It’s an easy prediction to make when we say that you are going to love reading about our December Teafluencer sew much! Melanie Traylor is a self-taught, incredibly successful quilt maker and entrepreneur. She feels about fabric like we feel about tea leaves -- excited by the possibiliteas and always eager to create something special.
From Rescue Quilts to “sewlebrities” to fat quarters, this interview is as full as a quilted Christmas stocking of fascinating insights into Melanie’s world of beautiful quilts and the tea that is also a big part of the fabric of her life. Read on to piece together a picture of this teafluencer’s life.
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational background, where you live, family, etc.
Melanie: I’m 38 years old, and I live in northern Alabama. I have two children, a doting husband and four stepchildren. We are a “patchwork” family, and I like to say I have a “patchwork” job of sorts, too, since I do so many different things under the same umbrella. I’m a creative and have run an online shop called Southern Charm Quilts where I sell quilts, sell supplies for quilts and also teach others to make quilts. I’m pretty much completely self taught when it comes to quilting, though I did learn to sew in seventh grade home economics and several other semesters in high school.
Harney: You’re very passionate about what you do. Where did your love of quilts come from?
Melanie: My earliest memory of a quilt is at my grandmother’s house. Her home was drafty and cold. I remember getting into a bed that had not one quilt on top, but layered with about three quilts. I don’t remember the quilts vividly, but I remember being warm and cozy.
Harney: Quilting isn’t what you always did for a living. Tell us about what you did professionally and how you ended up being a quilt maker. (Because we love puns, working in a quilt pun earns you bonus points!)
Melanie: I worked a lot of random jobs in my early 20s, trying to get by with two kids and pretty much just “hanging on by a thread.” I eventually took online classes and got a license to become a realtor right about the time of the market crash. I stayed at it, but nobody was buying houses. This left me with a lot of free time in an office in front of a computer. I had just bought myself a sewing machine for a hobby and was looking online for things to sew. I found quilts and the patchwork just drew me in and captivated me. I played and played and made really ugly things, but couldn’t seem to stop. I eventually opened an Etsy shop to sell my makes so I could continue to buy fabric (which is pricey for a realtor barely ever selling a house). The shop started doing well, and when it could support me I quit the realtor job. When I was no longer distracted by the “real” job and could devote all my time to making quilts, the business really flourished. Now my husband works for me as well. He’s in charge of cutting fabrics in our fabric shop.
Harney: The way you talk about quilts reminds us of a line from “The Devil Wears Prada”-- “What they did was greater than art because you live your life in it.” All the ways we use quilts in our lives -- please talk about that and what makes them so special.
Melanie: You can buy something that looks like a quilt at any store, but know that it doesn’t have any of the love and patience that gets put into a quilt made by a person’s hands. They are like a hug that keeps on long after the hug has ended. They have this feeling of warmth and love, of home. For me they are nostalgic and conjure memories of being put to bed early in a cold house, but warm and safe under something bright and heavy. If I think about it really hard, I can still smell my grandmother’s house and feel the crinkly softness of her old quilts.
Harney: Your site, Southern Charm Quilts, offers all kinds of handcrafted, special quilts like Memory Quilts, Guest Book Quilts and many more. What are your favorite quilts to make?
Melanie: My favorite quilts are the ones I dream up myself. I usually start drawing them in Illustrator first; that whole process of computer to fabric is extremely addicting. But I also make quilts specifically for others. My memory quilts are made from clothing, and often I’ll be talking to someone who recently lost someone they love. They’ll send me clothing of their loved one, and I’ll make them a quilt from that. The messages I receive from this work are touching and emotional. People can be sentimental about clothing, especially clothing of a parent that they can no longer visit or hug or talk to, and turning their clothing into a quilt that they can snuggle under is very rewarding.
Harney: What are Rescue Quilts?
Melanie: Quilts take a long time to make, and there are quilters that for whatever reason didn’t finish their quilt. Maybe they didn’t know how, maybe they didn’t find the time, or maybe they were sick to death of it by the time they completed the top. Either way a lot of these end up in estate sales or flea markets and antique fairs. I find them everywhere, bring them home and turn them into finished quilts. I have a whole stack I found in my grandmother’s closet. They are gorgeous, and I want to write a book about them.
Harney: Fabric for you is like shoes or unicorns for other people -- you just can’t get enough. What is your fascination with fabric?
Melanie: Haha! I would definitely say that I’d rather have a stack of a yummy fat quarter bundle of fabrics than a new pair of shoes. I find fabric endlessly inspiring. I like playing with color and then finding the right fabric to make the color palette work. The right fabric is like adding a lemon to your cup of Earl Grey, it just makes everything better.
In the quilting world, our fabric designers are the rock stars. We even call them “sewlebrities” and follow them around like a pack of fan girls at the quilt shows.
Harney: What’s a quilt along?
Melanie: Quilts alongs are my specialty, and it’s how I’ve built my community with other quilters. I host these at least three times a year. A quilt along is a group of quilters all making the same quilt, but each choosing their own fabrics and colors and adding in their own personal style. It’s fun working on it together and it keeps us on track to finishing a quilt at a certain time. I host these on my blog and use Instagram and email to keep everyone in the know and on track. There are giveaways to encourage you to finish your blocks on time and keep you motivated. It’s fun to make a quilt by yourself, but it’s a party with a whole bunch of people doing it with you! I’m in the middle of a quilt along now and have over 1400 other quilters joining me.
Harney: Do people still have quilting bees? Have you ever participated in one?
Melanie: Yes! A few years ago I participated in a virtual quilting bee on Instagram. They are a lot of fun. I’ve made friends and traveled to meet them in “real life” too. It’s a great way to connect with people who share the same interests.
Harney: What kind of basic skills do you need to be a successful beginning quilter? And what qualities make a good quilter (beyond knowing how to sew)?
Melanie: You just need patience. It can be frustrating at first, most things are when you’ve never done them before. There are a lot of steps to just creating one single quilt block, and it can be overwhelming on your first go. You just keep going and going. Don’t give up. Find a beginner quilt pattern and just play. Your first quilt top is not going to be great, but as long as you are enjoying it you’ll stay at it and things will start feeling easier (and prettier), and you’ll start thinking that “cut, sew, press and repeat a gazillion times” isn’t that big of a deal.
Harney: There are classic quilt patterns that have endured for hundreds of years. How do quilt patterns get their names? What do you name your original quilt patterns, and how do you choose their names?
Melanie: Not only have classic quilt patterns endured, but so have their names. It’s fascinating! Grandmother’s Flower Garden, Sawtooth Star, Log Cabin. Back in the day there weren't as many pattern makers as there are now, and patterns were spread across the country in a newspaper or magazine (which there weren't too many of, either). So you have these quilters all seeing the same pattern and all making similar quilts. They became our foundation. Today, we are only building off of their hard work.
Most of my patterns are named for a story or purpose. Some of them include: Good Girl (named for a frustrating car purchase), Bad Girl (because Good Girl needed a friend), Ruby Beatrice (named after Grandma), I Am Enough (because it needed saying)... there’s a whole bunch more too.
Harney: Inquiring minds want to know: what are “fat quarters” and what does “extra yummy” mean in a fabric bundle?
Melanie: Traditional fabric cuts are yards or half yards. A fat quarter is half of a half yard in the opposite direction. It’s a more modern cut of fabric that is really popular right now. “Extra yummy” is just me gushing about how great a fabric or fabric bundle is. : )
Harney: Your Scrappy Pattern Pack has three quilt patterns, but we’re most interested in hearing about Tea Time. What caused you to name a quilt pattern after the most fabulous beverage on the planet?
Melanie: Tea Time is a very simple quilt made with nothing but the Half Square Triangle block repeated over and over again, and it takes forever to make. When I made it there were so many breaks for tea I lost count. If I’m tired of standing on my feet, I drink tea. If I’m stressed because I cut my fabric wrong, I drink tea. Total tea addict over here, and any excuse for tea time will do.
Harney: What role does tea play in your life?
Melanie: I find tea calming. I’m a busy gal, but taking the time for tea, breathing in its scent and just being still helps me relax and soothes any worries or stresses away.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea (or anything on your list to try?)
Melanie: Hot Cinnamon Spice is my go-to. If I could choose one single tea to drink every day for the rest of my life, it would be this tea. I’ve been drinking it for years! I’m also fond of Earl Grey and Peppermint. I’d love to try your London Fog and your Scottish Afternoon. I love that a part of the sales are going to charity!
Inspired to make a cup of Hot Cinnamon Spice and have a go at quilting or just wrap yourself in one? Wait until you visit Melanie’s website, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or YouTube pages where everything you see is extra yummy (just like at Harney). Thank you, Melanie, for taking the time to share your story. All photography has been provided by Melanie.