Couching. On point. Quilt sandwich.
These terms have nothing whatsoever to do with bingeing Netflix, using hip middle school lingo, or fixing yourself a tasty lunch.
These terms have everything to do with … quilting.
Terms like these roll off Phyllis Handley’s tongue on a daily basis, testifying to her reputation as an expert when it comes to anything quilt-related.
Handley, a native of Hamlin, West Virginia, and the owner of Quilts by Phyllis in Hurricane, has been living and breathing the craft of quilt-making since she was a child.
“Some of my earliest memories are of my mother hand quilting while my sisters and I played under her sawhorse quilting frames,” Handley recalls. “When my older siblings went off to school, my mother would get a pillow and place it on a chair so that I would be high enough to ‘help’ her quilt.”
Handley’s unpracticed child hands clumsily imitated her mother’s adept maneuvers.
“Never ever did I see my mom take any of my stitches out. They were always perfect to her,” Handley recollects fondly. “My mom’s enthusiasm for quilting and her encouragement of me fueled my desire to learn this beautiful art.”
Years later, Handley found herself nervously submitting her own quilts to be judged.
First, she was chosen by QVC, in a showcase of West Virginia artists, to sell her quilt on their traveling TV show.
Then, with her proud mama by her side, Handley attended the opening ceremony of Tamarack to view her quilts on display there.
“I was so pleased that my mom could see the outcome of all of her teaching, sharing and encouraging,” Handley said. “She inspired me to want to share my passion for quilting with others in my community.”
Phyllis Handley has been sharing her passion now for over 30 years, wielding her internal dictionary of quilting terms all the while.
“My business started in my home as I machine-quilted for others for a short period of time. Then I opened a small booth in the South Charleston Antique Mall in 1993,” she said. “It didn’t take long before I was working long hours and meeting more and more people with the same passion for quilting. In April 1996, I made the decision to concentrate all of my energies in my new location at 2943 Putnam Ave. in Hurricane.”
It is from that location that she has been sharing her knowledge of and passion for quilting ever since, and serving the community besides.
Scott Depot resident Patty Gillespie took up quilting when she had a little extra time on her hands, and she found Quilts by Phyllis to be a helpful local resource.
“A friend told me about Quilts by Phyllis, so I started going there for my fabric,” Gillespie remembers. “The shop was so conveniently located, and the fabric was of much better quality than others I had found.”
The fabric Gillespie references is the over 3,500 bolts of quilting fabrics that Handley’s store carries. Of those 3,500 varieties for sale, Moda fabric is a top seller.
“Moda is a well-known brand in the quilting industry,” Handley explains. “It begins with a better grade of textiles and uses high quality dyes to make fabrics. After multiple washings, it retains its color and body.”
In addition to high-quality fabric, Quilts by Phyllis also offers for sale quilting books, patterns, rulers and notions.
No, Handley doesn’t peddle beliefs or impulses.
Notion is another one of those technical terms of a language in which Handley is fluent.
“A notion is a gadget or tool used in the process of quilting,” she defines. “Items like scissors, seam rippers, and thread are called notions.”
Quilts by Phyllis offers items such as these for sale, and the shop also provides services like machine quilting. Customers bring quilt tops, which they have made themselves, and Handley and her team finish the quilts using a gigantic long-arm machine located in the back of the shop.
“We average quilting a little over 1,000 quilts each year for our customers,” Handley reports.
Gillespie is one of those satisfied customers.
“I always have Phyllis quilt my tops and they are beautiful when she is done with them. I recommend her shop to everyone,” she raves.
Perhaps the way that Handley most enjoys sharing her passion for quilting is through the classes she offers at her shop.
“Prior to COVID, we offered weekly classes to quilters of all experience levels, and we also had open-sew days throughout the week. Quilters love to share their tips and experiences with others, and our gatherings were a great opportunity for that. But even more, our classes and open-sew days became a safe place for elderly and widowed folks in the community to meet and share. Canceling those gatherings has been hard because of the much-needed emotional support they provided to folks, but we are dedicated to putting people before profit and maintaining as safe an environment as we possibly can.”
COVID-19 has had several other effects on Handley’s small business, as well. For seven weeks the business was shut down. There have been shipping delays on fabrics and quilting supplies. Events like ShopHop, which brought 400-500 quilting customers through her store over a four-day period, were cancelled.
But once the shop re-opened, the pandemic had a curious, new effect: It created a surge of new business.
Yes, that is right. Quilts by Phyllis has been nonstop busy since reopening in the spring. That is thanks to many in our area who dusted off their sewing machines during quarantine and finished those quilt tops that had been gathering dust in the closet.
And those quilters found Handley ever at the ready to offer her help and expertise.
“We are always happy to help if a quilter has questions or problems with their project,” she says. “I would like to always be a hands-on shop instead of an online shop. I believe the one-on-one experience of a small business is invaluable.”
Gillespie couldn’t agree more.
“Phyllis and her staff are so encouraging and helpful. There is just a warmth and a feeling of family when you go in. Whenever you have trouble with a pattern or a technique, they are ready to help,” Gillespie said. “And Phyllis always reassures me that everything will be OK. Quilts by Phyllis is my happy place!”
If Handley has brought joy to someone else through quilting, that is what it is all about for her.
The one thing that makes her even more fulfilled is using her craft to assist others in the community.
“The most satisfying part of my job is being able to give back and to use the talents God has given me,” she said. “I have watched quilters make thousands of quilts and give them away to Hospice, Habitat for Humanity, nursing homes, hospitals, and police departments.”
She has watched her passion make a lasting difference in the lives of her community members.
Bargello. Sashing. Scrim.
Technical terms that only quilters would know.
But to Phyllis Handley, they make up the language of a lifelong passion that has served her and others well.
Quilts by Phyllis is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. For more information, check out Quilts by Phyllis on Facebook or www.quiltsbyphyllis.com.