Spotlight: Julie Wurzer of Patch Abilities
Julie Wurzer is a life long creator, who was meant to be a pattern designer. After losing her job, and being asked to write some instructions for a pattern, she fell into starting her own pattern design business. She’s got great advice for anyone exploring their own business.
How does living and working in Iowa influence your creativity?
I don’t exactly know, because I tend to take my creativity for granted.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had an active imagination. No one ever told me “no” to any creative project, no matter the size. When my brother and I were young, probably around 8 and 10, we wanted to build a treehouse/fort in our grove. So we snatched up hammers, nails and every spare board we could find around our acreage, hauled them all out to the grove and built a small square house at the base of a giant silver maple tree. We even built a campfire ring, would have campfires and pretend we were living out there. We rummaged up an old cast iron skillet and cooked shelled corn in it thinking it would turn into popcorn.
I think of that now as an adult, how we were free to build that fort, start campfires out there . . . . all on our own and no one told us “no” it’s too dangerous. We lived about 4 miles from town, so we had to entertain ourselves.
Perhaps the free reign to self-entertain, create anything our imaginations could conjure up, coupled with parents who gave us the freedom to do so without boundaries, gave me the creative foundation that I would forever build upon.
Have you always lived (and sewn) in Iowa?
Yes. I grew up on an acreage outside Jesup.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Oh jeeze. Everywhere. If I have my mind tuned to the “design ideas” channel, I find them everywhere. Literally everywhere.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Receiving feedback from people who tell me they made umpteen of my designs, and gave them to every sister, relative and friend. I love hearing how my designs bring joy into people’s lives, thru giving or receiving.
What is the most challenging?
Figuring out our Blue Ocean Strategy for Patch Abilities and how we can stand out in our industry.
Finish the idea: “If I am not designing or sewing, you’ll find me…”
Soaking up every little moment with my little boys. Getting in every snuggle, tickle and giggle while they’re little.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Taking the leap to start my business. That was easily the biggest risk and the most rewarding too. Great reward is only achieved thru great risk. This was so huge, as a matter of fact, that it’s hard to put into words.
Your website presents such a positive, upbeat description of how you survived the loss of your job as an agronomist. What helped you turn disaster into an opportunity to reinvent yourself? Had you ever considered a career in pattern design before losing your job?
A lot of this answer lies in some of my other comments. But here’s a few more nuggets.
Reinvent yourself. I graduated from ISU with a BS in Agronomy. I’m blessed with both a highly creative AND a scientific mind. I felt if I got a degree in Agronomy, which I easily understood, then I could easily get a good job anywhere. As opposed to get a degree in art (which was my limited concept of what a creative job would be) and create what other people want me to create. So, I chose Ag. Then I went off to work in Ag which was male dominated. I had to prove myself 100% of the time, working as hard or harder than my male coworkers. This was the time when I totally squelched my creative side. And no, I had never ever considered writing patterns.
When I was fired – yes thankfully and proudly fired, that was the biggest disappointment of my life, up to that point. It was, however, the greatest gift!
I believe the universe had been trying to tell me for a long time, when I was working in Agronomy, that I was not where I was supposed to be. Looking back, there were many signs that I didn’t recognize. I thought they were merely hurdles that had to be conquered. In reality they were signs that I was meant to do something else. And since I did not listen to any of them, the universe finally sent me a sign I could not ignore – in the form of a brick upside the head (losing my job). Thank you, universe!
My identity was completely tied to my j.o.b., as I would discover, so the proceeding period after the job loss was dark and dismal. But, I refused to give up. With lots of time on my hands, I watched a lot of Oprah and Dr Phil at the time. I realized I needed to figure out who Julie really was, as I obviously was NOT Julie the agronomist. So, the soul-searching began. Eventually, I would find myself helping my Mom in her quilt shop, Merry’s Stitchins. She kept encouraging me to start a pattern business, which was the equivalent of telling me to design rocket ships next week. I would look at her with a “yeah, right, Mom” look and move on.
One day she asked me to write the instructions (a.k.a., a pattern) for her “Welcome” wall hanging. She had made hundreds of these hangings and sold them at craft shows years before and according to her, people asked for the pattern. She asked if I would write a pattern for this and that was the beginning of the “spark”. That sparked my creativity, which began to flow heavily since I’d held it back for so dang long. That’s where Patch Abilities began.
Why didn’t I fall into a deep depression during that time? I was depressed. I sure wasn’t happy. But that time was necessary for me to dig deep and ask the question “who am I really”. Letting others help me was helpful. Times of darkness aren’t forever, they serve a purpose. I refused to “medicate” and create a mask that would certainly not help me discover answers and new possible directions. I could write a book on this chapter of my life, but I guess the main takeaway is this. Ask yourself, “what am I supposed to learn from this and how can it help me move forward?”
What’s your advice or recommendation to help others reignite their mojo when an unexpected and shocking shift in life’s direction is required?
My advice is slow down and listen to what the universe is trying to tell you.
Listen to that little voice. I now know I spent too many years in my youth not listening to that voice. My advice is full of clichés, but they’re all true. When one door closes, another opens, everything happens for a reason – – -yada, yada. For so long, I worked in an industry that had no room for creativity and I thought nothing of it. But in truth, my creativity is a big part of my spirit, so doing anything creative fulfills me. And, doing that which spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally fulfills you is where you belong. You may not have any idea how to turn that into an income, but it’s where you belong and if you shift your focus to this, you’ll discover ways to make a living at it. So, my best advice is LISTEN. Listen to that little voice.
How have you nurtured your own creativity (over a lifetime, I suspect) so that you are able navigate change with such forward-thinking momentum?
Haha. You make it sound so calculated or planned.
I would have to say the key to the longevity of Patch Abilities thus far, is that I am driven to keep creating. One of the channels thru which I create is by designing patterns and moving my company forward. You see, I brushed off my creative side for so long thinking it was just a hobby. Sadly, I tied my identity to my “j.o.b” at the time. That was me not listening to my own little voice.
Now I clearly understand that my creative nature is one of my soul’s deepest desires, it is part of my identity. I simply must create to feel alive. That coupled with my determination not to become a small-business-failure statistic (90% of small businesses fail in the 1st 5 years of business and out of the remaining 10%, 6% will fail in the 1st 10 years of business – yikes!) is what keeps me focused on where I want to take this company. . . . . . and I’m a huge fan of Tony Robbins and Marie Forleo, so when I get in a rut, I turn to them for a burst of mojo and renewed sense of direction.
You mentioned on your website that you are a great cook as well. Care to share a summer recipe that will nourish shop-hoppers?
Sure. How about a great homemade salad dressing:
For 1 good-sized lettuce salad:
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Dash of salt and pepper
Dash of onion powder and garlic powder
¼ teaspoon basil and/or parsley (whatever you have in the pantry)
1 teaspoon orange juice
Whisk all together in the bottom of your salad bowl. Chop lettuce, add to bowl and toss. Add yummy garnishments such as sunflower seeds, tomatoes, cucumber and definitely add freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
What’s next for you?
Oh, my head is constantly swimming with other business ideas. When I started my business way back in 2004, I could not have dreamed of it being my sole income source. Starting my own business opened my eyes to the endless sea of business opportunities that we can create. Maybe taking action on one of those other business ideas.
For now, I focus on taking Patch Abilities up a notch. I want us to be the company that invites, every person into the soul-satisfying hobby of quilting, who has ever thought “I’d love to learn to quilt, but . . . ” I want to dispel the “but’s”.
Do you dabble in other creative endeavors or mediums? If so, tell us more!
My imagination is “on” 24/7. If I had unlimited time, I would dive into every creative desire I have. . . . . and perhaps that should be my goal for next year – dive into EVERY creative desire I have, whether it’s repurposing old windows into home décor/furniture or making table center pieces from seemingly ratty ole wood boards. I love love love being creative – letting my mind dream up the concept and then let my hands and mechanical logic takeover to bring the “idea” to life.
I’m lucky I believe, that in addition to being outrageously creative I have an equal amount of mechanical sense to compliment it – what I mean is that I can operate any hand tool (table saw, skill saw, drill, router, you name it) along with a healthy dose of common sense, to dream it, figure out what materials I need, what tools I need, what hardware I need (such as nails, screws, brackets) . . . . and then the magic begins. Some of my most recent creations outside of quilting include: making Christmas snowflake ornaments out of tiny pinecones from our spruce trees with my little boys, creating home décor signs with quotes like: “the secret to having it all, is believing you already do”.
What inspires you to create?
Being creative is who I am. When I am being creative, whether it’s just in my mind or physically creating, my soul is singing. It’s no surprise, I’m asked this question often, so here’s how I describe my creativity.
Within me, there flows a river of creativity. It never stops, it never slows, it’s always there. I can walk up to my river anytime I like and jump in, soaking up all it has to offer. Swim around and discover new ideas. When I’m tired, which does happen because being creative takes lots of great energy, I can jump right back out. And I have a boatload of ideas to work with, after I emerge from the river. This may sound like the beginning of a great children’s book, and perhaps that’s a future adventure for me to take, but this is the most accurate description of how I stay perpetually inspired to create.
When is your most productive time for creating?
My most productive creative time, is any time in which I choose my creativity over activities I feel I “have” to do, such as marketing, paying bills, and any other task to running a business.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
Bah ha ha ha! As if they can be tamed and stored neatly. Great question, let me know when you find the answer. Seriously though, I find I’m much more creatively focused when my space is tidy and organized . . . . so why don’t I make a greater effort to keep it organized? Squirrel! Distraction – the downside of creativity, that’s why. Creative brains just want to be creative, but I do make an effort. I like shelves with bins or baskets. Not cupboards where I can’t see all my goodies.
What is your typical day like?
I have 2 little boys (4 and 6) so I start each day with them and I’m soaking up every single stage they’re in. I love to step out onto the porch for an early morning of orange juice with Jack, my youngest and always up super early. We listen to the birds, spot a few birds, and chatter about whatever Mommies and 4 year old little boys do. Once the boys are in their places for the day (school, sitter, etc.) then I’m off to Patch Abilities.
My typical day will include the usual running a business tasks and coordinating with my trusty assistant to make sure we’re headed in the right direction for the week. If I feel I have all my “business” taken care of, then I feel free to create new designs. You might think that running a pattern design business is all sewing and stitching and quilting every day . . . .. but that would be wrong. There is a lot more behind the scenes work that you’d imagine. I can create all day every day, but if I don’t work on marketing my creations, well then it’s just a hobby and not a business.
What inspires your pattern designs?
Anything and everything.
When embarking upon a project, do you pre plan your entire endeavor or do you simply follow where your inspiration takes you?
By I’d have to say I plan as much as I can, but I stay flexible enough to go where the creativity leads me. I learned long ago, not to push, force or lead my creativity.
Are there indispensable tools in your studio? How do they improve your work? Where are they available?
I have a Viking sewing machine that my Mom gave me as a college graduation gift. I do every single stitch of appliqué on it. Mom gave me a Bernina, and I do all of my piecing, seams and bindings on that because it sews a true quarter inch seam without any fuss. I should mention that I am not a gadget girl, however I do have a short list of materials I always use:
- Heat ‘n Bond Lite fusible web
- 505 Basting Spray by Odif
- Several cutting mats and rotary cutters,
- 8.5 inch Olfa rulers with the grippy grid on the back,
- Fiskars Titanium Micro-Tip Easy Action Scissors (No. 5) for cutting all my appliqué shapes, and
- I love my Valdani machine 35wt. thread collection
Some people’s sewing machines are finicky to thread, but thankfully I don’t have that issue with my Viking. I blanket stitch all of my designs using threads in my Essentials #1 thread collection – it has every color I need and they’re all variegated so no matter what fabric I’m stitching on, the thread color blends and pops just right.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
Oh, my most challenging piece? Writing the directions for patterns that require more than just 4 border seams. Getting the directions correct is my biggest concern. My niche patterns (6 x 22”) are easy to write, and I’ve done it over 400 times. Creating something larger, with more piecing and blocks, challenges me. Not because I’m a doof and can’t do math, rather because it must be error free, and you all know what I’m talking about. Every single quilter on the planet has worked with a pattern with, (GASP!) an error in it. Making every attempt possible to get it right, is my mission and challenge.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I get to use my creativity any time I want. . . . . and make money and support my family doing so. I am so stinkin’ lucky to do what I love love love to do and make a good living at it, that there’s no need to seek motivation. If every person would do the same – what a happy happy world it would be. For every person who says “someday I wish I could do ___ for a living”, I have the same advice for you that my Grandfather gave to me. Wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up faster.
What is your favorite accomplishment?
I have 2. Starting my business and having kids. I’m so so so so so grateful that I didn’t miss out on either of these adventures.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Here’s an answer to all these – – Besides “wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up faster”, I would have to say that this one nugget of wisdom has served and transformed me since the birth of my business. Here it is. “The worst answer you will get is a ‘no’”. This goes for anything. When I started my business in 2004, I knew nothing. Nothing about how to design a pattern cover, how to copyright, how to market, how to create an invoice on Quick Books, I knew nothing about everything about starting and running a business.
The biggest fear people have is ASKING FOR HELP. Why? The fear of rejection I guess. I figured out quickly, if I was gonna figure out how to do anything in my business I would have to ask those who have already done it. And sometimes they were questions like, how much does it cost you to produce your product.
You may feel uncomfortable asking questions that probe into the manufacturing of someone’s business, but you must learn what you don’t know or you could make big costly mistakes. So I learned real quick to be brave and ask anyone any question I had. And, if I felt my tummy tinge with a sliver of fear, I would tell myself “Julie, what’s the worst answer you’re gonna get? No?” 2 tiny letters, that’s all they are. I would tell myself this each time, and I’ve never been afraid to ask anyone any question about their business.
What trends are you seeing in quilting? and sewing?
Um, honestly I don’t get out much. Haha. What I mean is, at this moment I stay way more than occupied with steering Patch Abilities, creating new products, raising 2 spirited little boys and staying determined not to let my business get in the way of being a fantastic mom. So, I don’t look or even follow the trends in my industry. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it.
Here’s what I know, and that is if I create with passion, I will succeed regardless of trends. Besides, I get sucked into Pinterest once in a while, so I’m seeing trends even if I’m not looking for them. And Pinterest always makes me want to jump into my river of creativity. So, in the end, as long as I’m not hiding under a rock, trends influence my creativity, whether I know it or not. The only trend I have taken notice of is that it’s getting wooly out there. More people are being enticed into wool projects, including me. We have several wool patterns as a result, but then again I created wool patterns because I wanted to work with it. So again, it all comes down to “what do I feel like doing today”. =)
Check out some of Julie’s great videos to help make and finish your pieces:
Learn more about Julie Wurzer:
Browse through our other spotlight stories on Create Whimsy.