Patchwork Quilts is a cheerful and creative small business in Hamilton featuring fabric, notions, patterns, gifts and expertise.

Claudia Williams opened her shop nearly five years ago and has three wonderful part-time employees – Marilyn Burton, Ruth Ann Hunter and DeLis Olsen. They teach classes, sew samples and are there for the customers.

“We cater to people’s sewing habits – or their addictions,” said Williams, who has been sewing all her life.

“I love it so much. I majored in it in college [Clothing, Textiles and Design from the University of Idaho],” said Williams.

She took time from sewing to raise her family and only started quilting when she moved to Hamilton, attended a quilt guild meeting and was hooked.

“After Sally Bell closed her shop, I decided we needed a quilt shop here – it was an opportunity knocking at my door,” said Williams.

“I love being a shop owner. I love talking to people and I love teaching people that want to learn. My husband said, ‘You must be in heaven because you can talk about sewing all day long’.

“If you think you’re going to be sewing all the time and be a shop owner you’re crazy. There’s a lot to it – you have to keep up on trends, the website, social media, class schedules, ordering – I couldn’t do it without my husband and my three wonderful employees. Then I have wonderful people who stop in and take my classes and wonderful customers that help me out a lot too.

“I probably work 60 hours a week – like every other small business person does. They work really hard for their money. We do it because we love being in the Bitterroot. I love being in the Bitterroot.”

Her large shop offers a classroom for teaching customers how to make quilts, items and, occasionally, clothing.

“I have that love of clothing, but you have to have such a large amount of fabric on hand,” she said. “If they are sewing their clothes, they are sewing for individuality – it used to be we sewed clothing because we needed clothing.”

Garment construction is starting to make a comeback and Patchwork Quilts has classes and patterns for making aprons, clothing and pajama patterns – especially for grandmas to sew for little ones.

“We are 80 percent quilting, but since we’re the only store in Hamilton I try to have a nice selection of threads and notions – elastic, Velcro, buttons, bra extenders.”

Unlike fabric shops in a metropolitan area that can specialize in a favorite type of fabric or design, Patchwork Quilts caters to a lot of people in the Bitterroot Valley – with varied tastes and preferences.

They carry a wide range of styles and types: batiks, reproduction, 1930s, children’s, and specialty fabrics: denim, canvas, velveteen, felt, chalk board fabric – a good stock of beautiful bolts.

Years ago, quilting began as a way to connect with friends and help neighbors – an ideology still true for today’s quilter.

“Camaraderie is a big part of quilting,” said Williams. “Most of my clientele are retired – they come here for friendship, advice and to hang out with their friends. Patchwork Quilts offers a warm, inviting atmosphere for stitchers of all levels to ‘meet, sew, share and grow’.”

The store offers expertise and advice.

“What we give away tons of is our expertise. We are really good at explaining how to do something, show you options and give choices – especially with thread: polyester, cotton, how many piles, size and what will work best with your project.

“Nothing is worse than if you are making a garment and have a wardrobe malfunction at an inopportune time.”

Each employee has an overview of quilting and sewing knowledge and they each have a specialty area: bags, clothes, pillows, aprons, etc.

“I like to do machine embroidery,” said Williams. “I’m moving our store towards machine embroidery; I want to be an expert in it. You do the piecing, the quilting – everything in the hoop and it’s all digital – then you just sew your squares together.”

Patchwork Quilts has an embroidery club – open to everyone with demonstrations to support people who purchased an embroidery machine. Williams encourages them to mix their styles of quilting.

“The industry is moving toward that big time,” she said. “Some of the icons of the industry are moving their designs to digital patters – which is fun to see.”

Patchwork Quilts even has a long arm quilting machine available for rent and use right in the shop.

Williams thanks the community for their business and appreciates that people shop local.

“When you are shopping locally you are helping families that you know. You see me in the grocery store – it is a real community.”

As part of the community this small business participates in local fundraisers and causes – like Sprinkle Pink. Currently, they are gathering food and toys for pets and they always watch out for each other.

“When something happens in your life – that maybe isn’t the best and maybe you need help you would be amazed how fast it goes through this shop and you would be amazed that how quickly we get help to people. We try to be there for customers and you don’t get that from big stores and you don’t always get cheaper prices and if you really shopped you would find that out.”

William said big stores can carry more items but she has better fabric – cotton and flannel.

“The local quilt shops have much higher quality fabric with a much higher thread count. If you’re going to invest in an heirloom – which you always do because you never know where your quilt is going to end up and how much love it is going to provide – isn’t it wiser to make your time worth it and use fabric that is the best you can afford at the time?

“When you come here you get really good fabric and you get my smile.”

Patchwork Quilts is having a Christmas open house in celebration of this weekend’s Small Business Saturday. Sales of fabrics and a demonstration on how to make an ornament or pin cushion called a cathedral window and how to make Chenille.

Patchwork Quilts is at 1720 N. First Street, Suite E (near Sears), in Hamilton. They are open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Visit their website at patchworkquiltshamilton.com or call 406-363-5754.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.