Meet long-arm quilter Nancy Sharr

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With one of her own quilts as a backdrop, long-arm quilter Nancy Sharr turns pieced tops into heirloom quilts. In less than a decade, this enjoyable pastime has blossomed into a successful business.

Adel resident and long-arm quilter Nancy Sharr finishes 300 quilts for clients every year. Her long-arm quilting is highlighted in national publications, and she is featured in on-line instructional videos. “I machine quilt for other people,” Sharr says of the full-time career that started as a pastime. “When I married Ed, he had all sorts of hobbies. It was through some of the things I learned to do with him that I realized I have a creative side.”

And an industrious side as well. Sharr’s fascination with quilts led her to a quilt class in 1998. “I made three quilts during the six-week class,” she says. “It took care of Christmas that year.” Sharr gave her first quilt to her mother. “She doesn’t see my flaws,” she says. “Now it is folded on a shelf, and when I visit her, we take it down and I refold it.” About six years after that first class, the Sharrs decided it was time for Nancy to leave her high-stress IT security job. “Ed said, ‘You’ve made several quilts and you are really good at it. I think the talent you have, you could do that,’” Sharr reminisces. “I bought my first long-arm quilt machine on October 16, 2004.” And Stitch After Stitch Machine Quilting was born.

The Sharrs talked to several long-arm machine companies, basing their final selection on customer service. “Ed, being mechanical, had questions. They answered them all,” Sharr says. “When we bought my long-arm, they provided a free 8-hour class. While I was in class, Ed spent the day with their mechanics.”

Quilting together the pieced top, batting and backing is a talent of art, math and technique. “I call it letting the quilt talk to me,” Sharr says. “When I’m piecing a quilt top, friends will ask me how I’m going to quilt it. I say, ‘I don’t know, it hasn’t told me yet.’” Muslin samples quilted with pre-printed patterns and her free-hand work help clients select the perfect quilting pattern. Her pattern binder is arranged by price, to help them stay on budget. Sharr is on her second long-arm quilting machine. Its long table includes three rollers, one to hold the quilt top, and two to hold the backing taut. A laser light for pantograph pattern work. And a video camera, so she can view the back of the quilt and be sure there are no puckering or tension issues. “People will show me a quilt with ripples in the back and say ‘The tension was off and I couldn’t fix it.’ Well, sure you can fix that. You can rip it out and do it over,” says Sharr, who counts five seam rippers in her tools of this trade. And has logged her own fair share of seam-ripping time. “I am not going to ask somebody to pay for something that I’m not happy with.” That’s the kind of attitude a fabric artist needs when entrusting a painstakingly pieced quilt top with a long-arm quilter. See Sharr’s work on Facebook at Stitch After Stitch Machine Quilting. Contact her through email at ensharr@q.com.

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