Swirly Girls - Making Magic Happen

(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #1, January 20141. Written by Rita Farro.)

SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #1, Swirly Girls

Some of the most original patterns in the quilt industry are coming from the dynamic duo of Susan Emory and Christine Van Buskirk, a.k.a — Swirly Girls Design, Inc. out of Midlothian, Virginia. Since they established their partnership in 2008, they’ve made 100+ quilts a year, written two books, designed 20+ quilt patterns, and four fabric collections for Michael Miller. So — how did this magic happen? Susan Emory is a fifth generation quilter. Growing up, she believed everybody knew how to quilt. She went to school for graphic design and worked at an ad agency in Seattle. When asked where she gets her inspiration, she says “I love to make custom one-of-a-kind things for people and I sew every day. All aspects of quilting bring me joy — appliqué, piecing, paper piecing, curved piecing, hand piecing, and the actual quilting. I also do mixed media on canvas . . . and I upcycle furniture. I love to find a piece, an ugly piece — like this china hutch — and give it new life with fabric or paint.”

Susan Emory and Christine Van Buskirk, Kindred Spirits
Susan Emory and Christine Van Buskirk, Kindred Spirits

Christine Van Buskirk grew up learning the basics of garment sewing from her mother, who sewed all her own clothes. But during her college years, then graduate school, motherhood and a job at IBM, her own sewing was limited to things like fun, easy-fitting Halloween costumes. During the 90’s, she was intrigued by her mother’s newfound love of quilting, and inspired by Alex Anderson to give it a try. Living in upstate New York, she took her first class at a local quilt shop. Logical engineering Christine fell in love. She says, “I was chomping at the bit to try every new technique. There is so much geometry in quilting and I love playing with graph paper! The first block that made me really happy was 16 pieces coming to a perfect point in the middle. I didn’t know it was supposed to be hard.”

Their two worlds collided in 2002 when Susan and Christine’s husbands were each transferred and the two families moved to Virginia the same week. Both new in town, looking to make new friends — they ended up at Quilter’s Corner in Midlothian, Virginia. They soon realized they were kindred spirits — with two very different points of view. Susan was doing long-arm quilting full-time, and after she purchased the quilt shop — Christine became the manager. They loved designing quilts together. They established Swirly Girls Design because they saw a need in the marketplace for patterns that would showcase the newer fabric styles — the larger prints, the directional prints, etc. Swirly Girls patterns became known for having excellent written directions with a clever twist — like an unexpected piecing technique. When Susan and Christine were running the quilt shop — “SCHMETZ was the only machine needle we sold or used. We had the big display with all the different needle options. For piecing, we use the Microtex Sharp 70/10 and the 60/8 for machine appliqué. We use the Quilting needle to do our quilting, and we tell our students to use the Embroidery needle when sewing with decorative threads in appliqué projects.” The Swirly Girls were often inspired by Michael Miller fabrics — and at the 2008 International Quilt Market, they had a meeting with Kathy Miller. "Delightful" was their last collection. "Daydream," their fifth fabric collection, is newly released. Today’s quilters are inspired by Swirly Girls patterns, books and fabric lines. What’s next? They have created two quilting rulers for Creative Grids. And you MUST check out their very unique line of Monogram Buttons for Dill Buttons. Each button has a nine-hole grid so you can stitch out any letter or number. Once you stitch the letter, the buttons can be attached to any project to spell monograms, names, dates etc. It’s such a great idea — you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself! www.SwirlyGirlsDesign.com