Sharlene Jorgenson




Sharlene Jorgenson




Sharlene Jorgenson


Karen Plummer

Interview Date


Interview sponsor



Houston, Texas


Joanne Gasperik


Karen Plummer (K P): [interview begins mid-sentence.] ...Karen Plummer and speaking from the International Quilt Festival November 4, 2000, and the time is 10:10. I am interviewing Sharlene Jorgensen. Tell us about this quilt that you brought today, Sharlene.

Sharlene Jorgensen (SJ): Well, the first quilt patterns that I ever designed were for the Double Wedding Ring, which to some that might seem strange, because it is probably one of the most complicated quilts in the industry to make. However, I fell in love with the design because it happened to be our 25th wedding anniversary the year I started making it and I wanted to make it for our anniversary.

KP: How long did you have?

SJ: I started it the year of our 25th.

KP: So, you'd had a full year--

SJ: Yes. I attended my first quilt show in Minnesota back in '88 and doing some research I got some patterns, and I went home and played with them, and I had a terrible time making the design. I was just lost. So, I decided at that point maybe I should start to create my own patterns, which my husband thought it was just about as far out as anything could go. He was very doubting about my idea; he said who in the world would ever want to buy your patterns. You haven't got any background or anything. But I convinced him to it least let me try a little bit, and it has turned out to be a very successful venture for us. In the very beginning, I started working in my home off of the kitchen table. Then I moved to the south porch which was just like a little sun porch and then pretty much took over the whole house within a year's time. And now I'm fortunate to have moved out of the house, and we have opened up a quilt shop 12 years later, which includes our whole line of products, my design studio; we have a classroom. My goodness it's just full of everything, the mail order, the Internet orders come in through there, and it's really just kind of the whole network under one roof, so it's really been 'a dream come true.'

KP: So, you have a large design center in the shop?

SJ: Yes.

KP: And do you spend most of your time designing vs. quilting?

SJ: Not enough. The sad part of my story is, even though this is my hobby, I don't get time to do as much of my hobby as I like to, because it has turned into such a large business network. However, when I get back home that's going to change after this show, and I'm going to lock myself into my studio and let the store go on its own. They're just going to let me sew and get back to what I really like to do.

KP: Well, why has Festival changed you on that, when you said, "When I get back from Festival?"

SJ: Because I am under pressure to produce the 13 new programs for March taping for the TV show. I have a TV series also. And come March, I have to be ready to tape those.

KP: Can you expand on that just a little?

SJ: When I started the business of making templates, which I have the first set of templates along, and you'll find them very interesting. Actually, I have my first book along and everything. This was the first idea that I had, [Sharlene is demonstrating.], and I felt like a broken record demonstrating them at every guild meeting that I went to, and everywhere I went, and decided that maybe I should get bold enough and start my own TV show. Thinking that if I did that, I wouldn't have to be this broken record and talk as much and that the airwaves would take over what I was tired of talking about. Not that I was bored with it, but sometimes you just say it so many times it just becomes, [sighs.] I can't think of the right word --

KP: Redundant.

SJ: I was going to say 'redundant.' I still get really excited about it, as you can see the first template set is very crude, it was cut with a meat saw, and it has the very long piece in it and I thought okay for speed cutting I would stack my fabrics six layers high, [Sharlene is demonstrating.] and lay the template on top, then I would first cut, I would just keep working along this piece that resembles a snake, seam allowances included and I could speed cut. From there I decided, well I wanted to include pieces that go into the end of the arc so I take that one out first and then I would come with these pieces through here, and this one would be the end one down here. This first set of templates was not computer drafted like my newer ones are, and if course my writing was quite crude. The day I went to press with this book, I decided it needed a picture on the cover and I thought, 'Okay I'm going to call it,' let's see what my name was, I had Shar's Prairie Patchwork at that time, that was when I was operating out of my kitchen, and I saw a wind mill, and coming from mid Minnesota this is what my logo started out as, and I named the templates at that time "Quick Strip." Since that time, I have started the TV show and I gave the TV show the name "Quilting from the Heartland." The reason we eliminated the name Quick Strip was because we were attending a show in Paducah, Kentucky and my daughters were with, and Marines were onshore, and they were riding the elevator with us and the gentleman said, 'Hmm, Quick Strip, what do you do?' And Angie looked at me, and she said, 'Mother, we're changing the name of our company today.' She said, 'I will never wear a Quick Strip badge ever again.' So, then we decided to switch to "Quilting from the Heartland" at that point. When I started the TV show, I put everything I had accumulated in the beginning of my business into the first TV production. Pretty much, I put everything on the line. It was either make it or break it that point. For me it turned out to be a very good venture. I haven't talked any less since that day, in fact it's only perpetuated to be a much more involved business, but it turned out to be a very good thing.

KP: Back to basics on these, I can see how you would design this, but did your husband then help you with finding a manufacturer who cut your stencils--

SJ: In the very beginning he was very hesitant. He said, 'Well, let's just make 10 sets.' He really just didn't see the need for them. He thought that was really a strange idea. I said at that point, 'Honey I'm not listening to you this time. I'm going to go ahead and manufacture them, first 10 sets, and I just want to see how it works out.' I took them to a guild meeting, and I sold them all and I got cash. Being a farm wife and never been in business you can't imagine how excited I was to have sold something that I had thought of and designed. And I had worked one whole summer on producing this crude book that I have in front of you. It is poorly put together but it was one of those things where you do cut and paste, and everything in here is very, [chuckles.] very crude. But it got the point across, and since that time, I have revised it several times, I don't remember the number of times. I am now very proud of the book and templates.

KP: Nice.

SJ: But you see that the packaging is very different. It is a very well-known pattern and I think when the day comes and I'm not around anymore, that's what I'll be known for, it is the Double Wedding Ring for sure.

KP: Did you do your own marketing?

SJ: Yes. Now, to go back to the point about my husband not supporting me with the idea in the beginning, he turned out to be my best, most encouraging member of the team. He was very, very in favor of it. Oh, he saw that it was a good idea.

KP: So how many years has it been now?

SJ: Only 12.

KP: 12 years. You have come from making your own templates to a major production, that's great.

SJ: Yes, and they're still a lot of avenues yet, that we're working on.

KP: At what age did you start quilting?

SJ: I learned how to sew at a very early age. Grandma was very patient with me. I learned on a treadle machine. Growing up, my mom and Grandma would have quilting bees at the house, so it was at least once a month I would go to somebody's house, if not our own after school and there would be a quilting bee going on.

KP: Do you think that was a result of being in a rural setting?

SJ: Definitely it was a social event. That was how the ladies got together. That was where, they had all day; it was morning lunch, noon dinner, you call it lunch, I know it as dinner and afternoon lunch and then for supper the men would come.

KP: So how many years were you married before you started really getting involved in the quilting bee?

SJ: 25 before I started, I have sewn my whole life, since I was old enough to hold a needle. I have four children and I've sewn all their clothes, until they were teenagers and learned about design labels in garments. And I was not able to fool them anymore, not necessarily fool them but they wanted to be like the rest of the kids in school and have the design labels. So, I said, well then, I'm going to start with quilting. And quilts didn't talk back, and I've stayed there ever since. [laughing.]

KP: It's a good story.

SJ: It's very easy to make a quilt, because you don't have to follow the size of your body anymore, I mean it doesn't matter what size you are if you're a 10 or a 16. For me that's really difficult because I change every year. [laughs.]

KP: So how many Double Wedding Ring quilts have you made?

SJ: I have no idea--

KP: Do you machine or piece--

SJ: I machine piece, and machine or hand quilt.

KP: Let's talk about the design of this one; can we see the backside of it as well? This was your very first--

SJ: This is not my first quilt.

KP: No but it was one your first.

SJ: This was the first pattern that I ever started. This is the backside it's not very interesting. The first one that I did was a scrap Double Wedding Ring like this. And I was really uninformed about color placement and putting the right textures together. I'm sorry I couldn't find it because it really was pretty hilarious. But I had a lot of missing teeth in my Arcs, and I was very conservative in my color choices for connecting corners, I didn't allow myself to be free enough with color, because I grew up in a very conservative setting, it was hard for me, I didn't really have a good color background, but that has changed over the years. I will think for the most part people like what I do.

KP: Sharlene was this an original design on quilting, or did you use a stencil?

SJ: Yes, I create stencils as well, and I have branched out into my own line of stencils, and this particular stencil is continuous line for hand or machine quilting. And when you look at this stencil, it looks very involved but there are 24 ways that you can use this one particular stencil so it's a very diversified pattern. It is my number one selling stencil.

KP: Do you sell internationally?

SJ: Yes, on our web site they can go in and place orders. Well like any web site about 24 hours a day. We have about a million hits a month. They can watch our program off the Internet, downloading any of our "Quilting from the Heartland" programs anytime of the day that they want to at no charge, so they have access to all our programs all the time.

KP: Excuse me, Sharlene use said "a million a month?

SJ: A million hits every month. Yup.

KP: So how do your children feel about the business now, versus when they were teenagers wanting you to not sew for them?

SJ: Oh, they're all on the team.

KP: I'm sure they are.

SJ: They're back running the store today. It was my birthday this week, and they decided to have a sale while I was gone, in the store, kind of a Christmas sale or what ever you may call it. And they're all dressed up in Santa Claus and holiday things today when I'm gone.

KP: So, do all of your children live in that area?

SJ: Three of the children lived within two blocks of the store.

KP: And they work there?

SJ: And the fourth one comes in once a week and does some books for our other business, farming. Because she is an hour away, it is kind of hard for her to be there all the time, but in the past, she has done a lot of traveling on the road with it shows and stuff.

KP: So, it's a very family-oriented business.

SJ: I have 10 girls working in the shop, and we do classes in the store. We have 25 sewing machines, Viking sewing machines, I have [inaudible.], set up in the classroom and they're all Designer Ones. It is a state-of-the-art classroom. When people come to take classes with us, they don't have to bring even a rotary cutter, a ruler, or a pin or thread or anything. They just come, sit down and we teach them to sew. Last summer we had six-year-olds graduate from quilting class, and we take them up to any age, and we take them whether they have never held a cutter before, or whether they're advanced. When I get home, two weeks after I arrive home, I am teaching Viking educators from all over the world to teach my methods.

KP: That's incredible.

SJ: Do you think so? It's overwhelming actually--

KP: Well, since there has been such a demise in teaching of home economics in the high school, on junior high level in the past decade or two, the fact that you're taking them at age 6 is a tremendous feat and I think that's a great age to start teaching them.

SJ: Actually, I find the six-year-olds really easy to teach. We put little boxes under the pedals, and they sit up to the machines and they automatically grow up 10 years, because you give them the respect, and they know that they are doing something that's quite amazing. They are so well behaved, and they are so excited to be there, that it's really enjoyable. The hardest part about teaching them is their attention span is about one hour. So, you really have to do fun things to keep them excited, but they can't wait to come back.

KP: So, they're just one-hour classes, or do you take a break?

SJ: We like to do two hours, but they have a hard time, you know they get tired then, so then we say 'Ok, Jessica it's time to take a nap, or do you want to come back next week and work a little more?' We had graduation for them, and that's really fun. They all finished, right down to the binding, it's fun.

KP: Tell us your feelings about machine quilting versus hand quilting, and do you think they should be in separate categories when they're being judged?

SJ: I'm excited about both styles of quilting. There are some quilts, I think, that looked better hand quilted, and I think there are some quilts that really look better machine quilted, especially if you're getting into the thread painting and so on. They should be in separate categories. To be a machine quilter and do free hand work is it a very involved art. I wish I could do it as well as some of them do. I know who some of the better ones are and, so I like to write a check when I want it my quilts machine quilted, because I really don't do justice to that part of quilting. I can hand quilt, and I'm content with what I can do, but I am just learning machine quilting in fact. I like it. I think there's definitely a place.

KP: Well, since you have made so many quilts, have you submitted any for competition?

SJ: Only once--

KP: Only one time. Can you tell us about that?

SJ: I just entered my first one into a Paducah show, and it made it into the show and to me that was the most unbelievable thing that could ever happen because, I hadn't entered any competition before. I made a Lone Star, and it made it to the finals, but I really fell apart at the point of putting binding on, so now I've learned how-to put-on binding. But they said the design and the quilting and everything was very nice it was just, I had very bad binding. [chuckles.]

KP: Well do you still machine stitch half the binding and hand stitch the other half?

SJ: Yes. What I had done was, I had my binding too wide and this one is cut two inches wide on the bias. In the beginning I had all whole lot of area in the binding that didn't have batting in it. I took it all off when I got home, and I changed it. Now I know what was bad, but I had never been to a quilt show prior to that, so I really didn't know what it was supposed to look like.

KP: I know this is terribly important, this is probably your entire life and you and your whole family are involved, but--

SJ: It is my whole life.

KP: Can you give us a few comments about that, and what your future holds for your business.

SJ: I see a tremendous future in quilting still, because of the age of people starting to sew. I see the age dropping. When I started in, they always told me I was too young to do what I was doing, and that, 'why would I do this?' And that was only 12 years ago. Now I see young girls coming into the store and at the show, and it's really fun to wait on them. So, I love it even more than the day I started. It's what I like to do. I like to work with fiber and designing and I think within 2 years, you'll see probably a line of fabric that I'm working on. So, that's my next venture.

KP: Well, you have a very busy life it sounds like with a lot of support.

SJ: It's full.

KP: Yes, very full. Do you have any other comments, before we complete?

SJ: I suggest anybody that has an idea to go forth and pursue it. I see new things all the time. I would encourage anybody to start in this line of work. It's very, very exciting, and there's room for everybody. There are all kinds of styles and even though it's very competitive in some ways, I just say there is room for everybody's idea. Because there are enough people out there to do what you do.

KP: Thank you very much, Sharlene.

SJ: You're welcome.

KP: This concludes our discussion today with Sharlene Jorgenson, Saturday November 4, 2000, Houston, Texas at 10:35. Now we have to go to Photography.

SJ: Oh, no!



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