Kathie Stull

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #48, December 2017. Written by Rita Farro.)

Sometimes, we don’t even know who is responsible for the things we love. For example, how many of us have learned a new sewing or quilting skill from watching favorite how-to shows on public television?

Kathie Stull, KS ProductionsSo, who, or what, exactly, is KS Productions? Like so many other remarkable things in this world — there is a woman, the unsung hero. In this case, that woman is Katherine Stull, the owner of KS Productions. How did she become KS Productions — and what was her journey or moment of inspiration?

Kathie Stull loved “making things” when she was young and started seriously sewing in high school. She took a beginner clothing class which totally changed the direction of her career path. She realized that she loved creating things. When she was a senior in high school, her first real job was working for Jo-Ann Stores in their corporate office as part of a ”Project Real” job study program. She took clothing and art electives — and by her second year of college had veered to a double major in marketing and design.

She always saw herself more on the business side and definitely behind the scenes. But she still wanted to have that creative side to her life — which, for her, became sewing. She loved fashion sewing and made her own clothes — everything from bathing suits to business suits.

After college, Kathie got a job as a buyer in the craft industry. She moved into advertising for print media and it seemed like a good fit. Public television was just starting to accept how-to as a viable category that would attract viewers. In 1987, she met David Larson, a pioneer in developing the first PBS how-to program that married TV with local underwriting. That chance meeting turned out to be the spark that lit a fire in Kathie’s professional life.

Ready, Set, Action!

Because she was involved in print advertising, she partnered with Larson on offering print and TV to manufacturers. This dovetailed with the Aleene’s Creative Living Program. Kathie believed that because crafting and sewing were such visual industries, print alone could not show a consumer how to use a product. Their customers needed education. Kathie saw an opportunity to start her own company — which was initially, strictly about marketing.

Kathie actually was a devoted DIY-person herself. She had a gift for visualizing what steps should be shown for the at-home viewer to “get it.” That led to learning segment production. It didn’t take long before her imagination and enthusiasm led to developing new show concepts.

KS Productions is the largest provider of how-to content for PBS television.

Pretty impressive, right?

In 1990, KS Productions officially began producing shows. The first two programs were: Art of Sewing / America Sews with Sue Hausmann and Sew Creative with Donna Wilder. Kathie says, “I loved the creativity of bringing sewing projects full circle … showing the viewer how they could do it — from beginning to end.”

Her perKS Productions has seven shows currently in production on PBS.sonal “baby” was added: Hands on Crafts for Kids — with the premise that all kids are creative. Her mission for Crafts for Kids was to level the playing and crafting field for kids of all abilities and disabilities. It aired in schools and on PBS and still does today.

Over the last 32 years, her company has developed over 21 different programs covering every possible category in the craft industry. They also developed in-store video programs for major retailers and have developed product videos for many of the leading manufacturers.

In Kathie’s case, starting her own business and becoming a producer was the perfect way to combine her business background with doing the creative things she loved.

After she started her family, her own personal sewing evolved into more specific projects: Lots of baby quilts, kids’ clothing, quick projects, gifts, and some home dec. She loved working with Sue Hausmann as America Sews was developed — and Donna Wilder on Sew Creative. Those shows renewed her excitement and since then, has always had a sewing or quilting show in production.

For 20 plus years, KS Productions subcontracted its space and facilities. Five years ago, they built their own studio to suit their specific needs. The cameras and equipment are totally geared towards the specialty how-to industry. For example, a typical television studio green room is a small waiting room with make-up tables and snacks, but Kathie’s green room is huge — 40’ x 30’, set up with 14 tables. “We can accommodate multiple guests. Every table is wired for sewing machines and glue guns. We have an ironing station, a dressing room and 1,000 square feet for prop storage, etc.”

2016 Industry Achievement Award Craft and Hobby Association

2016 Industry Achievement Award
Craft and Hobby Association

Kathie says, “The biggest difference between when I started and now is that you can’t just produce a show for public television. Every show is also on CREATE (the how-to channel for PBS … a whole other set of stations). Each show has its own website and airs on-line too. Every show has a YouTube channel as well. Nowadays, the internet and social media presence is a part of our package with Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. It is constantly evolving and changing.”

In 2016, Kathie was recognized for her accomplishments. She was honored with an Industry Achievement Award from CHA (Craft & Hobby Association).

An excerpt from her acceptance speech:

We are constantly striving to bring the message of crafting and creativity and teach people how to make a scrapbook page, or sew a skirt or make anything and everything thru video. I want to thank all of the people and companies with this shared vision for teaching that are willing to invest in building the whole industry, … I’d like to thank my husband and family, I could never have built this company without their support, especially when video technology absolutely never stops changing!

Kathie’s husband is a home inspector, and after they built their studio five years ago, he took on the added job of managing the facility. Their two sons live in the Cleveland area, and their daughter lives in Chicago.

Kathie’s personal sewing nowadays is often for a charitable cause or event. Her family is involved with giving back and making a difference. She started and chairs a family foundation in honor of Kathie’s mother, who died nine years ago.

From The AmaliaFoundation.org website:

The Amalia Foundation honors Kathie Stull's mother.

The Amalia Foundation honors Kathie’s mother.

The Amalia Foundation was founded in honor of our mother as a way to honor her legacy and help those with Parkinson’s Disease. Our goal is to support exercise programs for those with Parkinson’s. There are many excellent charities that support research and studies, but we wanted something that had the ability to positively influence people and caregivers in our own area and in their daily life. A simple exercise program has the ability to help ease the daily struggles of Parkinson’s, and delay some of the more devastating results of the disease. The Amalia Foundation sponsors the licensed Delay the Disease training program in Cleveland, for physical therapists and other health care professionals. Exercise classes are available at six locations in Northeast Ohio for those with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. The goal is to continue to add classes and locations to serve our community.

The motto of the Amalia Foundation was taken from a quote by Mother Theresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Kathie Stull is a big believer in the power of learning. That it’s how we connect to one another, and it’s how we pass it on. Part of her philosophy is that if we thought about the sewing and craft industries as teaching people rather than selling, we can make a difference in people’s lives and add the joy of being creative.


Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Part 1 – How It All Began

Sewing & Stitchery LogoThe Sewing & Stitchery Expo: How It All Began

The largest consumer sewing show in the United States happens every year in a little town outside of Seattle, Washington called Puyallup. Nearly 30,000 sewing enthusiasts come from all over the world to attend the show. They come because the Sewing and Stitchery Expo (Sew Expo) has more than 450 booths of carefully curated sewing merchandise — including fabric, sewing machines, patterns, books and notions. They come because they will have up close and personal access to the biggest stars in the sewing industry. Over the years, the headliners have included Martha Pullen, Nancy Zieman, Sandra Betzina, Eleanor Burns, Alex Anderson, Pati Palmer, Sue Hausmann and Mark Lipinski — just to name a few!!

No matter what your area of interest is — Sew Expo will have a class for you. With over 500 lectures and workshops to choose from, you can learn garment construction, quilt making, home dec or quick gifts. For over 30 years, the Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been gathering the best and the brightest in the industry for FOUR DAYS ONLY.

March 1-4, 2018, Sew Expo will celebrate it’s 34rd year. So — what’s the story? How did Sew Expo become the biggest and most exciting consumer sewing show in America?

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Like anything of value, Sew Expo started as one woman’s dream. In 1984, Joanne Ross was a home economist working at Pierce County Extension. She attended a consumer sewing show in Portland, Oregon and thought the concept might work in Tacoma. She discussed it with Pati Palmer, Chair of the Portland show.

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer (Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters - Katherine, Marcy

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer
(Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters – Katherine, Marcy

As part of her job with Pierce County Extension, Joanne had already developed a program called the Clothing and Textile Advisors (CTA). To become a CTA, a volunteer attended classes to learn about textiles and sewing, with the emphasis on garment construction. The goal of the program was to send volunteers out into the community to share and teach sewing as a life skill. During the 1980’s, the CTA membership had grown to hundreds of women, with chapters in and around the Pacific Northwest. The CTA’s began asking Joanne to bring in big name sewing teachers so they could learn about the latest techniques, sewing notions and patterns. Joanne knew the CTA’s could become an important element in a consumer show. But it would require a lot of planning.

Joanne Ross developed a business model and presented the plans to the Washington State University (WSU) Conference Office. At that time, the Extension Office, and therefore, the CTA program, fell under the umbrella of WSU, so having WSU handle the management of this new consumer sewing show would be a good fit.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds. (Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds.
(Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

That first show in 1984 was a complete leap of faith. No other university in the country had attempted anything of this scope. Like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Joanne Ross felt, “if we build it — they will come.”

The first Sewing and Stitchery Expo took place at the Tacoma Dome Convention Center. It was a two-day show with 56 exhibitors. Nobody knew what to expect — so they were blown away by 3,200 eager attendees. The second year attendance doubled. After only three years the show was too big for the Tacoma Dome. It was a hard decision to move the show to the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. Although the new location could accommodate hundreds of vendors and thousands more attendees, it would be a much larger financial risk.

Because of the growth of the show, it was expanded to three days, and by 1995, it was a four day show with over 30,000 attendees. The 2017 show (March 2-5) will have sewing and quilting enthusiasts from all over the world coming to celebrate Sew Expo’s 33rd year with 450 booths, over 500 classes and workshops, five daily free style shows, $50,000 worth of door prizes and two spectacular special evening events.

Joanne Ross says, “The Sewing and Stitchery Expo is the realization of a sewing dream — a place where the best experts in the industry come to share their expertise. Our attendees come to the show to meet the Sewing Stars they’ve seen on television, or to try the latest technology, attend lectures or hands-on workshops. For four days, they can shop to their heart’s content…and share their love of sewing and quilting with like-minded individuals.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

The unexpected benefit of Sew Expo is that it has become THE PLACE to launch new product, try out new technology or introduce new techniques. Our vendors come to Sew Expo to sell their merchandise, of course, but they also set up meetings with the biggest players in the industry. The sewing machine companies sponsor our hands-on sewing studios, special events, and give away bags. They send their educators to Sew Expo, as well as their executives. They have meetings with new designers and the creative juices just seem to FLOW at Sew Expo. We’ll hear rumors of a new product or machine one year — and it will be a manufactured reality being launched at the next show. Many of our attendees also come to Sew Expo with a sewing related business idea. They come to the show because they want to network and find resource suppliers.”

Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been so successful because of its volunteers and staff. The Expo is managed by more than 150 volunteers and a staff of more than 25 persons. It is their dedication all year long that gives the Sewing and Stitchery Expo its national prominence within the sewing industry. It is their customer service ethic that provides a wonderful experience for all who attend.

Next week, Part 2:  Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Meet the Leadership and Clothing & Textile Advisors