Crazy about Quilts

May 7, 2010

The following article, written by Linda Ryberg of the Northern Indiana Tourism Development Commission, has been used with permission and appears in the first issue of Art & Earth Trail Guide for 2010. This article is also on their website:

"Crazy about Quilts"
When she was growing up, Shirley Shenk's grandmothers lamented that the younger generation just didn't seem very interested in quilting. They were both expert quilters, and even though Shirley loved to sew, quilting just wasn't her thing. "But in the 1970's, my interests changed," she says. "I'd been making my own clothes for years, even my wedding dress, and gradually I got hooked on quilting."

Today Shirley is well-known world-wide for her original-design quilts, many displayed in her unique shop, Quilt Designs in Goshen, Indiana. The showroom is a story in itself, an 1837 two-story log cabin that originally stood southwest of town and was the homestead of a pioneering family. In 1986 it was carefully dismantled and reconstructed on the grounds of Goshen's Old Bag Factory, which houses artists' studios and specialty shops. Quilt Designs is a family business, with Shirley's husband, Dave, serving as marketing director, and her daughter-in-law, Kris Shenk, working with Shirley as a quilt designer for the past four years. Kris is married to Shirley and Dave's son, Jon.

You're in for a treat from the time you see the soft-sculpted "Grandma and Grandpa" at the front door. "They welcome guests," Shirley says, "and even though they may not speak, at least they'll smile." Inside, visitors can find the quilt of their dreams, along with a host of quilted wall hangings. Shirley and Kris create all the original designs, choosing the fabrics and colors, and often breaking traditional boundaries. "We have a few traditional designs, such as the Double Wedding Ring, because people ask for them. But we primarily offer contemporary geometric motifs and medallion-style florals." Shirley and Kris are always trying new design concepts, including several pieces that flow outside the borders. Be prepared to discover originals with names such as Aberrations, Passages, Intersections, and Indiana Interlock.

Once the quilts are designed, most are completed by Amish or conservative Mennonite women, who hand-quilt them. Many of the women juggle their quilting with their farm-life responsibilities: raising large families, cooking, gardening, canning and preparing to have church in their homes. Quilting is a relaxing activity for them, often enjoyed in the morning before the children awaken or late in the evening, with a kerosene lantern for lighting. Each quilt is referred to as a "one-needle quilt" because only one woman quilts an entire piece. Shirley takes pride in the hand-quilting, noting that more and more quilts today are sewn by machine.

Visitors often are looking for the perfect quilt to co-ordinate with their home decor. Shirley and Kris work with them to find the ideal designs and color combinations. "Kris has a degree in art with a specialty in interior design," Shirley says, adding that Kris' background is a real bonus in working in the fiber-art field.

When Shirley was in school, math was probably her least favorite subject. "Now I find myself using graph paper and geometry all the time in designing quilts, so I guess it paid off," she says. It's obvious that this master loves her work. "It's so fulfilling to see texture, color, and the interplay of fabric all come together in quilts," she says. Her grandmothers would be very proud.

Make sure to visit Quilt Designs (closed Sundays) on your trip to Elkhart County (574/534-5111;

How to Select a Quilt

November 29, 2007

In selecting a quilt, many people don't really know where to start. Quilts are very often viewed as heirlooms -- something they will enjoy now, but also something that they will want to pass down to their children and grandchildren. In selecting that quality heirloom, there are several things to consider. First, is the overall appeal. Does it touch our heart? If it does, look further to be sure it will remain a treasured art piece to be loved for generations.

The workmanship should be as fine and as intricate as you can afford. Look for a quilting stitch that is even on the top as well as on the back of the quilt. Look also to be sure the piece is hand quilted. In today's market, machine stitching is more prevalent than before, and if you think all quilts are hand quilted, you may be disappointed.

Look for the piecing to be even and straight. Points should not be chopped off, and seams should match.

Think about the design. Is it unusual? Does it balance? Does it fit the decorating style of your home? While some quilts are transitional, others are definitely country and still others contemporary, with many styles in between. Quilts that are of an original design will be more of a collector's piece than one made from a pattern or kit.

Colors should blend and give a pleasing effect. Is it artistic? Think of a painting and how colors move and blend. A quilt can have that same effect. If two or three colors are used in a blended manner, it will be more versatile than if it is only one color. Conversely, however, is the monochromatic neutral quilt. This is one that may combine numerous neutral fabrics, and will work into various color schemes over the years. If color is not making the statement in a quilt, however, the stitching takes on even more importance. A neutral quilt which is heavily quilted can be a wonderful heirloom because no matter how color trends change, the quilt can always work.

Many customers come in and say they are redecorating, and as soon as they figure out their colors, they'll be back. I personally think that is backwards. Think how much easier -- and more fun -- it will be to decorate around a quilt that has touched your heart than a paint chip!

Welcome To Studio News

November 28, 2007

Welcome to the Studio News section of our Web site. Shows and special events will be announced throughout the year. In addition we will include some of our thoughts regarding quilts and the quilt market. Some of these will be archived for future reference while others will be periodically deleted.

All images & content Copyright 2016 Quilt Designs, Inc. Website designed by Digital Hill Multimedia, Inc.
Photographs provided by: Ron Adams of Starr Photography, Vincent Pierri and Kris Shenk.