salty oat spotlight: julianne walther

This is the second in a series of monthly interviews with inspiring and creative people---including fabric designers, shop owners, quilters, and other makers. You can find all of the previous Salty Oat Spotlight interviews here

Today, I'm so excited to introduce you to Julianne Walther, the owner of a fabric shop and t-shirt quilt company based in Cary, NC. I first met Julianne last summer, while living in North Carolina, and I had the opportunity to piece a handful of t-shirt quilt tops for her company. Read on to learn a bit more about how she got her start, the crazy number of things she accomplishes in one day, and her personal connection to American-made fabrics.

 Image source: Julianne Walther
Caitlin: Tell us a bit about your background and how you got your start. What was the path that led you to where you are today?

Julianne: I have always sewed. I remember sitting at the foot of my mother's machine, playing with her pins and tomato pincushion. She taught me how to sew clothing for my dolls and little things for my dollhouses. I made clothing for myself in high school and in college. Shortly after college, I grabbed a DIY quilt book and followed the directions. I was hooked!

Fast forward about 10 years...I'm married with four little ones between 1-5 years old. I'm not the type that sits around well, so I decided that I needed a little something extra to do with my time while the kids were napping or after their bedtimes (ha ha!). My husband built a small webpage advertising my new little side business of making t-shirt quilts. I immediately started getting orders, and Patchwork Memories was born.

The business grew and grew. Seven years in, Patchwork Memories had a staff of nine people working to create the quilts and memory bears that we offered. Some worked from their own homes, and some worked in my home with me and our pets. We simply needed more space! My favorite local quilt shop, located on the main street in our little downtown district, had closed when the owner retired. The building had been vacant for a couple of years. It seemed like a great place to move Patchwork Memories. We took a tour (though I already knew the building well!) and made the big decision to move to a retail space.

As soon as we started to move things in, eager quilters began knocking on our door, wanting to know when we were going to open "the quilt shop." Everyone seemed to want a quilt shop back in the historic home. Who was I to deny quilters fabric? We quickly made a plan and opened a quilt shop on the first floor of the house. In January of 2013, Cary Quilting Company opened its doors to the quilting community. Two and a half years later, we are scrambling for space for all of the pretty fabric that comes in. I now own two thriving businesses and those four babies are now teens and preteens! Life is never dull for me! 

Image source: Julianne Walther

C: What does a typical work day look like for you?

J: There is not really a "typical" day for me! Yesterday, I shipped two Patchwork Memories quilts, one to New Jersey and one to Minnesota. I longarm quilted two more Patchwork Memories quilts. I designed a custom t-shirt quilt, I took in five longarm quilting orders, I did some embroidery for clients, placed a few orders for the shop, and generally ran around answering questions. Today, I wrote a shop newsletter before 8 am! I've been cutting fabric kits for the shop, placing re-orders, helping our Inventory Manager check in 30 bolts of brand-new, pretty fabric, and the list goes on and on! One thing is for sure: it always revolves around fabric and quilting!

Image source: Cary Quilting Company
C: Tell us a bit more about your store, Cary Quilting Company. What does the shop itself look like?

J: The shop resides in an historic home built in 1930. The house has tons of character, but tends to be a bit drafty. Local quilters love it, because the house is synonymous with quilting, having been home to quilting shops for about 40 years.

I love many different types of fabric, so you'll find batik, modern, reproduction, solid, novelty, blender, and Daiwabo fabrics, and plenty of sale fabrics as well. We also have every surface covered with patterns, precuts, books, gifts, and other must-haves. It's a fun explosion of color and inspiration---I always tell people that it's a much prettier environment than being at home!

Image sources: Cary Quilting Company and Julianne Walther

C: How do you decide which fabrics and notions to carry on your shelves? I see that you sell American Made Brand solids. Why is it important to you to carry domestically produced products?

J: Choosing fabrics is one of the hardest parts of my job! I know what I love, but I have to guess at what my customers will love too. I often get input from other staff members and even customers sometimes when it's hard to make a decision. The other hard part is stopping! When we were first getting started with the shop, we ordered a ton to fill the shelves. Now that we have nowhere else to put anything, I have to be a bit more selective when I order. It's not uncommon for fabric sales reps to roll in several suitcases full of samples, so it's hard to say no sometimes!
American Made Brand fabrics were a no-brainer for me. My mother grew up on a North Carolina farm, and my father grew up in a South Carolina mill town. American-made fabric provides jobs to people in our communities. Some of the cotton grown for that line of fabric comes from Carolina farms---that means so much to me! I was moved to enter the American Made Brands Farm to Fabric challenge last year, and my quilt was chosen to travel as a part of the exhibit (still traveling)! I'm looking forward to entering this year's challenge too.
C: Do you have any general advice for other creative entrepreneurs about starting and running a fabric-based business? What's been most successful for you? Least? Any recommended resources?
J: Expect to work more often and much harder than you're planning or hoping, because the jobs are never done (Believe it or not, I'm typing the answer to this question in a doctor's office waiting room right now! Seriously, the job never ends!). It's so important to love what you do---without the passion, it's not much better than any other job, I would imagine.

I believe in treating people well, and that goes for my coworkers and our customers. I surround myself with positive people who share my enthusiasm for fabric and quilting. Community is a big part of our shop. Our clubs (Quilt a Murder, Mystery Quilt, Block of the Month) and classes are a big part of fostering our quilting community, with which our businesses can thrive.

In terms of resources, I rely on the opinions and experiences of quilters around me. I never took a business class or ran a business before suddenly owning my own, so I'm not much help there! I think that treating people well and sharing kindness goes a long way. People know when you care about what you do, and if you're sincere and genuine, people see that too.

 Image source: Cary Quilting Company

C: What’s Cary, where your shop is located, like? Any favorite places to shop, eat, or spend time with your family?

J: Cary is a great place to live and work! It's been rated the third safest city in America. It's the 19th best place to live in America according to It's the third best place to start a small business. It's one of the most educated cities in America. The schools are great, the town is beautiful and clean, full of arts, cultural resources, greenways, and entertainment.

Our family actually had the option to move anywhere in the US with my husband's job several years ago, and we just couldn't find a reason to leave Cary. It's an amazing place to raise a family. Our shop is located in the heart of downtown Cary, on the main street, Chatham Street. The shop is within walking distance of the Arts Center, the library, the Cary Theater, many restaurants, the train station, and much more. You'll have to come visit!
C: Where can people find you online? Do you have any upcoming events or classes you'd like to share? 

J: We have an exciting set of fabric dying classes coming up in July! Kelly Hutchens will be visiting from Kentucky to share her techniques with us.  You can find our classes online here. And most of our shop is available online here. We also have Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Thank you so much to Julianne for her thoughtful answers. I hope you'll stop by her shop if you're ever in North Carolina!