A love of quilting is often the inducement for opening a quilt shop. But not always—when Mary Honaker opened Apron Strings, she’d never made a quilt.
In fact, she couldn’t sew a stitch.
Things have changed in the nearly ten years the Maysville, Kentucky, shop has been open. “I was smart enough to hire some fantastic ladies who could sew anything you wanted,” says Mary. “And I’ve picked up and learned a lot of skills.”
Though she didn’t sew, Mary had always loved fabric—she’d buy it, roll it up, and put it in baskets, creating vignettes to decorate her home. Her interest in owning a quilt shop, however, grew from more than just a fondness for textiles. When she was growing up, Mary’s family had owned a grocery store and customers were considered family. In Maysville, where she taught high school video production, Mary didn’t know many people and saw opening as shop as a way to recreate the community feel of her youth. When a couple of art galleries opened in town she thought about an art supply shop, but then the local Ben Franklin closed and there was nowhere to purchase fabric. “I thought ‘Fabric is an art supply’ and my store turned into a quilt shop,” she says.
For the shop’s first six years, she worked at her day job full time. Four years ago the shop moved 20 miles down the road from Flemingsburg to Maysville and around that time Mary quit her day job. “ I wanted to know that win, lose, or fail, I’ve given it everything I can. It’s given me the chance to make the store look and feel like I’ve always wanted.” That look includes lots of “bright and happy” Moda fabrics, including those by Kate Spain, Basic Grey, One Canoe Two, and Bonnie and Camille.
The move also seemed to bring in more newbie quilters, and many classes at Apron Strings focus on quick projects that teach sewing skills. “They’re generally one session, so people can jump in and see if they like it,” says Mary. “People come in wanting to make something, but not necessarily wanting to learn to sew. We try and meet people where they are.”
Quilters new and more experienced have lots to choose from in the shop, and there’s an ever-changing array of fabric and tools. Mary loves rearranging things and thinking up new displays. The precut wall is a good example—precuts in the shop were bagged so they wouldn’t “shed,” but Mary didn’t want them to look sterile. So she designed holders that keep precut samples visible and appealing.
Mary also enjoys creating special events for her customers, who come from nearby small towns, as well as the larger cities of Cincinnati and Lexington. Two years ago she brought Pat Sloan in to teach and talk and last year Jenny Doan shared her skills. This April, Moda’s own Carrie Nelson will be at Apron Strings, teaching classes based on her Miss Rosie’s patterns. One evening she’ll share her expertise in a talk about designing patterns and fabrics and the proceeds from the event will go to support the local women’s Crisis Center.
Donations also come from entrance fee to a three-hour Blow-Out Bonanza sale at the shop, and from a regional quilt show that runs concurrently. Mary makes a point of exhibiting work by experienced quilters and newcomers alike. “We have some phenomenal quilters in our region and when you see their quilts you might think ‘I could never do that,’” says Mary. “So I harass my new girls to put their projects in because I want people to think “I could do that!’ All quilts touch you in some way—they’re colorful, inspirational, tactile, and comforting.
Emotions like those build community, and quilt shop ownership has given Mary the relationships she’d been missing. “People have a baby and they’ll bring the baby in, or if someone needs to unload about something going on in their life, they’ll come in,” she says. “It’s not just a matter of commerce—we’re important to them and they’re important to us. We’re part of an extended family and I think that’s pretty awesome.”