The joy of quilting: Angie Roberts’ store, Noble Quilter, caters to social, artistic pursuits

Noble Quilter owner/operator Angie Roberts posed along with her visual display aide, Bunny Richards. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

Ten years ago, when Angie Roberts’ husband suggested she needed a hobby, she started taking quilting classes.

And she wound up owning a quilting store.

“I guess I’m an extremist,” Roberts grinned Monday, sitting at one of her classroom tables at Noble Quilter in Elk River. “So here we are.”

It’s going well, as she got into one of the few industries that’s been thriving even in a bad economy and showed a good instinct for what quilters need.

Noble Quilter celebrated its second anniversary in May, two months after increasing from 1,156 square feet to 2,650.

Roberts is among thousands of women, and a few men, who got hooked on quilting, which has become more about art than warmth in recent decades, more likely to hang on a wall than cover a bed.

Her store was one of 81 in a state-wide Shop Hop tour this past month that brought about 1,200 quilters through her doors.

“It’s the social aspect. And it’s an art,” said Roberts. “Women love creating. Plus, it’s a huge stress reliever. To touch the fabric is like eating chocolate! Without the calories.”

Her career before quilting was writing technical manuals and government grants for an Eden Prairie firm that makes seismic equipment such as wave machines, wind tunnels, devices that simulate earthquakes. She did that for nine years and found it interesting work, but when she took a maternity leave, she quit soon after.

Angie got antsy. She’s always been busy. Growing up in Spring Valley, south of Rochester, she did odd jobs at farms where her friends lived, such as picking strawberries and beans, and clearing fields of rocks. (“It got so hot you felt like a shriveling raisin!” she recalls.) In high school she had three jobs: secretary, a bakery, and cleaning houses.

When her husband Robbin observed that she needed a hobby, Angie agreed. Having done some cross-stitching, she signed up for a class at Quilting Basket in Maple Grove. She enjoyed the month-long primer, took another, then another, until the store manager, impressed, offered her a part-time job.

She savored the homey, friendly atmosphere at Quilters Basket and worked there four years, until the store closed, leaving her “heartbroken.”

The Roberts’ moved to St. Michael, and she found another quilting shop  where she worked for a year.

“But I wanted a store that was homey like Quilters Basket was, and this one wasn’t,” said Roberts.

Her husband then had another suggestion: why not use  all you’ve learned and open your own store?

“Are you crazy? In this economy?” she retorted.

He talked her into it. She chose the name “Noble” because it implies courage and bravery, which is how she felt as a novice opening a new business during these times.

Robbin, a mechanical designer and computer ace whose hobby is collecting flashlights, designed the layout of the shop along with the shelves and counters which they built themselves. Some of his flashlights are also displayed.

They  have three kids: Paul, 21; Rachel, 9; and Nate, 6. The little ones love being at the shop. Rachel asks, “How old do I have to be before I can run the shop?” Nate pushes a cart with fabrics and tries to sell them to the women.

Children created this doll bed and quilts in a class. (Photo by Bruce Strand)Noble Quilters has an extensive class offering with  Block of the Month themes such as Embroidery, Honoring our Quilting Heritage, and Civil War. The sewers are provided with a block, and they stitch and socialize and have coffee and treats. The classes have 10 to 15 in each. Before recent expansion they were limited to 6 to 8.

Roberts employs eight teachers with Rita Kroening the primary one. Connie Bretz, an 18-year-old enthusiast from Princeton, heads up the children’s classes. The store has classes for kids 10-13. Recently a class made doll beds including quilts.

There are several genres of quilting as Roberts demonstrated with a tour of the store – shelves of Civil War era fabric, Batik, floral, contemporary black-whites, soft cuddly material for children, Kansas Trouble (similar to Civil War), novelty (such as sports and animal themes), bright colors, and flannels. She’s just now moving into another material gaining popularity, wool.

Roberts says her own personal favorite at this time is Batiks, in which the cloth gets multiple hand-dyes and is then laid on a beach to dry, primarily made in Thailand.

“Batiks,” she gushes, “has such rich, vivid colors, and each one is so unique. And people who come into the story say the like our color selection.”

Roberts has made about 20 quilts herself but, like many quilters, has given most of them away for occasions like births, weddings, graduations, Christmas. She has just three still in her possession which she keeps folded up on a shelf to look at.

“I used to do tons of quilts, but not any more, because I’m too busy with the store,” said Roberts, who instead helps many other quilters pursue a homey and friendly art form.