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Quilting With Margaret

Former teacher finds a hobby, then turns it into a thriving business

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Margaret Spevak

The pieces of Margaret Spevak’s life fit together like one of her colorful quilts.

Owner of Quilting with Margaret, a quilting art studio and notions shop in the Box Art Building in Charlotte, her background and education pieced together to provide her with the experience she needed to lead popular quilting workshops and retreats.

Spevak, 65, grew up in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her husband, Jeff, moved them to Rochester for his work with the Democrat & Chronicle as a sportswriter. He is currently the arts director for WXXI.

Spevak met him while studying home economics education at Ohio University. Moving so often — nine times in 10 years — made it difficult for Spevak to obtain employment teaching home economics. She worked as a secretary for a few different firms and eventually taught GED classes. When the couple moved to Rochester in 1989, she took a retail job at Sofro Fabrics. She eventually learned so much about the fabric business that she became manager.

Customers asking about quilting piqued her interest in the fabric art until she was bit by the quilting bug. Her proficiency in quilting grew so much that she left the retail business and started teaching quilting workshops at different fabric stores.

By 1992, she taught quilting full-time. Nearly daily, she led a quilting class each winter. She also started hosting getaway weekends for quilters. In 2012, she opened her own studio so she could teach in a more private location that wasn’t her home. She began offering quilting classes after the store closed so students could get away for a few hours of uninterrupted quilting. She served dinner and offered door prizes.

“What I discovered in teaching classes is that people who take quilting classes weren’t doing it to learn to quilt only but to meet others with similar interests,” she said.

That is why she thinks that the quilting retreats have been so successful. Some participants are younger women who have children and want “to get out to do something for themselves,” Spevak said.

Launching overnight getaways has also proven successful. Spevak finds upscale venues like Beaver Hollow Conference Center in Java Center, just south of Darien Lake. Spevak likes the ambiance and the distance from Rochester: not too far, not too close. Participants feel like they have left behind their stressors and can relax.

“It’s a nice hotel with beautiful rooms, gourmet food and you don’t have to make the bed,” Spevak quipped. “They don’t have to go cook dinner for their family, help someone with homework or put someone to bed. They can sew, have a cocktail in the evening and spend time with people. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is waiting for them. People make friends.”

Margaret Spevak holds regular quilting classes in the Rochester area.

A month before the retreat, she hosts a pre-event party at the store where participants can meet, sip champagne or sample wine and purchase supplies if they wish. Oftentimes, participants reconnect with people they’ve met previous years.

She averages 20 to 30 guests per retreat and has had as many as 35, pre-pandemic. Although she has not returned to that number, she always has at least 20 sign up.

COVID-19 tabled the annual retreat for a year, but once she started up again in April 2021, the response has been positive.

“I had people calling from outside the state,” she recalled regarding the first retreat after the pandemic. “I gained new people.”

That year, she offered a fall retreat because many participants indicated on their post-event evaluation that they wished the retreat had been longer. In 2022, she chose to add a day to the one retreat rather than offer a second.

Spevak said that the pandemic increased growth among “makers,” people who engage in creating crafts and artwork, and has probably contributed to her retreats’ success. Some more experienced quilters may finish the “official” project of the weekend and then pull out something else to work on. Although originally intended as a quilting retreat, some participants bring other projects, like knitting or crocheting, to work on as well.

But the makers’ movement predates the pandemic. Traditionally, many makers are women homemakers who use any spare time to create and craft. Although the rate of working mothers has nearly doubled during the rearing and maturation of Generation X (born from 1965-1976), a growing number of Millennial and Generation Z mothers have opted out of the cubicle and briefcase life and either work from home or focus solely on homemaking.

“The grown children of families where both worked aren’t both working,” Spevak said. “Maybe that’s why more women decided to stay home. We tend to do the opposite of what our parents did.”

The “mompreneur” movement has allowed mothers greater flexibility with their time, allowing more opportunities to get back to making things. Fueled with Pintrest ideas and the explosion of other “maker” media, younger women comprise a growing population in groups such as Spevak’s retreats.

“A lot of younger people who are either single, newly married or have small children are starting their own businesses,” Spevak said. “They don’t go to work for the same employer for life. A lot are more independent.”

Interest in becoming a maker aligns with the homesteading trend in which young people live off the land and raise their own food and other goods. Spevak admires that kind of independence. Her father was self-employed.

“You know the sacrifice you make,” she said. “You don’t go in 9-5. You’re always thinking about it.”

She had to think of more ways for her business to thrive when the pandemic shut down her shop in 2020.

Initially just to keep busy, she made more than 100 masks. At first, she gave them away to fill the need for masks. But at the urging of friends, she eventually began selling them to pay the rent. The need to post them online spurred her to set up her website so customers could buy handmade things she makes at the studio, such as novelty potholders and other items.

Her studio opens by appointment and also on first Fridays and second Saturdays to the public, plus extra hours during the holidays.

The three-day getaway package is $819 per person for a double (two full beds) or $869 for a single (one double bed).

Top image: Margaret Spevak regularly organizes retreats that gather dozens of women.