An Interview with Quilter Katie Haas

My husband and I were talking about how long we've known Katie and which one of us knew her first. I think John wins because he knew her in college and I didn't meet her until 2004 when I started dating John. The great thing about being friends with Katie is you get her family, too. Katie is the middle of three sisters, all five years apart, and incredibly close. They're the kind of sisters movies are written about. And then there's the men. If you asked John to name two of his favorite people in the world, they would be Katie's husband and Katie's dad.

So Katie does something I am thus far incapable of doing. She makes things. And not just anything, she makes quilts. Do you know how hard it is to make a quilt? Katie's quilts are actually very similar to Katie, they're colorful, whimsy and absolutely lovely. These aren't your great-grandmother's quilts. These are sleek, modern quilts that look like something out of West Elm. Meet today's bitch, Katie Quiltin' Haas!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I make quilts and sell them under the name Becalmed Sewn Goods and Quilts.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I consider this more of a hobby than work (I have a Monday-Friday job that keeps me occupied for 37.5 hours a week). I took a Sewing 101 class in 2011, and at the suggestion of my fantastic teacher, I followed up with her Quilting 101 class. She knew how much I loved fabric and had a sense that it would be something I’d enjoy. Up until that moment, I thought quilts were for grandmas, and I wasn’t really aware of the wonderful world of modern quilts. My eyes have been opened to that universe and I haven’t blinked since! 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I’d dabbled in other hobbies over the years, like decoupage and knitting, but nothing ever stuck. Something clicked when I learned how to sew – first in Sewing 101 (where I made a tote bag, zipper pouch, and a few other beginner-friendly projects) – but as soon as I finished my first quilt, I knew it was something I’d be doing for the rest of my life. I love that quilting is such a storied, historical art form and that the end result is a beautiful, useful item. 

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

Over the years, I’ve made throw-sized quilts for my immediate family. And many, many baby quilts for friends’ babies. I usually wait to start a project until I have an intended recipient in mind, that way I can cater fabric and/or color decisions accordingly. This year, I had some sewing down-time and made a couple of quilts “just for the heck of it”.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

In the back of my mind, I always thought it would be neat to get a booth at a craft show or make custom quilts for people. A few months back, a friend contacted me about making a Queen-sized quilt to give as a gift. The moment she paid me for my work, I felt legitimized and thought I might be able to sell more quilts.

I’ve cataloged all the quilts I’ve made on a blog, not to show off what I’ve done, rather for personal remembrance and archiving. The “business” is still in its infancy. I haven’t been proactive in promoting myself. I still have quite a bit of organizational work to do. Because of my day job, I am keenly aware of how much time I have (or don’t have) to devote to sewing, so I haven’t been able to drop everything and dive head first into this venture. In a perfect world, I’d get one or two custom baby quilt orders a month. I’m not out to get rich, but I enjoy the thought of having something to offset my fabric purchases. 

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I read a few articles about placing a value on your quilts, not just the cost of materials, but the cost of your time, too. People often ask me how long it takes to make a quilt; there are SO many different variables and this figure can range anywhere from 8 hours to 100+. It takes time to pick a pattern (or design something on your own, there’s math involved). It takes time (albeit FUN TIME!) to choose fabrics. Once that’s decided, more time is spent ironing and cutting fabrics (basically, hours and hours of work before you even get to turn on the sewing machine!) So, once you calculate materials + a basic wage for your personal time and effort, that can equal folks balking at the price. Why should someone spend $250 on a baby quilt if they could go down to Target and buy a cute blanket for $30? 

Also, some sellers really low ball the quilts they offer on Etsy, and it perpetuates a cycle of undervaluing (i.e. why is this baby quilt $75 and that one is $300? Because the person selling the quilt for $75 probably “charged” 25 cents/hr for their work). One of the articles said, “We are the keepers of our worth”. That’s why it felt like a small victory when my friend paid me more than minimum wage for my time and effort. I knew I deserved it, and she did, too. 

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Figuring out how to stand out amongst a sea of talented quilters, especially those who have way more notoriety and exposure, e.g. book deals, fabric lines, teaching gigs, etc. 

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Remembering to keep my mind open and acknowledging that there is not a singular tried-and-true way of doing anything. Every time I sew, I learn a lesson, whether it’s a time-saving shortcut or a new technique or skill. A lot of times, I feel like a newbie who’s barely grazed the surface.   

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

Thankfully, there’s a little tool called a seam ripper, so no mistakes are permanent! 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Sew more. 

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

Using up prized/special fabric in quilts. That probably sounds silly, but there is a whole underground world of fabric hoarders. Fabric hoarders of the world buy a yard or two of a print by a favorite fabric designer, then it sits on a shelf for a few years because we’re too afraid to cut it up, because you can no longer find any for sale. And if you DID find some for sale, some nut on Instagram wants $50 a yard for it. There’s a whole Instagram hashtag, #thegreatfabricdestash devoted to selling and trading prized or unwanted fabric. I’ve been trying to use up my precious stash because I don’t want to turn into a crazy person. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

I get warm fuzzies whenever I see a picture of one of my friends’ babies snuggling with the quilt I made for them. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email, then Instagram.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

There is no shortage: Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and fabric shops, both online and real world.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Sewing, bike rides and sitting on the couch with my husband and kitties.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Staying on task when the world is filled with distractions. 

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Can I pick 3? Arrested DevelopmentFreaks and Geeks and Curb Your Enthusiasm. For snacks, lately it’s been these homemade chocolate-covered coconut bars. Popcorn’s pretty great, too. 

All photos courtesy of Katie Haas

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  News Producer, Mary Katherine Rooker!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

Half Ironman 70.3 Series

An Interview with News Producer Mary Katherine Rooker