made primarily from wool that measured approximately 2 feet by 1 foot.

“We think they chose the wool project because we’re unique in that we dye our own wool,” Blythe said.

Since it opened in 2006 on the southwest corner of the Williamsburg square, the Woolen Needle’s main unique selling point has been its hand-dyed wool and yarn. Blythe explained she prefers to dye the wool herself, in order to provide customers with a wider color palette.

“A lot of the mills don’t produce specific colors, so if we need a color we make it, or we can use color to turn an ugly color of wool into a pretty piece. It’s not like cotton fabric where you can find all the colors of the rainbow,” she said.

Hand-dyed wool is not the only original product at the shop. All quilting designs sold in the store come from Blythe’s imagination, with personal touches by Brinkman, Boland, Hooper or Zuber.

“No design in here is done by just one person. It’s generally a collaboration,” Blythe said.

While the top 10 title doesn’t come with a tangible prize, Blythe said the business it will generate over the next five years is reward enough.

“It’s a title your shop can use forever. They say the effects can last for five years — the amount of traffic that comes into town and the extra business is pretty substantial, I guess,” she said.

After the magazine hits news stands in September, the shop is projecting its out-of-state clientele, which currently makes up 50 percent of its sales, will greatly increase. Staff from Quilt Sampler magazine suggested the store prepare up to 500 kits of the featured quilt and a couple hundred of another quilt used in a background shot before the issue is released.  

“We went from making three kits to thinking we would have to make over 200, and that’s not even the main quilt,” Blythe said.

Blythe said she expects the publicity from the magazine, which is sold nationwide, to also benefit other Williamsburg shops, since the magazine always includes a list other businesses in the community of each top 10 quilt shop.

“It will not only impact us, but hopefully it will impact the rest of the square and other local businesses,” she said.

Blythe added, though the title is any quilting shop’s dream to win, it was not on the list of the Woolen Needle’s goals for its business.

“We did this as a way to do what we love and share what we love. We never anticipated getting an award like this. We’re just moms trying to teach people and help people with the art of quilting and rug hooking,” she said.

Information on the nine other winning shops will be released in the fall 2010 issue of Quilt Sampler.

UPDATED June 9, 2010 3:07 PM

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