From Professional Baseball to Publishing a Quilting Magazine: The Unlikely Story of Quiltfolk

October 10, 2017   /   byAbby  / Categories :  Feeds

Quiltfolk is a new quarterly magazine for quilters. Each issue focuses on quilters in a particular part of the United States and includes over a dozen human-interest stories accompanied by luscious photography. The pages are off-set print on high quality paper with no ads. It’s a beautiful publication and an inspiring read for anyone interested in the craft of quilting.

The project was founded by Michael McCormick, a former baseball play for the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s not a quilter and at first glance seems like unlikely founder for a quilt magazine.

“Baseball was my childhood dream. I’d wanted to do it since I was 4-years-old. I was very clear about that at a very young age,” says McCormick. He was a top student at a private college prep school in Eugene, Oregon, but knew that rather than going to college he wanted to play pro ball right after graduation.

A self-described “big dreamer” his childhood dream came true. “I took my last final on the same day I was drafted and then within a week I was playing baseball across the country,” he recalls. He would spend the next five years playing for the Rays.

Michael McCormick Tampa Bay Rays

But as he approached his mid-20’s McCormick began longing for a more settled lifestyle. “It was really tough to ever imagine having a family or a normal life,” he says of his career in baseball. He returned home to Eugene hoping to get into business and took a job in direct sales for an LED light bulb company. “In 2009, during the recession, they stuffed my pockets with $90 light bulbs and said, ‘Here, go to all these businesses in downtown Eugene and try to sell these,’” he laughs. “It was a tough transition from life doing something that you loved to basically a door-to-door light bulb salesman.” Still, it was a way to learn sales skills and while he was there he met Nathan Widenmann who later become a business partner.

He and Widenmann went on to start Stella Lighting, a task lighting business. While sitting in a Starbucks one day playing with a lamp prototype a woman approached their table. “She goes, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m a seamstress and this light you’re playing with will do everything my current lights do and more. I want one.'” She placed an order on the spot. Struck by her enthusiasm, McCormick and Widenmann decided to market the lamps to sewers. During a five-day road trip through Oregon they visited 14 quilt shops showing Stella lights. “Shops just went nuts for it,” he says.

About a year later he and Widenmann parted ways and McCormick remained captivated by the enthusiasm and stories of the quilters he’d met.

As a child, sewing wasn’t much of a part of McCormick’s household. He remembers his brother buying a sewing machine in order to put a leather cover on a motorcycle seat, and he spent some time sewing patches onto his baseball uniform, but otherwise didn’t have any exposure to sewing or quilting.

Bambini Book Club

After Stella he decided to pursue another childhood dream: writing a children’s book. “Since I’d just left the quilting world and seen all the colors and creativity there I thought, well, I could write a children’s book about quilting and we could put patterns with it.” He envisioned the book as a way for mothers and grandmothers to introduce their passion for quilting to the next generation. McCormick self-published the first books with his imprint, Bambini Book Club, and wrote several more over the next few years. He hired Shalena Cardinaux to help with sales and marketing and introduced a fabric line to accompany the book in 2014.

While working on Bambini, yet another business idea occurred to him. “I was talking to quilt shops, traveling around and going to Quilt Market and meeting all kinds of people, and they were telling me all kinds of fascinating stories,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Man there should really be a way of telling all these stories and sharing them.’” He’d been admiring some independent magazines such as The Collective Quarterly and the motorcycle magazine, Iron and Air, both of which were offset print with beautiful photography alongside human-interest stories. “And that’s when the first spark of the idea for Quiltfolk came about,” he says

Quiltfolk

Rather than do extensive research into the current quilting magazine market, McCormick just jumped in. “I’ve just found that if you research things too much you end up finding a reason not to do them. If I really knew how hard it was to produce a quarterly magazine, or if I really knew how incredible all those other publications were, it just sorta scares you away from taking those first few steps,” he says. Cardinaux came on board to write and issue #1, which focused on the quilters of Oregon, was produced entirely by the two them. It debuted at Fall 2016 Quilt Market.

The Quiltfolk team, which now consists of a small team, travels to the location that will be featured in each issue and spend a week traveling around in a car together. So far they’ve been to Oregon, Iowa, Hawaii, and Tennessee.

“It’s got a road trip feel to it and we’ve purposely built in an opportunity for the unexpected and serendipitous moments where you could never have planned it, but we’re there and the photographer is there and she’s able to capture that moment. It’s very organic and unplanned and real.” Very few of the magazine’s photos are staged or posed. “I think there’s something kinda nice about the reader going along on the journey with you and that process of discovery for us is fun and we pass that along through our content,” McCormick says. Most stories are discovered through word of mouth, one quilter recommending another.

The magazine was ad-free from the start. “I think it’s really tough to serve two masters,” McCormick explains when thinking about accepting advertising. “If we’re thinking about what’s best for the advertisers we’re not necessarily thinking about what’s best for the readers and I never wanted to be in a position where I had to make a decision between those two.” Although this means the magazine is more expensive than others on the market, he was betting that people would be willing to pay for premium content. So far the bet has paid off. Subscriptions have quadrupled over the last five months.

Quiltfolk

Quiltfolk is print only and McCormick doesn’t have any plans to go digital. “It’s something you can put out on the coffee table or on the counter and I think it speaks to who you are more when its sitting there and you can sort of pass by it and your friends and family can see it. It’s a whole different kind of experience than file tucked away on your computer,” he says.

Rather than focus on the celebrity quilters that are so often featured in quilting magazines, Quiltfolk strives to show off the lives of everyday people who are passionate about quilting. The Tennessee issue, which included an interview with Dolly Parton, also had 12 pages about Minnie Lee Deakins, a 94-year-old quilter from Dunlap, Tennessee, with whom the crew had spent four hours getting to know.

Unlike almost all quilting magazines on the market, Quiltfolk has no patterns. “We get pressure all the time to put in patterns and tutorials and that’s fundamentally not who we are,” McCormick explains. “There’s a lot of ways to be inspired to make something. There’s so many blogs and YouTube channels and magazines that are doing a great job with tutorials. Those bases are covered… We want to inspire through stories. There’s just a whole bunch of ways that you can go from inaction to action through inspiration.”

Founding a quilting magazine may seem like an unexpected path for a professional baseball player, but McCormick feels a strong affinity quilters and their stories. “This is something they love so much that they would travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to go to these shows just to be in the same room with other people who believe what they believe,” he says. “I was that way with baseball. I spent every waking hour thinking about it and working on it. I’m not a quilter, but what I am is somebody who is always drawn to passionate people.”

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