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BFT Small Business Spotlight: A Q&A with Alleycat Quiltworks' Barbara Dann


107 E. High Street Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823

Barbara Dann


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This is the first article in a series spotlighting some of the local businesses in Bellefonte. Pop into one of these participating businesses- Alleycat Quiltworks, Bella Vino Wine Bar, Jake’s Cards & Games, Iron Star Trading Company, M&M Copy Service, Brother's Pizzeria, Pizza Mia, Elite Edge Athletics, Wireless Made Simple, Blonde Bistro, Bellefonte Art Museum or Bonfatto's- starting on Small Business Saturday, November 24th (and for a limited time after), to pick up your FREE BFT decal. It's our way of saying thanks for supporting all the independent shops and eateries that help keep Bellefonte so remarkably unique.

If you were ever in the market to find the perfect holiday gift for someone you love who would NEVER expect it...well, look no further.

Bellefonte's Alleycat Quiltworks, Barbara Dann's baby, so to speak, is nestled right there by the Courthouse steps, and it's the type of place that only comes along every once in a while. Why? Well, because what Dann- who's a Bellefonte native by the way- is selling isn't made in some galaxy far far away by someone you'll never ever meet. Oh no no no. See, Barbara Dann only deals in creations she created herself.

Of course, we're talking quilts: big beautiful quilts that last three or four lifetimes and probably end up in your great-great-grandchildren's hands long after you're just a dusty old photo on a wall somewhere. These are masterworks of craftsmanship. Quality for miles. And gorgeous too. These aren't the kind of musty mutt rugs you find being passed off as quilts at flea markets and yard sales, people. This is the real deal.

Dann, it turns out, opened her gallery and shop here in town in 2008 to work on and sell quilts because of one main reason. She loves them. She adores them. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and take the liberty of saying that she lives and breathes making quilts. Her respect for the very art of creating something so lovely and cherished with her own two hands runs deep.

Which is likely the reason Alleycat Quiltworks has become a sort of mini-epicenter of Central Pennsylvania quilting knowledge and skill. By offering all kinds of quilting classes, classes which are "... relaxed, informative, and fun," according to the shop's website, Alleycat Quiltworks is spreading the gospel of an old and respected practice in these parts.

In other words: Bellefonte has become pretty darn cool in the eyes of quilters, quilt lovers, and holiday shoppers seeking that one-of-a-kind gift .

So in the spirit of celebrating this town's long and strong small business community, I decided to reach out to Barbara to ask her a bunch of questions about the quilting life, and about operating her dream shop right smack dab in the center of town. Her spirit is pretty infectious, I think; her love for what she does is inspiring as heck. If you ask me, she's the kind of shop owner that Small Business Saturday is all about.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– I read in your website bio that you basically became a quilter by waking up one morning and deciding that that's what you were going to be! Is that true?!

Barbara Dann: It sure is! I’ve always sewn and when our boys were young, I started vending at craft shows making small fabric items. One of the craft magazines had a few patterns for quilts – simple, fast designs. I loved making them and quilted them by hand – with big quilting stitches – none of that crazy 14 stitches per inch! And I fell in love with quilts. Keep in mind that this story started in 1999 – limited internet and no way to get much info on quilting.
My only goal was to make a quilt for each of our sons’ beds and I knew I didn’t want to hand quilt them. So I decided to make the purchase, put a Gammill Classic quilting machine in our basement, started a quilting business – and it’s been over 18 years –lots of changes – and I couldn’t be happier!! Why quilting...what do you love about it?

BD: Everything! Personally, I love every step of making a quilt – selecting or designing a pattern, choosing fabric, cutting, stitching, pressing and most of all the quilting! The quilting is really where I become an artist. All my quilting designs are done freehand – no patterns or computer. From simple allover designs to intricate custom quilting, my designs enhance the quilt top.

Professionally I love helping quilters finish their quilt tops. Most quilters don’t have the time or interest in hand quilting their tops. Nor do they want to quilt bigger quilts on their domestic machines. It’s a real working partnership between my quilting clients and me. I spend time talking with my clients before I quilt so I understand what they want and how I can help them. Sometimes we work together on a quilting design, sometimes they choose from my quilted samples.
I’m also a quilt educator – I lecture and teach quilters the quickest, easiest and best ways to construct quilts. I travel most of the east coast and some of the Midwest to teach at quilt guilds, quilt shops, and national and international quilt shows. My favorite part of teaching – when that student that had no self confidence looks up and says, “I can do this!” How long have you had the store in town?

BD: I worked out of my home until for 8 years. In 2008 I moved into my downtown studio. Tom, my husband, joined me in the business 3 years ago – and Tom’s T-Shirt Quilts was started. Using a client’s favorite t-shirts we can make a unique quilt just for them. The quilt will tell their story - what they like, where they've been and what they've done. Bellefonte would seem to me to be a good town for a quilter like yourself to set up shop in. Why do you think that is?
BD: Bellefonte is my hometown and I’ve always loved the downtown area. I enjoy the community atmosphere and people just stopping by to say hi, need help with a project or to talk about quilting in their family. I don’t count on walk-in traffic for business (although it happens!) as my clients come from all over PA and I also have many clients who send their quilt tops and T-Shirts. Small Business Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for folks around here to come in and see everything you've been up to. What can they expect if they stop in?
BD: Alleycat Quiltworks will be open on Small Business Saturday - November 24th - from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. We'll have fabrics for day only!!!
Hoffman, Moda, P&B Textiles, AE Nathan, Blank Quilting, Fabri-Quilt, Northcott, RJR, Timeless Treasures, Michael Miller, Robert Kauffman, Lakehouse, JoAnn Fabrics, batiks and even more. Arrive early for the best selection. These fabrics were part of an estate sale, all very clean. Fabric purchases are cash only.

And I've been a huge fan of Studio 180 Design tools since I first met Jeff and Deb Tucker 10 years ago. All their quilting tools are based on the same ideas - good piecing techniques, make the units a little bigger and trim them down quickly and accurately. These tools made a piecer out of me!! Be sure to stop by and see a demo. Purchase $50 of Studio 180 Design products and get a FREE pattern of your choice. A quilt is a gift that can last several lifetimes. Great-grandchildren end up with quilts from long lost relatives. That's a beautiful thing. Do quilters think about that...about the fact that many of their creations will likely outlive us all?
BD: We do. And most of us want our quilts to be used and loved – not saved in a box in the closet. One of the most important parts of making a quilt is the label – including information like who made the quilt, why, who it was for, when and where it was made. So many of us have quilts from our ancestors and we know very little about them or the quilts. Besides picking up their free BFT sticker, why else should holiday shoppers stop in to Alleycat Quiltworks this year?
BD: There will be many quilts on display, demos of tools and machine quilting, fabric for sale, and our featured artist Kim Schulze. She has lots of info about bees, beekeeping, honey and beeswax. And she’s been my best friend for almost 40 years so there will be lots of stories and laughter.

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