As a child, Julianne Walther would sit under her mother's sewing table, picking up fabric scraps to turn into dollhouse curtains and doll clothes. She tried her hand at sewing clothes for herself, but they never came out quite right.
Nearly 20 years ago, she picked up a how-to book on quilting. It took four months for her to complete her first quilt.
"After that, I was pretty much hooked," she tells me. Quilting became a hobby for Walther as she moved to the Triangle, welcomed her four children into the world and became a stay at home mom.
In 2005, around the time Walther's youngest child was about 18 months, her husband wondered if there was any way she could make some money to support her "quilting habit," as he calls it. He helped her put together a rudimentary website and Patchwork Memories was born.
"It started right away," she said. "Immediately, I started getting orders." Cary quilter pieces together people's life stories
In her first year, with a six-year-old, four-year-old twins and a two-year-old under foot, Walther made 90 quilts. She worked during their naps and in the evening, not wanting her needles and other sharp tools to get into their hands.
Today, Patchwork Memories, which she runs from her basement, is a full-time job. She's hired a handful of other women to help her with orders. Last year, Patchwork Memories made nearly 200 quilts.
The business focuses on turning customers' prized T-shirts or treasured clothing or cloth into quilts or stuffed memory bears. Her T-shirt quilts, which incorporate a collection of T-shirts, are popular with parents celebrating the graduation of their high school or college student. She's gearing up for her busy season as orders come in to be completed before spring graduations.
Customers for her memory quilts and memory bears often are mourning the death of a loved one. Hearing those stories of loss was hard at first for Walther.
"It took a lot of emotional energy for me," she said. "It helps to know what we're doing is going to be helpful, is going to give them peace and is going to be a good memory."
Walther said the business wouldn't have been possible without the strong support of her husband. It also helped that the family wasn't relying on any income from the business.
"Since I was out of the work force already, everything was icing," she said. Now her earnings pay for vacations and school, among other things.
And though she spends most days busy working on other people's quilts, she still enjoys making personal ones too. Her studio is lined with ribbons won at the N.C. State Fair (though her seven-year-old daughter wants it noted that she took home a blue ribbon for her quilt in a youth category while Walther came in only second in her category this year).
In addition to all that, Walther still finds time to train for marathons and take a Spanish class for fun.
How does she do it?
"I use every minute of every day," she said.
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