- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - She doesn’t keep business hours Sunday afternoons, but April Johnson has a row of quilts to finish by Christmas. So the Quilt Studio was the only place with the lights on in the hallway of Southland Shopping Center.

“We’re busy all year long, but Christmas is super busy,” she explained, sitting at her desk next to a wall lined with patchworks.

The little room next to Medusa’s hair salon has been Johnson’s work area ever since she opened the business with Dean Kelley 11 years ago. Two large quilting machines dominate the space; the unfinished quilts share space with supplies on a shelf in the back.

Regular customers still have time to drop off their projects for Johnson to complete, though she won’t be running the machines very much longer. Johnson, 61, is retiring.

The shop officially closes Dec. 31. She plans to keep hours by appointment in January to sell equipment and supplies.

After the new year, there will be more time to remodel her home and spend time with her mother. But quilting is a lifelong passion and she’s not putting the needle and thread aside completely.

“It’s almost like a religion to me,” she said. “I know that’s overkill.”

Johnson’s retirement comes at a time when the business of quilting is growing. The industry was worth $3.76 billion per year in 2014, according to the latest Quilting in America survey published by Quilts, Inc. Total industry value has increased 5 percent since 2010.

The survey cited the economic downturn for an overall decline in the number of quilters, but there were more than 16 million active in the U.S. last year.

Long a hobby associated with elderly women, people from all genders and age groups are now taking up quilting, Johnson said. She credits the rise in popularity with changes in technology over the years making cutting fabric much easier.

Johnson, whose maternal grandmother sewed, taught herself technique at age 5 or 6. She isn’t sure where her interest in quilting originates.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was told it was DNA.”

As a young child, Johnson remembers being at someone’s house and noticing a sewing machine on the dining room table. She began sorting through fabrics spread out across the floor.

The woman she was staying with gave Johnson the fabrics, a needle and thread. Johnson also sewed in 4-H.

As she pursued the hobby, Johnson made a career as a surgical technologist - or operating room team member - first at IU Health-Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis and then closer to home at Terre Haute Regional.

The business was a second job for a while before she hung up the scrubs for good a few years ago.

Quilt Studio is a machine quilting service. Customers make the quilt top, and Johnson uses a special table and frame to set up the three layers. The machine stitches all three layers together.

The quilts on the wall are not for sale. Some of them are gifts - including a floral design made by one her “best customers,” Georgia Lenderman, who used to make quilts for teachers.

Johnson thanks her customers and has compiled a referral list of other machine quilters in the area. Those are available by calling her at 812-841-8588.

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Source: Tribune-Star, http://bit.ly/1IR2Och

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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