Quilting is more than a basis for Soldotna entrepreneur Letitia Hutchings' business, it's a metaphor for her life.
Like blending colors and patterns into a complete piece for the quilts she designs, Hutchings balances the demands of her career and family life and her interests in sewing, fabrics and design.
She designs quilting patterns and sells them through her business, Mount Redoubt Designs. She put out her first book, "'Tis The Season," a collection of seasonal patterns for table runners and wall hangings, May 3. Prior to that, she released a series of six Alaska-themed patterns.
The business will have its one-year anniversary this month and already has grown to an international level. Hutchings' patterns have been picked up by international distributors, and she's been featured in national magazines.
Locally, she had a piece included in the "2001: A Fish Odyssey" summer show at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, and several of her wall hangings are displayed at Robin Place Fabrics in Soldotna. "'Tis the Season" is available at quilting stores throughout the state, including Robin Place Fabrics, Kenai Fabric Center in Kenai and Quilt Kits Alaska in Nikiski.
Hutchings works out of a studio in her home, which helps to balance her business workload with her family life.
"It is a struggle, but I try," she said. "I'm working on getting some employees. The thing that's nice about setting my own hours is I can come and go as I please, and I try to take summers and all school breaks off."
Hutchings has two daughters, Devin, 8, and Olivia, 4. Her husband, Shawn, manages the business end of Mount Redoubt Designs.
"My family's really supportive," she said.
Hutchings, 35, developed an interest in quilting about seven years ago. Her education and prior design experience have been in the fields of costume design, graphic design and in other mediums. For instance, she designed the astronaut and space shuttle sculptures at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
"Alaska Garden," quilted wall-hangings designed by Letitia Hutchings
She studied pattern making and costume design at a school in Portland, Ore., and graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle with a degree in graphic design. When she was 19, she worked for Alaska repertory theater and has worked for a Broadway costume designer doing sewing.
Hutchings is originally from Seattle. Most of her school years were spent in Anchorage. After high school, she spent seven years out of state attending post-secondary school and working until she got married and moved to Soldotna. Now her Alaska
residency is a big part of her business. She chose Mount Redoubt as the name of her business to symbolize her Alaska identity.
"I'm quite proud of where I'm from," she said. "(The name) really brings up a conversation as far as where I'm from. It's kind of an icon of my business."
Hutchings branched out into quilting after moving to Soldotna.
"(Quilting) is kind of a combination of skills," she said. "Living in Soldotna, there's no real design jobs so I just started playing around with it about seven years ago between having kids. I decided to go for it last year."
Hutchings was first exposed to quilting through design classes she taught to community members. Some of her students were quilters, so they would show her their quilting skills while she taught them about design.
A pattern designer doesn't necessarily have to know how to quilt to create quilting patterns, but Hutchings now does both. Her dual skills makes her somewhat of a rarity in the quilting industry, as she found out attending a national quilting show recently. Most of the designers she came across had someone else quilt the finished pieces.
"I had people come into my booth and say, 'who does your quilting?'" she said. "And I said 'well, I do.' I do the whole gig."
Although quilting is a relatively new addition to Hutchings' list of talents, she has found it a pleasant atmosphere to work in.
Letitia Hutchings, left, signs a copy of her book "Tis The Season" for Jan Wallace of Soldotna at Robin Place Fabrics in Soldotna.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
"I really enjoy designing for quilters," she said.
"Mostly because there's a lot of really good sewers out there, and I feel like, with my work, they get to participate in something artistic and make something they're going to be proud of. They can make it and they get to be the star. That's one thing that's really gratifying about it."
The demographic of people who quilt has changed over the years, which means a wider market for Hutchings' designs.
"In my classes, I'm seeing a lot more professional women who have careers that do this for enjoyment or a hobby, so I think the trend is changing as for as who actually quilts," she said. "I think more people are doing it, too. The industry is booming as a whole."
Hutchings will be available from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday during the Quilting on the Kenai Show at Cook Inlet Academy. She will sign books, give a presentation on choosing fabrics and colors and do a sewing demonstration. She plans to release a Christmas pattern in October and a new pattern book next spring.
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