Kay Whitt — Serendipity Studio

(Originally published July 2015, SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #19. Written by Rita Farro.)


Serendipity Studio Logo

Kay Whitt, also known as Serendipity

Kay Whitt,
also known as Serendipity

Hey! Kay Whitt here from Serendipity Studio!  I am thrilled to introduce myself and share a bit about my background as a designer. I am a native Texan and grew up in the small rural town of Vernon in northwestern Texas, close to the Red River. I am a farmer’s daughter, so I understand the value of hard work . . . both the struggle and reward.

I am the baby of the family (youngest of three). My mother was a stay at home mom so she was always there to teach and encourage us. She says I learned my colors as a toddler playing with a box of zippers! I remember those zippers very well.  Mom introduced me to sewing and was my first influence. There isn’t a time in my life that I don’t remember her sewing. As soon as I was old enough to handle a needle, she taught me how to thread it and make stitches. I started with hand embroidery, graduated to making pillows, simple bags, and doll clothes (I was a Barbie fanatic!).   Growing up, I had many other interests. I also enjoyed painting, crocheting, cooking, and  gardening. I am forever grateful for having a family that expected me to learn things and contribute. I think it makes us who we are for the rest of our lives.

Garment sewing and making my own clothes was my favorite thing to do.  By the time I was in high school, I was making just about everything I wore.  When I got married, I made my wedding dress as well as the bridesmaid dresses and flower girl dress.

Kay & Keith International Quilt Market 2012

Kay & Keith
International Quilt Market 2012

I still live in the great state of Texas! I am not a country girl anymore (except maybe at heart), as I have spent the last 23 years in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area with my husband Keith.  We live in Grand Prairie with our sweet bird Bella, a cockatiel. We have spoiled her rotten!

As a newlywed with a degree in education, I set about finding a teaching job. I was lucky enough to get a job teaching second grade in Grapevine and taught that grade for 7 years and fourth grade for 2 years.  Although I loved teaching,  I felt the need to do something with all the creative ideas I had.

This led to some soul searching about what I could do that would be outside the realm of teaching, which is all I had known professionally. Everyone kept telling me that I should sew for a living, but I knew that was easier said than done. After a bit of investigation, I happened upon the idea of designing patterns. I talked with some local fabric shops and showed them my work. They enthusiastically encouraged me, so I wrote the first patterns in the spring of 2001 while still teaching. The patterns took off and I resigned from my job.  Once I didn’t have the responsibility of teaching, I was able to focus on the design work and had 23 designs by the end of 2001! I guess my brain was more than ready!!

love_SCHMETZYou won’t believe how I chose the name of the company. I literally flipped through the dictionary! I happened upon “serendipity” and it just seemed to fit. I have had a lot of serendipitous moments as the business has gone along, so I think the name fits.  At Quilt Market, people sometimes call me “Serendipity” instead of Kay!

My business is definitely a family effort. Without my husband’s savvy technical skills, keeping the books or maintaining the website, I would be lost.  He comes with me to all the markets and helps set up and break down the booth.  Keith is also a great salesman, and can really sell Serendipity patterns!!

I am blessed to work from home, but that means I never really leave work.  I had to find balance, so I still have many other hobbies. I dabble in a lot of things, such as crochet, knitting, painting, hand embroidery, cross stitch, jewelry making, and gardening.  I even play ukulele and sing!  But I know how to kick into high gear when the need arises.  Believe me — I have stuffed a LOT of patterns in 14 years!

The Ava Sundress is the perfect summer dress.

The Ava Sundress is the perfect summer dress.

The rhythm of the pattern business is that I launch a new collection twice a year — at Spring and Fall Quilt Markets, so I am always working on new designs.  I draw a big part of my inspiration from current trends and I keep my eye on what’s going on in the world of fashion. I like to take what is current and mix it up with a vintage vibe which has become the hallmark of my style. I emphasize femininity in my pattern designs. Everyone deserves to have clothes that fit well and flatter them so they feel beautiful!

I feel it is important to support our creative community, so I exclusively sell my patterns to independent fabric shops. In my opinion, the independent shop is where customers find the best education, products, and service.  It is so important to support them and everything they have to offer. In between markets, I do events for shops.

Social media has become a part of my job, and it is so valuable to stay connected to the sewing community and customers. I enjoy the feedback and inspiration I get from the women who are sewing my patterns.

Capture the essence of the urban cowgirl with the Aspen Tunic.

Capture the essence of the urban cowgirl with the Aspen Tunic.

Although I have embraced the internet and the digital age we live in, I believe there is a balance with regard to business and how to provide the very best product. For this reason, I do NOT offer my patterns as a digital download.  Serendipity Patterns are printed on tissue sheets.

When my finished pattern reaches my customers’ hands, they can trust how it will sew together and fit.  A customer can make a virtual “muslin” from the tissue itself, taking it in or letting it out as desired. Tissue is a perfect medium for this as it will mold well to a dress form or body to get the perfect fit. It is also wonderful for fussy cutting the fabric to maximize the potential of a print since tissue is semi-transparent.

A PDF digital pattern may initially seem like a cheap option.  But before a customer can actually start sewing, they have to download the pattern, using their own paper, printer, and ink.  Then, it takes time (and lots of tape) to fit all the different pieces together.   There is a lot of hidden cost, and it is simply not possible to control the quality of the finished pattern pieces.

Again, I am passionate about supporting local sewing/fabric stores.  They support Serendipity patterns, and they also support the end user — my customer.  Why would I cut them out of the loop?  If we want our industry to remain vibrant, we have to support one another.  It’s that simple!

Getting off my soapbox now . . . !

As a designer, it is gratifying to get the designs from my brain onto paper and I love that people feel free to make them their own. That has always been my goal.

My 2015 spring collection was released at the Minneapolis Market — a great sundress, versatile tunic, and two stitchery patterns. The stitchery is so FUN because it lends itself to handwork or machine appliqué and can be added to just about anything.

I still love making garments.  The very best part of my job is being creative and sharing that with others.  I feel grateful every day that I love my career!


Joan Ford

(Originally published May 2015, Inspired to SEW #17, written by Rita Farro.)



Joan with sewing buddy Peaches, blue-fronted Amazon parrot.

Joan with sewing buddy Peaches,
blue-fronted Amazon parrot.

Any quilter will tell you the biggest problem with this hobby we love is WHAT TO DO WITH THE FABRIC SCRAPS.  As you make each new quilt, your stash grows … a bag here, a box there, baskets, tubs, car trunks — sound familiar?  As your stash grows, so does the guilt.

Of course, you know you can use your scraps to make quilts.  Well — duh!  Isn’t that why women started to quilt in the first place?  To use up fabric scraps?  But the challenge is how to organize your stash so you can find the right piece of fabric when you need it.

The book ScrapTherapy®, Cut the Scraps presents a simple plan to deal with fabric scraps as they are happening.  The ScrapTherapy® method is to your fabric scraps what the Dewey Decimal system is to the books in a library.

So — who is the genius behind the two ScrapTherapy® books, Cut the Scraps and Scraps Plus One?  And the big question — what was her inspiration?

Joan Ford from Syracuse, New York started her working life with a degree in accounting.  She worked for ten years at GE and GE Capital in various finance and accounting positions.  After leaving GE, she also ran a small not-for-profit organization and was an executive recruiter.
So, what was the secret sauce that led Joan away from a more formal corporate lifestyle to become a quilt pattern designer and author?

Joan’s first two books published by Tauton Press.

Joan’s first two books published by Tauton Press.

Joan says, “I have always enjoyed making things.  I took my first quilting class on February 8, 2003.  I would probably never have been interested in quilting if I hadn’t needed a sewing machine to finish sweaters. In 2003, Syracuse was expecting one of our ‘extreme’ winters, and I knitted Norwegian-style sweaters — with the colorful pattern around the shoulders. You knit the body of the sweater in the round, creating a giant tube. Before cutting through the knitted stitches to set in the sleeves, you stabilize the main body with machine stitches. I didn’t have a sewing machine. Every time I wanted to finish a sweater, I had to explain the process to somebody with a sewing machine and have them do it.

I put a basic sewing machine on my Christmas wish list, and ‘Santa’ delivered.  I figured I’d better find a way to use it aside from making armholes in sweaters. So I contacted a friend who is a quilter and asked her about ‘this quilting thing.’ She recommended a class for beginners at the local quilt shop. I took my new sewing machine, proud that I knew where the on/off switch was. Immediately after the class, I bought the materials for my next two quilt projects. A couple of weeks (and many, many ripped stitches) later I returned for more fabric, patterns, gadgets — you name it — I was hooked!

Quilting is truly one of those rare activities that takes advantage of both sides of the brain — the creative and analytical. I’ve always been comfortable with a foot on both sides of that fence. As an accountant, I never really felt creatively fulfilled, so I took lots of evening and weekend art classes back in those corporate days. And I don’t consider myself a pure artsy-type. I’m much more inclined to create a quilt with lots of little pieces that need to fit together than I am to make a splashy artsy project.”

Common Sense pattern

Common Sense pattern

After a couple of years going back and forth to the quilt shop asking questions on technique, taking classes, making samples, and buying yard after yard of tempting quilting fabrics, Joan felt the time was right to become part of the industry. She had been writing some basic patterns for shop samples and took one of those samples to Quilt Market (the quilt industry mega trade show in Houston, Texas). The sample featured illustrations from Janet Wecker-Frisch’s latest fabric line. Joan met Janet at the show and showed her the sample quilt.  On the spot, Joan was commissioned to make a second quilt using a current fabric line.  She was beyond the moon!  Getting that small commission was the sign she was seeking.  She called her husband from the trade show floor and said she would be quitting her ‘corporate’ job to start a quilt design business.  As you can imagine, his reaction was mixed at first, but ultimately very supportive.

She named her business the Hummingbird Highway.  “The Hummingbird Highway is actually a road in Belize.  I once vacationed there, and the name stayed with me. I’ve always LOVED hummingbirds. They are fast, they have a routine, and they are stunningly beautiful and amazing. That describes how I work and what I make.”


Picasso Puzzle, a new pattern featuring the
ScrapTherapy® Middle Scrap Grid interfacing. Available soon.

One day, Joan attended a guild meeting where a shocking thing happened.  A quilter had passed and the family brought her stash to be disbursed.  The members grabbed it up in minutes, and Joan’s heart sank.  She chooses her fabric so carefully for each project.  Her essence goes into making each quilt.  What would happen to the beautiful scraps of HER memorable quilts after her far-distant demise?  She felt guilty about those bits of fabric lying dormant in her stash.

But Joan was not a fan of scrappy quilts.  Wildly scrappy, disconnected pieces of fabric assembled into a single quilt did not appeal to her.  She believes quilts should be coordinated and look pretty.  She needed to find — or create — a system that would make that easy to do.

Mini Mug Mats featuring the ScrapTherapy® Mini Scrap Grid interfacing.

Mini Mug Mats featuring the ScrapTherapy® Mini Scrap Grid interfacing.

Joan developed a method of cutting and organizing the scraps that can work for anyone.  Her first book, Scrap Therapy®, Cut The Scraps, creates a set of criteria and a system that is simple and makes sense.  By cutting scraps into three sizes that work well together and storing them in see-through bins, it is easy to cherry-pick colors that work with any new theme.  The goal was to be able to access your leftover fabrics to create quilts or finished projects (to avoid the post-mortem stash-grabbing scenario).  Wildly scrappy (never Joan’s cup of tea) became “controlled” scrappy.

Joan’s perspective on scrap quilting has completely changed how quilters think about their stash.  Her second book was inspired by a quilt exhibit.  In March 2011, Joan attended the largest quilt exhibit ever mounted in New York City,  “Infinite Variety, Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts”.   650 red and white quilts were hung in spiraling floor-to-ceiling silo columns at the Armory. http://folkartmuseum.org/exhibitions/infinite-variety-three-centuries-of-red-and-white-quilts/

Red & White Miracle Max, a pattern from ScrapTherapy®, Scraps Plus One!

Red & White Miracle Max, a pattern from ScrapTherapy®, Scraps Plus One!

Joan was awestruck by the gorgeous red and white quilts.  And she understood the reason they were so impactful was the contrast of the red against the white.  Her inspiration was to use scraps as one element of a quilt — but use one other, secondary element.  The Plus One element could be a technique or a gadget…That idea became her second book, ScrapTherapy®, Plus One.

blog-8Her most recent book, When Bad Things Happen To Good Quilters, takes a slightly different path away from scrappy quilts.   Quilters often start a project, and then something goes wrong.  It can be so frustrating — that rather than figure out a solution to the problem, the quilt is abandoned.  It becomes a UFO (Unfinished Object).

The UFO’s start to pile up, creating guilt.  Joan wrote When Bad Things Happen To Good Quilters, gathering advice from accomplished quilters, sewing celebrities, and industry experts to work past the trouble spots and reach finished quilt bliss.

Joan Ford’s mission is to help quilters stay in love with this wonderful past-time.  She believes quilting is a hobby that should never ever be associated in any way with guilt.

“Quilters give their work away.  It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.  It’s the reason we quilt.  Every moment we spend planning or making a quilt is a gift we are giving.  A hand-made quilt is a re-usable hug.”

Visit Joan’s web site: www.hummingbird-highway.com

SCHMETZ Serger Needles

SCHMETZ Serger NeedlesConsult your owner’s manual!  Many new sergers use home sewing needle system 130/705 H (flat shank with a scarf). SCHMETZ Stretch, Jersey, Topstitch and Universal are popular needle choices. Some older sergers use needle systems BLX1 and DCX1.

SCHMETZ Overlock Needles

ELx705, ELx705CF and ELx705CF SUK are popular serger needle systems. Check your owner’s manual! Here’s how these needles are different from home sewing needles (130/705 H):

  • Serger needles have a groove on the front and back sides of the blade to reduce skipped stitches.  The second long groove is necessary to create chain stitches like overlock or coverlock stitches.
  • ELx705, ELx705CF and ELx705CF SUK have increased strength due to a reinforced blade leading to less needle breakage and straighter stitches.
  • ELx705 and ELx705CF have a slightly rounded point for universal use.
  • ELx705CF SUK has a medium ball point suitable for many knit fabrics.
  • ELx705CF and ELx705CF SUK have a Chrome Finish (CF), increasing wear resistance.

Check your owner’s manual!  SCHMETZ ELx705, ELx705CF and ELx705CF SUK are used on overlock or coverlock machines.




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Debra Gabel – Zebra Patterns

(Originally published April 2015 in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #16. Article written by Rita Farro.)


Debra and family.

Debra and family.

Debra Gabel grew up in a small farm community in New York.  She loved to draw and color.  Her mom had a Kenmore Sewing machine and she made doll clothes and little blankets at a young age. At 13 she was babysitting for a neighbor/quilter who started a gift company with raw edge appliqué pillows and totes.  During high school and college, Debra worked as her assistant and traveled the East Coast doing craft shows. The lesson was that a woman could be a business owner and be very successful out of her own home with a product she was passionate about.

After graduating from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphic Design, Debra got hired as an Art Director of Champion International Paper and met her husband Gary.  She says, “We married, and without really planning, ended up opening and working for several paper bag manufacturing companies in the USA. He would run the Operations/Plant and I would run the art department.  Eventually, we entered into a joint venture and became owners of a plant in the Midwest.  I designed hundreds of shopping bags for well-known retailers and gift bag companies across America.
In   1992,   I was pregnant and started my design company — Mixed Media. I enjoyed working freelance at home.  During that time of being a new mother, I returned to sewing by creating curtains and bedding for the nursery. My friends were also having babies, and they received homemade designed quilts. I loved sewing once again.”

Cancer Haircut

Cancer Haircut

So, life was good.  Debra and her husband were living in Maryland, raising three sons and she had a successful graphic design business . . . .

Then, in the summer of 2003, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — at a very advanced stage.

Debra says, “My body was riddled with tumors.  The treatment was six months of very aggressive chemo to stop the growth and shrink the tumors — followed by a stem cell transplant.  At the time of the transplant, I was 88 lbs, bald and defeated.  It was long and difficult, day after day of severe nausea 24-7 for six months. The transplant took place on December 26, 2003, followed by 40 days of total isolation. After the transplant, you wait. If your body starts the regeneration of white blood cells — you live. Luckily for me, it turned out that way.”

During isolation one afternoon Debra was watching Oprah. Oprah looked at the camera and said, ‘This is your life and it is your responsibility to live your best life and do something you are passionate about.’ That was the moment I allowed myself to see beyond the hospital bed and ports in my chest.  That was the moment I asked myself what do I need to do to live my best life? The answer was to design things in fabric.  

My name is D E B R A — so I discarded the “D” and replaced it with a ‘Z’ and Voila . . . Zebra Patterns!  I love stripes and their graphic nature!“

Zebra Patterns Studio

Zebra Patterns Studio

A two-story building on their property became the studio for Zebra Patterns.  They also have taken over 1500 square feet of their basement for offices.  Gary and Debra are still working as a team, and they have two women who work part-time who are excellent.  They hire piece workers from the local high school and guild members to cut and stuff patterns.

Debra says, “When I am sewing, I liken it to a form of prayer or meditation.  I am thinking about the recipient and stitching and cutting each piece with positive energy. I know that energy is passed on to the special person who receives the handmade piece.

Zebra Patterns specializes in partnering with companies and quilting shops all over the world to make an impact on the quilt industry.  One example is the Row by Row program.  It’s a shop-hop- like program that runs during the entire summer targeting traveling quilters. Quilters stop in participating shops and are entitled to a free pattern to make one row in an eight-row quilt. Each summer has a different theme. This summer will be ‘water’.  Once they get eight rows and make a finished quilt they can win 25 fat quarters from a quilt shop that has their row included plus gift cards and product. It has become a national phenomenon. The concept was created by Janet Lutz in Syracuse NY. She started five years ago with 20 NY shops and this year we will have all 50 states and ALL of Canada!”

Fabric Plates™

Fabric Plates™

Debra is the Creative Director for Row by Row. She designed the logos, the fabric, and Zebra provides fun FabricPlates™ custom-designed for every participating shop.  FabricPlates™ have taken on a life of their own. Quilters are collecting the plates and making borders, labels and entire quilts from the fun vanity phrases that relate to quilting.

Another unique quilting product from Zebra Patterns is their Scrapbooking for Quilters Program.  Debra designed this concept to empower quilters to create their own quilt to tell their own story.  They have nearly 200 different faux stamp printed panels available in 6” x 7” and 18” x 21” sizes.  Based on the scrapbooking concept, the quilter takes the faux stamp images of favorite destinations and arranges them to represent his/her story.  Zebra provides the 100% organic printed panel stamps and you simply applique them. Debra has even created fabric “stickers,” like paper crafting but in cotton, to embellish quilts like scrapbook pages. Everyone knows how to scrapbook and quilters know how to sew. It is a winning formula! Zebra provides the framework to create a totally personal quilt without the anxiety of designing. Their Where Ya Been? Pattern includes a CD with 25 sticker images and ideas for 3-4 easy, personal and fun quilts.

Where Ya Been? Pattern

Where Ya Been? Pattern

The inspiration for the first stamp created, Baltimore,  was in response to a guild challenge. One of Debra’s guild friends said, “You should make a pattern of that!” The rest is history!  She loves to take graphic things like stamps and license plates and translate them into a fun bigger or smaller size and integrate them into quilting.  The scrapbooking concept stirs up memories and creates emotion while making the quilt and using or gifting it.

Debra’s personal mantra is from one of her favorite books – The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. She tries to live by the ancient Toltec wisdom:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • ALWAYS do your best
  • Don’t ever take anything personally
  • Don’t assume