Quintessential quilts: Spicer woman, who draws inspiration from great-grandmother, is 2019 Quilter of the Year
SPICER — At one end of Heather Peterson's sunlit, second-story studio, small pieces of fabric that are cut into small geometric shapes are laid out on a table next to a sewing machine.
At the other end of the studio, there are stacks of completed quilts on the floor and baskets filled with quilted table runners.
What takes place in between is a creative process that blends Peterson's sense of current design trends in the art of quilting with old-school lessons she learned from her great-grandmother, Anka Peterson.
The result is a multi-faceted quilting business called Anka's Treasures that Peterson started when she was 19 years old.
Now 43, the Spicer woman has established a solid reputation for creating, sewing and selling her own intricate quilt patterns with fabric that she designed herself and is manufactured overseas.
Peterson's many self-published books featuring how-to directions for making her quilt designs, her popular blog about quilting and her expertise as a teacher and speaker has reinforced her place in the quilting and world and now — to top it all off — she has been named the 2019 Quilter of the Year by the Minnesota Quilters.
The award means she will be the featured artist during the organization's four-day show this June in Rochester.
"I was surprised to get that email. I wasn't expecting that at all," Peterson said. "I didn't even know I was being considered for it."
This isn't the first time a Kandiyohi County quilter has been selected for this particular honor.
Just last year Mary Chalmers, of Willmar, was the 2018 Quilter of the Year for the Minnesota Quilters.
Chalmers, who has been quilting since 1970 and has entered national quilting competitions since 1985 with projects that feature reproductions of antique quilts, has had her work displayed at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and Kandiyohi County Historical Museum.
At 82, Chalmers said she is now quilting just for fun and considers her 2018 Quilter of the Year honor a highlight.
"There was a lot of schmoozing. It was great fun," Chalmers said of the four-day quilting show last year, adding that Peterson is "certainly deserving" of the honor this year.
History of inspiration
As a child, Peterson always had an eye for color and was constantly drawing and painting.
But she credits Great-Grandmother Anka — who made quilts out of old house dresses and loved to work with her hands knitting, sewing and quilting — for further nurturing the love of color, prints and patterns.
"She's the one who instilled in my mom, who taught me, that we can do anything with fabric," Peterson said.
"The things that she taught me, all those things that she handed down to my mom and to me, those are things that I treasure."
That's why, when she was just a sophomore in college, Peterson named her fledgling business Anka's Treasures.
Peterson said she picked up quilting during Christmas break in college after her mother took a quilting class.
"I made one block and another block and another block and I was just obsessed right away," she said. At the end of that week, she had completed her first quilt. "And it wasn't a beginner quilt," she said.
After she "discovered quilting" and realized that several big-name designers in the quilt industry at the time were from Minnesota, Peterson said she decided to try making a living from designing quilt patterns — but got a degree in business administration as a backup in case "this whole quilting thing didn't work out."
While in college she "studied when I had to and turned in my papers whenever" but quilted "every other moment" and started designing and publishing patterns and books.
"I've never had to get a job in any other business," she said.
Creating a quilt
The process for creating a quilt design includes finding inspiration from the world around her and a fair amount of math.
Because pieces of fabric have to fit together to create designs and shapes for a quilt, she has to calculate dimensions.
"I do a lot of A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared," she said.
She will then "audition" different colors of fabric for the different pieces to see if the look is right and then cuts and sews a completed quilt.
Then she makes the same pattern again, takes photos of finished quilts and writes detailed instructions, with diagrams, so that other quilters can make her designs.
For her business, which has the tagline "Where trendy meets traditional quilting," she has published about 30 small books that include instructions for 15 to 20 different original patterns. She also had a collection of her work published in a larger book printed by a publisher that gave her wide exposure at national book and craft stores.
Several years ago while at a quilt show where her products were displayed, she was asked to design custom fabric.
"They license my art from me and pay me a royalty," she said.
She started that venture by submitting hand-painted designs but now works with computer graphics programs to create colors and patterns for her fabric designs that are sold at retail outlets, which is the primary outlet for her books and other products although she does have an online store.
But her true love is creating color and patterns with her hands.
After her two young sons were born, she thought she would put quilting on hold and focus on raising her family.
"But I spent all my time daydreaming about patterns," she said. "I just can't shut my brain off."
Peterson said she's now found a balance that includes ample time for her family and quilting.
She hopes her work will inspire others to pick up the craft.
When she began quilting, Peterson said the average age of quilters was 55. Now it's 63 and fewer young people are quilting.
"We definitely need to get more younger people doing it," she said.