November 1, 2010
Seven months have passed since both of my parents died; five months since I started writing my book, and only two months since its debut in Sandusky, Michigan on September 11. When my sister, Katie, and I decided to self-publish, we printed 500 books with only vague plans on how to market and distribute. We took this advice, “Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” Before we landed at the bottom of the cliff, my brother, Gordon, and his family followed like a band of Lemmings. My poor husband Lon, who always has his ducks marching in a row towards an explicit, well planned goal, stood at the top of the cliff wringing his hands and shaking his head.
I joined him in all the hand wringing and brow sweating the night I stood before an audience in Minoa, New York on September 27, to present my story and read a chapter from my book. Prior to Minoa, I had spent two weeks in Michigan spreading the word of my book. My success at small libraries in my old, hometown, community was due in part to name recognition. My parents were well remembered and my sister and her husband are recognized and respected in the community.
I graduated from high school in this farming community where sugar beets, corn, and soybeans pays the mortgage on the farm and puts food on the table. Years ago, my Junior High prom date, Trig Trigger, drove me to the dance in his pick up truck. We were all farm kids; I thought nothing of the unusual mode of transportation. Not much has changed over the years, it’s still a community where everyone knows everyone else’s business but is polite enough not to mention it as they drop off a casserole because your momma just died.
Two weeks of book promotion in quaint farming villages was somewhat of a flag waving “old town girl does well, and comes home” event. My high school history teacher, Ms. Pries, and my journalism teacher, Ms. Magee, sat in the audience offering support. High school class mates listened to my readings and my mother’s friends hugged me tight. It was any author’s dream community. My sister stood by my side as we shared our experience as caregivers and took turns reading a chapter from my book at several presentations.
In Minoa I took the stage alone. Del, my brother in law, wasn’t in the back row offering his support like he did in Michigan. Katie was not by my side ready to step in should I falter and need help. I did have Gordon and his family, and faithful Lon, who always plays well the part of supporting, adoring husband. In Michigan I had a feel for my audience; I still recognize the smell of farm country and the people it supports. I pondered and fretted over what type of audience I would have in Minoa. Just who would come out on a rainy night to listen to my story? The torrential, hurricane driven, storm was so intense, news-casters were warning people to take precautions and stay home.
Ever the farmer’s daughter, I ‘planted’ Mom and Dad in my audience. I put Mom in the front row where she was ready to waggle a finger at me should I sound boastful and proud of my writing accomplishment and not give my immediate family credit for the support they provided. If I ignored her advice, she would be armed and ready with a quote from the big book of rules with something like, “Pride go ‘eth before the fall.” Dad stood humbly in the back by the door in his worn foundry uniform pocked with holes from welding sparks. His sausage sized fingers fidgeted with his cap. He arrived late and was ready to leave early to get to his welding job at the G.M. foundry in Saginaw, Michigan. It was the same position he took when he came to hear my sister and I play concertos at piano recitals. In my heart, my parents are always with me when I talk about my book, but tonight I wanted them as members of my audience. They were as real to me as all the strangers that faced me and wondered what I had to offer.
I began my talk on wobbly knees and a bit of a crackle in my voice as I read from my book and shared my experience as caregiver. With each word I relaxed; faces became people, smiles and giggles offered kindness, and tears flowed like soft whispers telling me I was among friends. The storm didn’t deter a sweet group of twenty people from hearing my tale. Each person came to me afterward to offer kind words of support and purchase my book. But two women stand out: Angela, a lovely woman with a soft English accent, made my head swell from so much praise that the ghost of my mother’s waggling finger appeared to keep me humble. Then came passionate, beautiful, Nancy; Nancy greeted me as if I were her long, lost, puppy from childhood. She was excited about my story and wanted to share it with her boss who owned a fabric shop.
Remember at the beginning of this story when I said Sis and I didn’t have a plan for marketing and distribution? Well, a blind man would have recognized the potential in Nancy’s offer. Without deliberation, I handed Nancy a book and an apron, thinking, “Go forth and multiply”. In twenty four hours I received an email from Nancy inviting me to Calico Gals fabric store to meet her boss Janet Lutz.
Hold on now, this is where the story really gets good.
Lon and I arrived at Calico Gals on a Sunday afternoon just as their “Quilting, Football League, Super Bolt Party” was getting underway. Nancy was busy at the cutting counter with a customer, but she ran to meet me with a big hug and all the warmth of a homemade blueberry muffin.
Janet was intrigued with my book but was also interested in what part the aprons played. She listened intently as I explained how I donated aprons to libraries that were willing to put my book on their shelf for circulation and agreed to keep books on hand for patrons to purchase. I encouraged the libraries to accept silent auction bids on the apron and use the proceeds to benefit their library--a fabric ‘thank you’ from me for what they were doing to help. My sister and I had sold several aprons after our presentations at libraries with all net proceeds from the book and aprons going to support organizations that provide respite care for families tending to their loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Throughout my explanation, Janet nodded and listened with concern before she finally asked, “Is the apron pattern a Vanilla House Design?”
“Wow”, I thought, she really knows her stuff. My answer was a timid, “Well, yes. In fact it is.”
“Have you talked to Barbara Brunson, the woman who owns the copyright on the pattern?”
My heart was beating hard as I answered, “Um, no. I haven’t.”
“Well, you should,” she advised, “I know her, and I’m sure she will have no problem with you using the pattern, but you owe her a phone call.”
I wanted to explain to Janet about the cliff I had jumped off. I hadn’t intended for the aprons to wrap their ties around my book and help it fly. It was actually the brain child of Katie’s sister-in-law, Edith, who suggested we display the books and aprons together at her bank. Next came libraries, an Oktoberfest, a memory walk, a church, and a four minute T.V. segment. Kate and I even wore aprons when we gave our presentations. Janet was right; we owed someone a phone call just to make sure we were not violating copyright laws.
Apron issues aside, Janet was enthused about my book and agreed to place it in her store; it has done well there. Hindsight has such great vision; now it seems like a no brain-er to use fabric and woman as a way to market and distribute. Women, who tend to be caregivers, also understand the magic of fabric and how working with it offers thoughtful moments of meditation.
I left Calico Gals on cloud nine; two strangers, two women who love fabric and sewing as much as I, had just embraced my book and cause. Lon, who had stood back and watched the entire exchange, was just as astounded, “Gwen,” he said, “that was incredible. Did you see how excited those women were, how well they connected with you? This is where your book should be, in fabric stores.”
Yeah, I thought, but the gray cloud of the impending phone call I needed to make hung heavy in the air. My book had just started to get off the ground via the wings of apron ties. What if the copyright owner said, “Cease and desist!”
How silly of me to under-estimate the generosity of women who sew.
I dug through my sewing supplies to get my pattern, found Barbara Brunson’s name and phone number, punched her number into my cell, took a deep breath, and then relaxed as Barbara, in a cheerful voice, agreed to listen to my plight. I rambled on about how my mother helped me sew aprons, I had written a book, the aprons were on the cover, I was donating aprons, selling aprons … and on and on. The cloud of doubt disappeared as Barbara responded with enthusiasm. She was thrilled to know her apron pattern was being used for a worthy cause and gave her blessings, “You and your sister can go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing.”
Before our conversation ended, she invited me to be with her at the International Quilt Festival in Salt Lake City in May of 2011. I readily agreed to meet her at the event and promised to mail her a copy of my book. A week later she sent my sister 12 apron patterns, a donation to our cause -- Kate had several women begging to volunteer their sewing talents to our project.
If the threads of my story ended at this point of the weaving, I would be happy enough. But two women, Karen and Sharon, from Thimble Pleasures in Chapel Hill, North Carolina offered some threads of their own to this tale of women, fabric, and generosity.
I walked into Thimble Pleasures and wanted to roll in a puddle of the beautiful fabric on display. However, I had business to attend to. As my friend Heather, slyly skirted around bolts of fabulous fabric to hear how I presented my book, I stumbled through my greeting. I’m not sure if it was Karen or Sharon who interrupted my rambling presentation with, “I’ll do anything for Alzheimer’s, my mother has Alzheimer’s.”
I relaxed a bit, remembering that when you are among fabric you are among friends. And, when you meet someone who has experienced Alzheimer’s you are facing a soul who understands the ragged, ugly, seam it brings to a family.
Thimble Pleasures has a talented group of women minding the shop, they decided to order a supply of Barbara’s apron pattern to sell with the book as a couplet. Each day a different sales person is designated as the live model and wears the apron while they work. Walking, talking, human bill boards--what a great idea!
Now why didn’t I think of that?
December 18, 2010
The creativity at Thimble Pleasures sparked a few ideas of my own. I can’t be everywhere, but I do have friends and family scattered around the country; why not ask for help and enlist them as book ambassadors? With their help, my book is on display at fabric shops in Ohio, Arizona, and Alaska.
A library in Stirling, Scotland offers my book to their patrons and around the globe, at similar latitude, the Chugiak-Eagle library board in Alaska agreed that it deserved a place in their stacks. Every week, with the help and generosity of family and friends, a new door opens.
Lon and I are in Florida now; settled in and waiting for my parent’s property to sell. Florida’s real estate market and economy is one of the worst in the country so we may be hunkered down for awhile. It’s an opportunity for me to set up some speaking engagements, sew aprons, and distribute books.
Quilter’s Quarters, a fabric shop in Zephyrhills I loved to wander through with mom, readily agreed to display and sell my book. In historic Dade City, a sweet fabric shop called Quilts on Plum Lane has offered to sell my book. With each fabric store connection, my book wings get stronger and the contributions to respite care continue to grow.
If only my parents could see how Mom’s story is helping others--they would be absolutely delighted.
Fabric stores who are helping me with my project:
3906 New Court Ave
Syracuse, NY 13206
Corn Wagon Quilt Co
303 East 400 South
Springville, Utah 84663
Dina’s Cozy Cabin Quilts
10901 Mausel Street
Eagle River, Alaska 99577
Lady Bugz Quilt Co
302 S Main St
Montrose, Colorado 81401
308 South Union Avenue
Pueblo, CO 81003
225 South Elliott Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
51 Verde Heights Dr
Cottonwood, Arizona 86326
4833 Allen Road
Zephyrhills, Florida 33542
Quilts On Plum Lane
37851 Meridian Ave
Dade City, Florida 33525
Sew Inspired Quilt Shop
8 Wilcox St
Simsbury, CT 06070
228 E Pine St