For Chris Campbell, the beauty of a quilt is more than the vibrant patterns and decorative stitching that binds the fabric together.
Tucked somewhere within the thread and colorful cotton material is a story.
“Everybody has a quilt story about a quilt their aunt or grandma made,” Campbell said. “They really do have a greater purpose than just keeping us warm, and some have some really fascinating stories. “
Campbell’s passion for quilting led her to open Chris’ Corner Quilt Shop in 1984. The shop was originally located in downtown Ottawa at 229 S. Main, next to Turner Flowers and Country Store. But in 2005, Campbell relocated the store to its current location at 3593 Old U.S. Highway 59.
Campbell’s passion began after completing her first wall hanging completely by hand.
“I personally started quilting in the late-1970s, early-1980s, and I was really interested in it, but we didn’t have any businesses nearby offering quilting supplies,” she said. “But I was encouraged by my husband and mother to start a business.”
Initially, the shop offered a limited supply of quilting items and fabric. Because she was just starting out, Campbell wanted to keep her inventory small. The shop also offered craft consignment space to help create revenue. But as the business grew, so did the shop’s inventory, which eventually forced Campbell to phase out the consignment business.
Today, the quilt shop offers a wide assortment of high-quality, 100-percent cotton quilting fabrics in a variety of colors and patterns. The business also features patterns, books and supplies as well as gifts for the quilter.
“Quilting spoken here” is proudly posted on a metal sign inside the shop. The sign, which hung at the original location, is not just her motto, but sums up the lingo often overheard in the shop. Quilting has its own special language with terms like Fat Quarter or Jelly Roll – phrases that only a quilter would know.
“It’s our own little language,” Campbell said.
She also encourages her customers to write on her self-proclaimed graffiti wall, which is covered with favorite sayings and quilting tips.
The shop is also home to Brenda’s Quilting, which shares the space. The business, owned by Brenda Weien, offers custom quilting with the help of two long-arm quilting machines.
Campbell offers classes for quilters ranging from beginners to those with advanced skills.
History And Trails
Through the years, Campbell has become a quilt historian, collecting an array of vintage quilts — each with their own particular design.
Her collection of 35-40 quilts spans several periods throughout American history from the pre-Civil War years through the 1970s. Because of her knowledge and research, she’s often asked to give presentations across the state. Campbell not only explains the story behind the person who crafted the quilt, but also discusses the materials and historical context which shaped their function and design.
For someone with a family quilt, or one that will likely be handed down to the next generation, she encourages them to document what they can about the quilt.
“It’s great to document the stories because the quilts can’t talk to us,” Campbell said. “Each quilt has its own unique characteristics, and there are no two stories alike.”
But it’s not just the fabric quilts that have a tale to tell.
About eight years ago, Campbell traveled to Sisters, Ore., and decided to go on the Tillamook County Quilt trail. Located on the North Oregon coast, the trail features the county’s rural heritage by showcasing local barns and buildings, which displayed large painted wooden quilt blocks.
“One of the things I learned the most about was the area’s agriculture,” she said. “The area is known for dairy and cheese, but I never would’ve known if it wasn’t for the barn block tour. “
After following the self-guided tour, Campbell could hardly contain her excitement.
“I was really interested in something like this, and thought, ‘Someone in Kansas should be doing this,’” she said. “And that someone was me.”
Not long after she returned, Campbell suggested the idea to the Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Soon, a committee was formed, and guidelines were developed. Eventually, the idea was proposed to county Farm Bureau members.
“We hoped for 10, but it started a (chain reaction),” she said. “We now have 41.”
The Franklin County Quilt Block Tour became the first organized barn trail in the state of Kansas. All of the quilt blocks are displayed on barns or ag-related structures and range in size from 8 feet by 8 feet to 4 feet by 4 feet.
“It’s a great tourist attraction,” she said. “And it also brings visitors to our county who stop and buy gas or something to eat, which brings money into our county.”
Chris’ Corner Quilt Shop is open from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. The business phone number is 785-242-1922. The business also has a Facebook page.
“I always say profits aren’t in dollars and cents, but in the relationships I’ve made with customers…those customers who have touched my heart,” she said. “And I hope I’ve touched their hearts as well. We offer services that will feed your creative soul. You have to feed that creative side, and that’s what we do.”