Lisa Maki’s name is known throughout the quilting industry as *the* woman who brought new life to Pellon®’s Quilter’s Grid On Point. Though her sewing history goes back to her youth, her true passion was born out of a stack of beautiful fabric and an introduction to a fabulously helpful product. Lisa now owns and operates her own company, Crooked Nickel Quilt Designs. She is an educator and an advocate and is on a personal quest to show the world just how easy it can be to create a beautiful quilt. She has been an inspiration to many and we’re so pleased that she took a few moments out of her busy schedule to chat with us.
Pellon Projects: How did you first get started with sewing?
Lisa Maki: Eighth grade home economics is where I my sewing education began. It must have been a good experience because I followed it up at home. My mother was not a seamstress but did have a sewing machine for us to use at home. She would allow us to do whatever project we wanted and paid for all of the supplies, with the condition that we had to finish the project before she would buy anything more. She was never critical of the stitches or assembly, she just asked the we finished what we started. I’ll get into this in greater detail later as it was really a large inspiration for me and helped me get to where I am today.
PP: What was your driving inspiration?
LM: This question has brought up a lot of memories, things I haven’t thought about for a very long time. I believe that I’ve always been confident when I’ve sat down to sew a project. It never seemed to matter at the end whether or not the project was as successful as it could have been, it was just important that I did it. In high school I made a valentine prom dress from a pattern and added an accent of red boa feathers around the neckline. It seems that I always added something extra to the projects I made, I guess to make it more special to me. I was always eager to make curtains and valences for the homes we lived in, to make them more cozy and give them my personal touch. My greatest pride came from sewing children’s clothes and Halloween costumes for my two girls. It’s an amazing feeling to create something, know that you created it and share that with others. It brought me a tremendous sense of pride.
There is this one project I took on, thinking that it might be a challenge, but feeling that I could handle a challenge once in awhile. No matter how difficult, I would always finish, even if I had to step away for a time and come back. I heard about a small quilt shop, located in a small farming community about 85 miles away from where I live, that offered quilt classes, carried wonderful fabrics and was welcoming to beginners. It was there that I signed up for my first class back in 2004. The class was called Endless Stars, which was rather poignant since this particular project has not yet come to and end, unless you consider the end to be lying in a plastic tote! The class was not for beginners. I was in over my head, over my budget and overwhelmed! On my drive home from the class I had lots of time to process what I had experienced and I have to say it wasn’t great. I really thought I could work on the Endless Stars at home but once I got out of the classroom I could barely figure out what was the wrong and right side of the fabric, no less sew a quarter inch seam. I was deflated. I put the beautiful fabric and instruction book in a brand new plastic tote at the back of the closet. Though it sometimes feels like it was just yesterday, it’s now been seven years and there the tote sits. I never want to forget how it is to be overwhelmed in the quilting world. My experience is what fuels my company, and guides my customer interactions. I never want them to have to experience that truly deflated feeling that I felt.
PP: I’d love to hear how you came to discover Pellon®’s Quilter’s Grid and how it has shaped your career as it exists today.
LM: I was introduced to Pellon® Quilter’s Grid On Point at a quilt store after visiting the hospital to see a very dear friend who was losing her battle to cancer. Looking back, I understand the draw of a fabric store under such sad circumstances — it was the comfort that the fabric gave to me and the solace of not having to explain why I was just looking. I would never get in over my head again in a quilting project again, right? Well, on my path out of the quilt shop I saw some beautiful fabric and it was already cut into squares, one step avoided. As I made my purchase, I asked the nice clerk what quilt project these squares were being used for. Her answer started with a question, “Are you a quilter?” I responded, “No.” This is when she pulled a bolt of Pellon® Quilter’s Grid On Point from under the counter, and said to me, “Well, even you could do this”. Her explanation sounded simple but I was not taking anything for granted… another class was in the game plan. I spent every free minute I had to make the project successful. There was no pattern to follow so I kept going to the quilt shop to learn the next step. It didn’t take long to start seeing results. It inspired me to keep plugging away. Before I knew it, the lap size quilt top was finished and to my amazement it looked pretty darn good. When I took the quilt top back to the quilt shop to get it machine quilted, I bought more fabric squares to make another quilt. I asked again about purchasing a pattern to follow and the response was, “There isn’t one, no one would write something that simple.”
That comment inspired me to make note of everything that I did while making my next quilt top. If no one had written this technique on paper, then I would! If I could make a quilt using the Pellon® Quilter’s Grid On Point then anyone could, no experience required. My first quilt pattern was in the beginning stages.
The excitement in my journey of making quilts and completing quilt projects using Pellon® products is heightened not only the Pellon® name and brand recognition, but also with the level of creditability that goes along with it. They started with products for garment sewing and now they are so much more. Pellon® has been extremely supportive of my technique and my business, helping me to pursue this great venture with ample encouragement. Their product is starting point in the construction of my patterns. The Pellon® company has always stood for superior quality, valuing the polished finished project in a style that we grew up with. They are now continuing into a generation that looks for convenience and quality with their “made by hand, from the heart” projects.
PP: Tell us a bit about Crooked Nickel Quilts and what it stands for.
LM: Crooked Nickel Quilts is “FAST, SIMPLE and PERFECT.” It is all brought together with the Quilter’s Grid On Point. Fusible products have been in the Pellon® production line for a very long time and the advantage to a fusible product is that with the application of a hot iron a FAST result ensues. The simplicity of Crooked Nickel Quilts goes hand in hand with Quilter’s Grid On Point. The fusible interfacing is pre-marked in a grid-like fashion. You simply follow the lines and iron the fabric to the interfacing. The perfection of Crooked Nickel Quilt patterns takes place when the fused quilt top can be folded right sides together, following the grid markings and fabric layout design with no guess work as to where the fold should be. Seams are sewn from one edge of the fused quilt top to the other, going in one direction throughout, then the fabric is refolded and stitches are finished up in the other direction. This makes easy straight seams that are enclosed within the fusible interfacing. You will experience instant gratification seeing the seams match up without ever using a straight pin.
PP: What inspired you to write your first pattern?
LM: My patterns are a reflection of my experiences, a result of what I’ve learned along the way. Knowing the frustration that I felt with complicated patterns, I make sure that there are good diagrams and early to follow written text, appropriate for even a beginner. I will be the first to admit there is not one project that I’ve done using my technique that has brought me more pride and self-confidence than that very first quilt top. I carry that quilt with me and it is one of the highlights of my presentation.
PP: What are your favorite and top-selling patterns?
LM: Crooked Nickel’s top selling pattern is the first one I published, “And Your Point Is…with a twist”, using 5”x5” squares for your fabric pieces and strips of fabric for sashing that border the squares. The sizes in the pattern go from baby quilts to queen quilts.
The pattern that has taken off like wild fire is “Memories to a T”, the perfect T-shirt quilt. This was such an exciting pattern to write and make because once again I had never done one. When I was first approached to write the pattern, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to do that – old T-shirts, in a quilt?? But someone told me that my technique was perfect for working with the t-shirt/jersey material. Because it would be fused to the grid before any sewing took place, you wouldn’t have to stabilize the t-shirt fabric first. What a concept! FAST, SIMPLE and PERFECT. What I found out in a real hurry was that the typical customer buying the pattern wasn’t a quilter but more often just a Mom making a quilt for her child out of old sports or activity t-shirts. The quilts were memory pieces. This brought a whole new type of quilter/sewer to the industry. When she was successful with the quilt, she might move onto another attainable project. I must say the stories I receive from customers who have purchased and followed “Memories to a T” bring tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart. Many of the stories are about a loved one’s passing, and the creation of a quilt from treasured t-shirts. I’d like to think I made a different in their lives, helping to honor their loved ones’ memories. Maybe I truly made a difference by helping them to honor the memories of their loved ones. There is nothing that makes me more proud.
PP: I know you travel a great deal, educating all levels of quilters and sewers on your technique. Any thoughts? How do you feel about being the expert?
LM: Going across the country as I do, I meet all levels of quilters. I have seen the wide-spread acceptance of a simpler and faster non-traditional quilt-piecing technique that yields stunning results. We are all short of time it seems, but the yearning to make and share projects that come from our own hands is a passion that goes back centuries. I can make that achievable for any one that has even a remote desire. There will always be a new technique around the corner to improve the industry, but there is no one person who has worked with Quilter’s Grid On Point more than I have in the last six years. I can answer the questions and I can be the product expert. I’ve made mistakes, fixed mistakes and learned from every one of them.
I have written 14 patterns, taped two PBS sewing episodes, and filmed an instructional DVD. A visual concept is something with which many people can identify. It is something I take great pride in. When I travel the country to quilt shows, we always have a demo table showing the technique in stages. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people will shout out “Hey, even I could do that”, to which I respond “Of course you can!” or “That’s amazing”. Come and join the fun!
PP: What do you love most about teaching?
LM: Although my professional career changed after 29 years of being a cosmetologist I do believe my hidden love was teaching. I have always wanted to share my ideas and have never been afraid of speaking in a group. That said, one of my great pleasures in this new career is having the opportunity to teach my technique through the Crooked Nickel Quilt classes. So far, I have had classes ranging in size from 2 to 22 students, and I love it no matter the size. It is the end result that is so satisfying – to watch my students finish the project they signed up for and leave knowing they can do the next one without me.
PP: Any final words about how this career shift has changed your life?
LM: My life changed course when I made that first quilt using Pellon®’s Quilter’s Grid On Point. There is not a word in our vocabulary that will start a conversation faster than the word “Quilt”. It may be about the one we have, wish we had or yearn to make. I decided then, I had to go show the world that anyone could make a quilt and have a story to go with it.
We’d like to thank Lisa for taking the time to chat with us! We loved hearing her story and more about what has inspired her business. For information about Lisa, head to her artist page on pellonprojects.com or check out her website, Crooked Nickel Quilt Designs. Learn more about her story here, and find out if she’s teaching in a city near you right here.