116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Her work’s been accepted for the world’s two biggest exhibitions, but Megan Bracy more or less stumbled into quilting in her mid-20s.
“I had just graduated with my master’s degree and I asked my mom for a sewing machine so I could make some home decorator things like curtains and pillows,” Bracy said one morning earlier this month.
“I did some of that and I made one quilt, and that was it. Quilting was my thing.”
Her talent for the homemade blanket that became an art form led Bracy to build a studio in the basement of her family’s Marion home. There she stitches the finishing touches to others’ work on a long-arm quilting machine — a piece of specialized equipment that looks something like an industrial loom.
Owner: Megan Bracy
Address: 2355 Acacia Ct., Marion
Phone: (319) 981-0726
“A customer brings me the quilt top, which is what people think of as a quilt,” Bracy explained. “Then I add the batting, which is the fluffy stuffing, and the back, and then I load it all together and I quilt the design and that’s what holds it together.
“What makes it a quilt is the quilting that holds it together.”
Mounted atop the frame holding the quilt pieces is what’s essentially an outsized sewing machine that travels laterally across the frame’s width.
A laser pointer can trace the pattern of stitching chosen by the customer to hold the quilt together.
“I can manually trace this and try to make it as close as I can,” Bracy said. “Some customers like that because they can choose their pattern and they know exactly what they’re going to get.
“The custom work, that I make up in my head as I go and I can make up a pattern.”
Bracy charges by the square inch, with premiums for custom and heirloom-quality designs. The machine can handle quilts up to 10 feet wide, to any length.
“My friend calls it quilting by checkbook — finding somebody who has a more professional setup to (finish) it,” she said. “I sell a service.
“Somebody sewed that (top) at home, they brought it to me. The batting they can buy from me, or they can bring their own, and they bring their own backing. I provide the thread, and basically the service.”
That service is worth it to customers who want to speed the exacting, often tedious process of finishing a quilt.
“The setup is quite expensive,” Bracy said of the machine. “If you don’t want to do it as a business, it would be a big consideration to purchase that just for your own use.”
Bracy launched Dancing Elephant Quilts in 2013, the same year the Dubuque native and her family moved to Marion and a house they selected to accommodate the business.
“That was the main criteria for a house, that it had to be big enough, because this machine takes up a lot of space and I need a whole studio,” she said.
“We chose this house because this was a media room. I thought, that’s perfect. I can bring customers in, I can have my own space.”
Bracy practiced on the big machine before accepting others’ work.
“For the first two years I had it, I only did quilts for myself or charity quilts that were being donated,” she said.
“It was a good solid two years before I felt comfortable doing something for another person. It’s quite a learning curve.”
One that Bracy’s mastered. Two of the quilts hanging on her walls were shown at the 2017 International Quilt Festival in Houston. They also were accepted in 2020 for the world’s other big quilting convention, at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky.
“And then the show was canceled,” she said. “So sad, but just getting accepted, that’s a big deal.
“That’s why I made that quilt. I wanted to see, could I make a quilt that’s good enough to send to a show? That was for myself.”
One of those quilts took Bracy 120 hours to finish.
Bracy also restores old quilts.
“I had one lady, her son is 40, and she brought me his baby quilt,” she said. “It was all ratty, a kid’s quilt. She asked, ‘Can you take this apart and reuse the top and remake it?’
“I’ve made T-shirt quilts for people. I’ve made some memory quilts for people.”
Many customers bring completed designs for Bracy to finish. She works with others to design a piece often intended to hang in a specific space.
“It’s definitely a mix,” she said. “Some people don’t know what they want, and we can talk through an idea. Some people say, ‘I have no idea, do whatever you like.’ Some people come with a really specific idea: ‘I have a picture and I want it to look like this.’
“People choose their fabrics and colors and that’s what makes it match their room.”
They can be art, but many quilts still are meant to be utilitarian.
“You would want to spend less if it’s a quilt for your couch that you’re going to use and wash and dry,” Bracy said.
“Most quilts do get washed, for sure. All of my quilts that we actually use in the house get washed just like any other blanket because we have four pets and three kids. At the end of the day, they’re blankets.”
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