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Meet the Quilting Queens of GoCreate Makerspace

GoCreate is open to all makers and dreamers in the Wichita area. The makerspace has multiple studios (3D printing, electronics, design, metal, wood, textiles, and finishings), with mentors to help bring those ideas to life.

Inside the 18,000-square foot makerspace lies the Textile Studio, and their very popular long arm quilt-making machine. Debbie, DJ, Judy, Lorra, and Mary Kay are mentors at the textile studio. Affectionately called the ‘Quilting Queens’, we met the quilters last year when they volunteered for the June 2021 event and loved their energy! Members of GoCreate have the opportunity to work with large scale machine-quilting, direct-to-garment printing, sewing machines, and more in the studio with the mentors.

I spoke to the women (Lorra was unavailable) about their textile shop, the Gammill computerized quilting machines, and what they’re looking forward to at the Make48 event this weekend.

(left to right) Mary Kay, Judy, Debbie, Lorra and DJ

Make48: How long have you volunteered at GoCreate?

Mary Kay: I've been there three years, so that's not really all that long. But GoCreate has only been open since 2017, I think.

Judy: It'll be three years in May for me.

DJ: I've been here for a couple of years.

Debbie: Same as Judy. It's probably getting close to three years now. I came as a guest with Judy and liked it so much. Judy and I were asked to be mentors. So we were a Tier 2 mentor, and we did workshops and things like that. A year later, they asked to be Tier 1 mentors. We mentor on the Gammill, the long arm quilting machine and things like that.

Judy: When you're a Tier 1 mentor, you get a little pay from Koch.

DJ: We have to support these quilting habits.

(left to right) Mary Kay, Debbie and Judy in 2021

Make48: How long have you been quilting?

Mary Kay: The very first thing I quilted was when I was expecting my fifth kid, and I made a quilt for him. I did that one all by hand; hand-pieced it, hand-quilted it and hand-cut it out with scissors. He's 27 now, but I've been sewing longer than that.

DJ: That's how I started, too, with scissors. I never even dreamed of a Rotary cutter. How wonderful they are! I’ve been quilting for close to 31 years. Sewing much longer than that.

Judy: I've been quilting for cutting it up and sewing it back together again for 31 years.

Debbie: I think I've been quilting for probably close to 30 years and sewing since I was eight years old.

DJ: Sewing is really the first skill you really need to be a quilter because you have to sew your tops together.

Make48: And now you have these two giant, industrialized quilting machines. Before our event at Gocrate, that was the first time I ever saw anything like that at a makerspace and I’ve never seen them in any other makerspace before. How did they wind up in the Textile Studio?

Debbie: Yes, it was quite a thing. We started out with one Gammilll, a Statler Stitcher, and then an AT&T representative came out to GoCreate and was entranced withe Gammill and how it operated. He would come in, laugh and hangout with us Quilters. We were a little bit on the ornery side for him, which I think kept him coming back to visit. He was in charge of grants at AT&T, and he was key to writing a grant for GoCreate for the Gammill. Now fast forward to Covid, and Gammills were nowhere to be found. But DJ, she was housing a Gammill. A plain, no frills, Gammill machine in her dining room and DJ decided she wanted her dining room back.

DJ: Well, it's a long story. The quilting machine belonged to Victory In The Valley, because they're a non-profit organization that we support. But they didn’t want it back, and asked me to make any kind of offer, because “it's not coming back to our office.”

Judy: And the grant money from AT&T is what paid to get it computerized and converted.

DJ: The thought of having it computerized, was just wonderful. The quality of product we put out now is a thousand times better.

Debbie: Without the grant from AT&T, we would not have the caliber of machine that we have now. So we have two twin sister’s, Gammill Statler Stitchers.

Mary Kay: We used to handguide it, but getting it upgraded, they actually hook it to a computer. Originally all those big quilting machines were just hand-guided. You would move it yourself. But there was a man, Mr. Statler, who watched his wife, and said, I think I can computerize this. He's the guy who actually married the two things together. That's what makes it so much faster.

Quilting Queens at Wichita event in '21. DJ, Judy and Debbie (l to r)

Make48: For members at GoCreate, or those interested in joining, are you the team that teaches them? How long does it usually take to learn the machines?

Mary Kay: We have another two mentors, Carol and Kim, who also teach. It really depends on the learner. Some people pick it up pretty quickly, and if they have computer experience, that helps. Most of them come with sewing experience, but it's still a little bit different. We have Quilters that can learn it in three or four sessions, and we have some that want us to hold their hands for six months.

DJ: I think it's age-related. I had a hard time and it took me 6 months. I could run the machine when it was hand-guided, and used it all the time, but once it was computerized, everything had to be in the right sequential order or the machine will not work for you. So there's like 34 steps. Yeah it took me 6 months, plus a cheat sheet from Debbie, for me to be able to come in and do something. Now I just walk in and quilt like crazy because it's all in my memory. But I still have my cheat sheet in my suitcase.

Mary Kay: It is complicated and I made probably every mistake out there. I figured that makes a decent teacher, because I've done it before they've done it.

Judy: I think that was the hardest part for me when I was learning too. I've been quilting since ‘91, and always paid a Long-Arm Quilter to quilt my quilts. It was so expensive for a custom queen-size quilt, and it would cost $350, like what we do now. Today, I don't feel a need to do custom quilting, just the edge-to-edge computerized stuff. What got me onboard was the money and how much more cost-effective it was. Once I learned I could book a slot of time at GoCreate I got it done myself. That means more money to buy more fabric!

Debbie: Yeah! If somebody came in off the street and wanted a membership at GoCreate ($125 a month), you can come in and do the same thing that we do as mentors and quilt until your heart's content. Just think what you would have spent on custom quilting. It's a win-win.

DJ: Yeah. Plus you have all the other options here at GoCreate, not just the quilting. You can learn woodworking, laser cutting, welding, almost anything.

Quilting Queens at Textile Studio holding their OLFA Rotary Cutters

Make48: Is there a certain technique that is more popular?

Debbie: I'd say the edge-to-edge quilting where you set your parameters of your quilt, and the dimensions of the quilting path, and then select your pattern. Then it just quilts for you. I just think there are hundreds and hundreds of stitch patterns that we can choose from on our machines, and there are thousands that you can download off the internet.

DJ: There are so many options on patterns.

Judy: I think the hardest part of what we do is getting out of mistakes, and that's true of any computerized software. If you do something wrong, or you get distracted and you get out of sequence, learning how to back out of that and restart, that's what's the hardest part to learn.

Mary Kay: That's probably the hardest part about mentoring too, figuring out when they get stuck on what they've done to get themselves to that spot. Then trying to unwind the issue to get them going again.

Judy: For example, we’ve had a few students who think it’s really easy since they’re so used to computers, but when I’ve turned my back, they’ll click on something and do it wrong because they thought they understood the program. As mentors, you have to watch every click they make. There's those kinds of students, and then there's some who can't memorize anything. There are all kinds of different people we mentor.

Mary Kay: Yeah, we're in the process now where GoCreate has big groups of 4-H students coming in, a lot of them with their moms. Some want to learn the machines, while some just want it done for them. We work with new groups of people here all the time.

Working with team SuperVader in '21

Make48 - Soon you’ll be mentoring many teams when Make48 is in town. What are you looking forward to next week at Nationals?

Mary Kay: Just the unexpected. We never know what's going to be needed. Teams probably aren't going to need our quilting ability, but just however we can help out and see what products they come up with.

Judy: I know the challenge is gonna be about toys, but what I'm anxious to know is what the twist is? What kind of toys? I love to sit back and watch their heads work. You have no clue what the teams are coming up with. And then when they meet with the patent attorneys and they hit the ground running….

DJ: Just to see the enthusiasm….

Debbie: Yeah, the whole room is electrified, as the clock is ticking.

DJ: Yes, I'm looking forward to this one. At the last event when Make48 was here, I volunteered for only one day but came back on Friday. This time I'm here all four days because I don't want to miss anything.

Judy: You did miss a lot last year by not being here every day. I wanna know what’s going on so I'm also going to be here every day.

Make48: How has quilting changed for you?

Debbie: We're all charity Quilters, and our organization is called Stitches of Hope. We’re from Derby, Kansas and we quilt for Victory in the Valley. Our little group is small but mighty. Last year we made, quilted, and turned over 802 quilts to Victory in the Valley! All of those quilts go to Kansas cancer patients. Mary Kay makes little layettes for a charity as well.

Mary Kay: Our group is called the Monicans, a Catholic women's organization, and we do layettes for underprivileged families, mostly in the Wichita area. So at GoCreate, we do some of the quilts and we do all of the changing pads for those layettes. The group has been around since 1914, I think, and there's always a need for people who have a child, or are with child, and have nothing, so we make the *layettes. A lot of the fabric that we make them out of are what the Quilters leave at GoCreate. Members will leave the scraps for me in a box, and then I turn them over to three or four different people, and they'll make just these little things. So it's almost all scrap batting and scrap fabric that we piece back together and turn into little changing pads. (*A layette is a baby’s first set of clothes—this typically includes a matching set of a few bodysuits and/or pants. Some layettes might also include accessories like socks, mittens, hats or hair bows, or even toiletries like baby’s first shampoo and lotion set. To a family with little or no money, this makes a huge difference for their new little one.)

Debbie: We waste nothing in our studio.

Mary Kay: What used to take your grandma months and months, we can do in three or four hours. It's just been amazing and we are very lucky here at GoCreate.


The possibilities are endless inside the Textile Studio at GoCreate. The creative community workspace open to creators of all ages and experiences. Bring an idea and we will help make it come to life! The 18,000-square-foot space offers sophisticated tools and equipment, as well as expert training and a supportive community that can help make your prototypes, projects and dreams come true.

Koch Industries and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation donated $3.75 million to provide membership and training assistance to qualifying applicants, as well as support for mentor fellowships. That gift and the GoCreate space are central to the mission of the WSU Innovation Campus — to be an essential educational, cultural and economic driver for Kansas and the greater public good.

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