Business

Heritage Designs Quilting a 'destination shop' in Amana

Chris Davies (left), owner, works with Jane Bazyn of Victor as she shops for fabric at Heritage Designs Quilting and Nee
Chris Davies (left), owner, works with Jane Bazyn of Victor as she shops for fabric at Heritage Designs Quilting and Needlework in Amana on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Many of the sample quilts in Davies’ store are made by Bazyn, who also will take part in an upcoming Quilt Amana show at Price Creek Event Center. The store, which has been open 44 years, sells a wide variety of fabrics and supplies for sewing and needlework projects. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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AMANA — “Behind most quilts is a story,” Chris Davies said. “It’s either helped them through some emotional thing, or it’s reminding them of a loved one or something special going on in their life.”

Davies, an Amana native, started working at Heritage Designs Quilting and Needlework in 1981, five years after her mother, Karen Oehler, opened the shop.

“It was primarily needlework,” Davies said. “Some knitting, needlepoint, cross-stitch. She taught at the national level.”

After starting in a small retail space, Heritage Designs moved to an addition to Oehler’s home in the 1980s. About a decade after Oehler died in 1995, Davies moved the store to its current location, a repurposed 1895 granary.

“My husband spent two weeks on a ladder with a leaf blower, cleaning out the ceiling,” Davies said. “We tried to leave as much of the old working pieces of the barn in here as we could.”

Davies estimates the move increased Heritage Designs’ floor space by about a third. And the old barn’s 14-foot ceilings allow Davies to display dozens of sample quilts on the walls and overhead, showing off pattern and fabric manufacturers’ work.

“In the old shop that had the eight-foot ceilings, it was hard to hang much,” Davies recalled. “Here, it’s perfect for display, and we dedicate a lot of man-hours to making new samples to inspire creativity in people.”

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Donita Simmons, Davies’s daughter and sole full-time employee — Davies has four part-timers — said the displays have become something of a trademark.

“The look on people’s faces when they come in,” Simmons said. “They’ve been in dozens of shops, and when they come in, they’re just, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ It’s awe-inspiring to see so much hung up.”

Davies discovered what became a Heritage Design specialty in the late 1980s, when a fabric manufacturer debuted fabrics created through the batik process.

Originated in Java, batik produces colored designs on textiles with dye after applying wax to the parts to be left undyed. The technique offers vastly wider choices in color and patterns.

“Everything available to us was little, printed cotton,” Davies said. “I was enthralled with them. They looked different from anything I’d ever seen.

“I felt the world would embrace it, so I bought this whole collection of batik fabrics. Now we’re known throughout the Midwest for our batik selection.”

Simmons added that, “The fact that we have a larger inventory is a big deal in the community. Some of the other needlework shops in the area have gone out of business recently.”

Most of the sample quilts displayed at Heritage Design are the work of local resident Jane Bazyn, whose two decades of work inspired Davies to organize Quilt Amana 2020, the town’s first-ever quilt show.

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“It gets to the point that hundreds of quilts in a house is too many,” Bazyn said one recent morning at the shop.

Set for April 3 through 5 at the Price Creek Event Center across the parking lot from Heritage Designs, Quilt Amana will sell quilts by Bazyn and other artists as well as offer fabrics and supplies. Amana Arts Guild members will demonstrate traditional Amana quilt techniques.

“It’s an event we think can bring another audience to town,” said Davies, who hopes to make it an annual event.

Year-round, Heritage Designs’ location in one of Iowa’s most popular tourist destinations brings a steady stream of new customers. Regulars come from about an 80-mile radius, but some make annual pilgrimages from Canada and Alaska.

In 2009, shop was designated a national Top 10 quilt shop by Quilt Sampler Magazine.

“That set us as a destination shop,” Davies said. “People traveling on (Interstate) 80 will stop in.”

Davies fills some orders through Heritage Designs’ website, but lacks the time or staff to fully exploit the online market.

“We’re constantly changing inventory, so managing online inventory would be huge,” she said. “It’s safe to say we get in over 1,000 new bolts of fabric every year. Managing a website was too much for me. When you’re a small business you’re wearing every hat. And we’re a small business that’s open seven days a week, 360 days a year.”

The shop is busiest July through October — Amana’s peak tourist season, when hobbyists stock up for wintertime projects.

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“Our people are producing in the fall for Christmas,” Davies said. “When other stores might see an influx, it’s not our busy time because our (customers) are working on their projects.”

Davies added she offers quilting retreats.

“A group of people will meet at a hotel or someone’s house and spend several days. That’s when I get most of my quilting done,” she said.”

Do you know a business that might make for a fascinating “My Biz” feature? Contact us at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

• Owner: Chris Davies

• Business: Heritage Designs Quilting and Needlework

• Address: 614 46th Ave., Amana

• Phone: (319) 622-3887

• Website: heritagedesignsquiltshop.com

If you go

• What: Quilt Amana 2020

• When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 3-4; 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday, April 5

• Where: Price Creek Event Center, Amana

• Cost: Admission $5

• Details: heritagedesignsquiltshop.com

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