Just off Interstate 30, in Alexander, Arkansas, sits a sweet white house. Though it’s got an acreage and pond behind, it’s what’s inside that entices visitors: fabric, and lots of it.
Charlotte Williams opened Pinwheel Fabrics on May 1, 2004, and 18 months later moved it from its original strip mall location to this cozy abode. “I always thought a house would be more quaint, and quilt shops are destinations, so this seemed perfect,” she says. While a fireplace and other architectural details were part of the building’s original appeal, today they’re barely visible beneath the plethora of fabrics and notions. Currently the house is chock full of 3,000 bolts of fabric and stacks of precuts, while two rooms showcase sewing machines and longarms.
Though small business ownership can be challenging, Charlotte has self-employment in her veins—her father owned both retail and contracting businesses and her husband was a contractor. Sewing is also part of her heritage—her mother was the youngest of 13 children in a “rural and rustic” Arkansas family and Charlotte gained inspiration from the quilting done by her aunts. Though her mom taught her sewing basics, Charlotte says her quilting skills are largely self-taught. She thinks her mom, like many Arkansans, had an attitude about sewing that grew from a childhood when stitching was done out of necessity. “Too many people HAD to sew and didn’t realize it could be enjoyable,” she says.
But enjoyable it is at Pinwheel Fabrics, where the classes range from simple sashed pinwheels quilts to more complex Block Boot Camp and Double Wedding Ring quilts. Customers include beginning and more advanced quilters, who come from nearby Little Rock and Hot Springs, as well as the smaller towns in between. Numerous local guilds, each with 100-plus members, also shop at Pinwheel Fabrics. Since 2006 Charlotte has designed a Saturday Sampler—a Block of the Month based on a theme. They’ve ranged from patriotic to black-and-white to 30s fabrics to batiks and an average of 100 people finish them each year. “We’ve got a group of 10 to 20 women who have completed at least eight of the ten we’ve done over the years,” she says.
Fabric is what got Charlotte into shop ownership—she opened her shop when she couldn’t find locally the variety of fabric she needed to finish an appliqué quilt—and it’s what keeps her enjoying every day. “Someone asks me what to do with a certain piece of fabric and I’m ready—I can’t wait to figure out that challenge,” says Charlotte, who keeps a large selection of Moda fabrics on her shelves. “I’m partial to BasicGrey, Me and My Sister, Kansas Troubles, Holly Taylor, Zen Chic—oh, there are just so many!”
Charlotte also appreciates Moda’s speedy service—many orders arrive within 24 hours of placing them—and she likes the versatility of Moda fabrics and patterns. “If we run out of a Zen Chic fabric for a quilt you can often substitute one from another line. That’s so helpful.” (Shop employees call their fabric rep, Robert West, “the gentleman salesman” for his quiet, courteous manner.)Pre-cuts are favorites in the shop, with charm squares, mini-charms, and jelly rolls topping the popularity charts. “I made a table runner kit with a little background fabric and some mini- charm squares and I sell those constantly,” she says. “The kits make a great gift for friends who sew or people stitch them up for non-sewing friends.”
When she’s not designing kits and teaching classes, you’ll find Charlotte stitching shop samples. “I’m a very fast sewer and I like a challenge—I used to make a quilt every weekend,” she says. She also participates in three guilds and loves making mini quilts. “I once shocked a woman when I told her I sewed every day, that I don’t watch any TV, I just sew. There’s no question, quilting is my passion.”
Stop by Pinwheel Fabrics if you’re driving along I-30 (exit 124) or visit them online at pinwheelfabrics.com or https://www.facebook.com/PinwheelFabricsQuiltShop.