For Grazyna Froehlich, quilting was never about sewing, it was about art. The owner of Wildcat Quilts since 2005, Froehlich said she has finished so many quilts she doesn't remember all of them.
Froehlich, 60, earlier this month sold her business to hair stylist, and fellow quilter Kim Randrup, who has already transformed the Sing Lee Alley location into a hair salon and quilting shop.
“I've been a lifelong sewer. I sewed ever since I could hold a needle and thread, but I mainly made clothes for my dolls, and clothes for myself and clothes for my friends,” said the Polish born Froehlich.
After moving to Petersburg, Froehlich opened a seamstress shop called Tiger Tailoring, but she couldn't shake the bug to be more creative.
Froehlich tried stained glass, oil painting and watercolor. But she knew there was still something else out there for her to try.
“I never thought I would be a quilter, because buying new fabric and cutting it up into little pieces was just impossible for me to do. I was buying fabric and cutting it into sleeves and pieces of clothing,” she said.
At the beginning of each school year, Froehlich would make a new shirt for her son. But as far as quilts were concerned, she admired the art, but couldn't see doing it herself. “In the old days, people would
try to save old clothes and use the good parts of dresses and shirts and make them into blankets, sort of recycling them. And that made sense to me,” she said. “But going to the store and buying new fabric and cut it up, I just couldn't do it.”
What changed her mind about quilting was the desire to replace an old afghan blanket that her husband’s grandmother had made for them. Froehlich became inspired to make a quilt top, and she sent it off to a quilter to be finished. She waited excitedly for six months for the result, and admits she was somewhat disappointed.
“It was quilted in an okay way, but it wasn't quilted in a way that I do here,” she said.
Froehlich, who also works part-time at the Petersburg Medical Center, said she wanted to study art when she was young, but didn't because her father didn't think it was a good career choice for a woman. Still she remained creative and committed to art projects, she said.
“You forget about laundry, you forget about all the things you are supposed to do, you are just creating this masterpiece,” she said.
She describes her process in freehand quilting as elementary art. And now she is passing on the trade that she taught herself to Randrup.
Randrup, 45, heard by word-of -mouth that Froehlich wanted to sell her business. She showed up with an offer and the excitement to start a new venture.
Now the narrow strip of a retail space has taken on a new look. The Gammill Long Arm machine, which gets its name because the sewer uses the full-length of their arm to literally draw stitches onto the fabric, still takes up the bulk of the center space. It is framed by hanging quilts that Froehlich will take with her. The rear portion of the space is now a hair stylist studio where Randrup will continue to see her regular customers under the watchful eye of her yellow lab, Jake.
“I think I can do both things,” Randrup said, sounding very excited about turning a hobby into more of a career, but still being able to see her regular customers for haircuts and colors. “I like quilting, and I've always wanted a long arm. I just didn't have the room,” she said.
Randrup had previously rented a chair at Mirror Image, but wanted to try something new. Now she gets the best of both worlds as she learns a new skill on the long arm sewing machine.
As for Froehlich, she’s looking forward to the next chapter in her life. “I want to move to go somewhere that has more sunshine,” she said. “And somewhere I can get in a car and drive farther than the ‘end of the road.’”
The new shop will be called Kim’s, and will be open Tuesday through Saturday. The grand-opening of Kim’s is scheduled for April 13.