TART Fabrics Fosters Creativity in Burden
February 26, 2021
February 26, 2021
Like so many unique ventures in towns large and small, there are several factors that account for the existence of the Textile Art Retail Therapy Shop (TART Fabrics for short) in Burden, Kan. The stars aligned. Or, as Carleta Bolack, Burden native and proprietor, says, “It was like everything fell together.”
When her Winfield, Kan., friend, Gaye Young, casually said one day, “I would really like to have a quilting machine,” without much thought, Bolack replied, “Well, I’d go in halfsies with you” (even though she wasn’t even quilting at the time). “So, that kind of got the ball rolling,” admits Bolack.
But there were a couple of other factors: A rural mail carrier, Bolack was facing retirement and knew herself well enough that after a couple of years of going through all the things she wanted to do, there’d come a time when she’d grow bored; she likes to be productive. Secondly, as a Burden City Council member, she’d been trying to think of ways to help her little town, located out in the Flint Hills of Kansas. As the two friends visited one quilt shop after another in otherwise quiet, tiny towns, Bolack realized it was a business model that could actually work – saying to herself, ‘Why not? They can come to town, go to Joseph’s [Storehouse – a non-profit thrift store], get something to eat [at one of the two new restaurants in Burden], and they can come here!’
The Textile Art Retail Therapy Shop quietly opened its doors at 415 Main Street in Burden on January 13, 2021. Although they hadn’t advertised much because of COVID, Bolack was pleased when people she hadn’t seen since high school stopped in. For the most part, their business has been from locals, but a carload of ladies from Mulvane, Kan., who were on a tour of quilt shops did arrive after a recommendation from a Barnsdall, Okla., shop. That’s where Bolack and Young had bought their quilting machine. So, the word is getting out. Bolack is planning an open house later in the spring when she can do it right.
Since the purchase of their APQS Lucey Longarm quilting machine, Young has already finished a dozen customers’ quilts, with a couple more just arriving for completion. Interestingly, many people have inherited beautiful, unfinished quilt tops and either don’t know how to finish them (with the batting, backing, quilting, and binding skills required), or they simply don’t have the time. TART’s Facebook Page urges, “Get that quilt top out of your stash, off your mind, and on the bed!” They even offer hand-sewn binding for that “perfect finishing touch.” The Lucey has a 14-foot frame, allowing for everything from king-size, down to lap-size, quilts. How long does one take? Bolack says, “By the time you get it on the machine, and the batting and the backing and all that, probably I’d say give us a good day to make sure we’re doing everything right – you’ve got to be meticulous when you get them loaded or you’ll have wrinkles and all kinds of messes. Go slow – and do it right” is their motto.
So far, their most popular retail items have been basic sewing needs such as needles, thread, and sewing machine needles. In their ever-increasing inventory, TART Fabrics carries how-to books, quilt patterns, fabric, interfacing, sewing notions such as pins, rotary cutters, and scissors, precut fabrics, rulers, templates, embroidery floss, “Aunt Martha’s” embroidery patterns, and gifts. They can ship call-in orders and will soon offer online shopping through their website, tartfabrics.com. Bolack and Young keep busy with their own projects on the slow days. They’ve hemmed a few pairs of pants and put a patch on a leather jacket for a gentleman. Although it won’t pay the bills, they are into customer goodwill and will do their best to help – even if it’s something they don’t know how to do, “we’ll try to figure it out,” says Bolack, and this author sincerely believes it.
The shop comprises two, easily-separated rooms, each with its own entrance. On the north is the retail side, and the south is where the quilting machine lives, and where the classroom and bathroom are located. Part of the reason Bolack kept the building split like this was for the community’s use, even though the City Building is also available. “It’s nice to have another option,” Bolack offers; therefore, she’s not opposed to having someone teach knitting or crocheting, come in for an evening meeting, a card party, or whatever. Bolack explains, “I have plenty of room – we can social distance until the cows come home.”
TART Fabrics has already begun offering classes. Their most popular – a Tatting Class – was scheduled for February 20 from 2-4 p.m. Cost was $5.00 and if there’s enough interest, they’ll do it again. They plan to offer Beginning Sewing, Jewelry-Making, Pour Painting, Tie-Dyeing, and a Beginning Quilting Class. Bolack adds, “Gaye’s talking about having the Beginning Quilting Class for those who think it’s awfully scary – and she’s going to try to show them that it isn’t that scary. It’s just like anything else. You look at it and you think, ‘Oh Lord, how do you do that?’ but once you have somebody to take your hand and kind of lead you, it’s not nearly as scary as you thought it was!” Most materials and supplies will be provided, except for the Beginner Quilting Class. For those, Bolack says, “It’s either bring your own material, or it would be really great if you bought it from me.” They have four sewing machines at the shop for those who don’t have one yet or can’t bring theirs in for class.
Regarding fabric, Bolack says every quilt shop’s supply depends on the taste of who’s doing the buying. “I like color!” she exclaims, “Yellows, oranges, reds; I really love the primary colors – so it’s kind of colorful.” Although her most popular fabric features vintage pickup trucks, she makes sure to stock traditional selections, as well. Bolack shares, “I saw a quote somewhere that said fabrics are a grown-up’s crayons and they are really – because you’ve got colors and you can make new pictures – but they happen to also be quilts.”
In searching for a name for her shop, Bolack found that so many had really similar names (including variations of the word “sew” or “so” or “grandma’s quilt shop”), that they all started running together. She wanted something different and more energetic-sounding. She had always thought “The Sassy Lady,” which was the name of a local restaurant, was cute, so she started thinking, ‘Okay … sassy … tart … I like tart.’” But then she had to back into that word because “tart” and “quilt” didn’t quite go together. That’s how she came up with “Textile Art Retail Therapy” for the acronym “TART,” which will eventually be shortened (at least in peoples’ minds) to “TART Fabrics” as they begin to associate it with this new quilt shop in Burden.
Renovating an old building isn’t for the faint-hearted. On July 21, 2020, Bolack purchased her circa 1920 building from Margaret Peirce, whose husband had a woodworking shop and stored supplies for his rental houses there. Peirce had been waiting for just the right person who would turn the building into a business, so the deal was made. First, she hosted a week-long garage sale to empty the building, then, in August, Bolack rounded up an electrician, a heating, cooling, and vent-work expert, a carpenter, and a stone mason. The large awning in front of the building was removed and replaced by two smaller ones “to keep the rain off when you’re trying to get in the door” and the different kinds of siding (in various hues of brown and tan) were replaced, with the whole building painted a nice, fresh white, accented with black trim. Even those who don’t sew (yet) have let Bolack know how nice the building looks and how it has brightened up Main Street.
Young’s husband got “wrangled” into helping too. They can laugh about it now, but the times when a hawk flew into the building and had to be chased out, and when the three of them got covered in ticks while harvesting barn wood (which works really well to hide old, imperfect walls) are just a couple of the experiences they shared during the rehabilitation of the old building. Although Bolack’s not entirely sure what it was originally built to be, the building has some unique features and may have been a mortuary at one time. Later, it was divided into two side-by-side grocery stores. One mystery may have been solved, however. Prohibition might have played a role in the numerous empty vanilla extract bottles found under the ruined floorboards and in the walls. Only two bottles of lemon extract were found (which had a higher alcohol content, but Bolack surmises may have been “pretty tough to drink”). She still has the bottles.
Her business sign is ready, but it hasn’t been put up yet, due to the severe, cold weather. However, hanging right inside the front door of TART Fabrics is a little angel made from quilt blocks that were never put together. You see, Bolack found a box with photos, quilt blocks, and other memorabilia in the building when she began cleaning it out. Through Facebook, she was able to contact the former owner’s relative, thinking she might be interested in going through the box – and, sure enough, she was. Not only that, but she sent Bolack an angel made from one of those quilt blocks. It’s special. Good luck? “It can’t hurt, is my philosophy,” asserts Bolack.
What is Bolack’s favorite part about opening TART Fabrics? “Oh, um, sense of accomplishment, I think … I did it and I’m just trying to hang in here long enough for everybody to know it’s here and to come see us.” She’s advertising some on Facebook, admitting that things have changed so much from even 20 years ago to now – as far as trying to advertise and get the word out. “You have to get kind of creative anymore,” she reflects. She is listed on the worldwide “Quilting Hub” website, but laughs, “If they drill down and find me, they’re lucky.” She also has an ad with the Walnut Valley Quilters Guild of Winfield, chuckling, “They might be interested in someplace they don’t have to drive 100 miles to get to!”
What with all the interesting buildings on Burden’s Main Street, Bolack is hoping her venture will be a motivation for others. In the meantime, she says, “If somebody’s kind of hesitant about trying to put a quilt together with their own ideas, I’m pretty good with color combinations and Gaye’s pretty good at coming up with patterns that are as simple or as hard as you want – and making it all work. We can put our heads together and help somebody if they need it. Planning a quilt is like planning a campaign – you’ve got to get all your parts together.”
415 Main Street
Burden, KS 67019
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Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.