Purple Sand LLC keeps it together for quilters


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Jun 08, 2023

Purple Sand LLC keeps it together for quilters

Kimberly Votava is owner of Purple Sand LLC., a business that provides quilting

Kimberly Votava is owner of Purple Sand LLC., a business that provides quilting and embroidery services. (Noelle Gomez-Haro/Contributor)

Head south on Stone Avenue to a purple wrought iron fence and a small parking lot. Tucked within find something totally unexpected: Purple Sand LLC, a business that offers quilting services.

Each day, owner Kimberly Votava attempts to reduce the stack of quilt tops in her studio by pairing a top with a back and batt, or stuffing.

She loads all three pieces onto a frame where an oversized sewing machine is programmed to top stitch a pattern that will keep all three pieces together.

It can be arduous wrangling those bed-sized swaths of fabric and fuzzy interior but what comes out at the end is spectacular.

"Sometimes it does feel like wrangling a cow, but then, when you get it off the longarm, it is gorgeous, like a piece of art," she said.

That, for the most part, is what's done behind the doors of Purple Sands LLC. It's a niche market and Votava knows that. Although she has been longarming for nearly six years, she considered the business for some time. The day came when she knew it was now or never.

"I’d always wanted to have my own studio," Votava said. "I always wanted to do quilting for others."

Votava plunged into the longarm business with some trepidation ("It's terrifying," she said) after leaving a 25-year career as an HR executive with Fortune 500 companies. As a long-time quilter, she knew the need for longarm services. She took her savings and bought a longarm quilting machine, a heavy-duty sewing machine, a 10-needle and two one-needle embroidery machines and all the ancillary tools and supplies, such as needles, thread, stabilizer and maintenance kits.

"It's not just the equipment," Votava said. "Anybody who's ever bought a piece of equipment knows that. There's everything else that goes with it."

She also needed a building to house it. Purple Sand's building had, at one time, been two houses, but were joined for Liberty Metal Framing and Drywall. That company outgrew the facility, and the place went up for sale.

The property is close to I-10 and required only cosmetic changes. Still, Votava said she has touched every surface redecorating. Then, she hung up her "Open" sign.

"Your biggest fear is failure," she said. "It's not like the Kevin Costner movie, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ You’re targeting a very specific group of people so it's very, very scary, but I felt like, from my own experience, there was room for another provider.

"In my own experience, where I had someone else do quilting for me when I first moved here from Ohio, it was taking nine months to a year to get my quilts back. I had confidence there was room for me."

The making of a quilt

To understand how a quilt is assembled is to understand Votava's business. At its core, a quilt has three pieces: the top, the batt, and the back.

A quilt top is made of small pieces of fabric sewn into a pattern, called a block. Blocks are sewn together to make a quilt top. The back is usually one large piece of fabric — it can be as wide as 108 inches or wider — or it can be pieced together like the top. This part is exactly what it sounds like: the back of a blanket.

The middle, called batting, is generally purchased and can be made of wool, cotton, bamboo, polyester or a combination, like a cotton/polyester blend. Votava has wide backing and batting as well as some cotton fabric to make the blocks for sale at Purple Sand.

Sandwich the top, batt and back together, apply the top stitching, called quilting, and you have a quilt.

To get there, Votava loads the top, batt and back onto a quilting frame, programs the computer, pushes the button and lets it rip. It sounds easy. It is not. For one thing, Votava had to learn how to make the computer communicate with the longarm. That would include which one of the thousands of quilting patterns to top stitch on, and how to align and size the quilting pattern, so it looks balanced and the design size appropriate. That's just for an overall quilting pattern that repeats top to bottom.

There are custom quilting orders, too, which requires a lot more attention and work. Finally, she had to learn how to get out of a jam if the touchy longarm malfunctions.

It was tough, Votava said, but after attending the "University of YouTube" for six months and plenty of practice she was ready.

"I felt like I had made enough mistakes on my own quilts and had finally managed to get myself out of trouble," she said. "Like anything in life, you learn the most from the biggest mistakes you make. Those things stick in your head forever. I didn't touch anybody else's quilt until I messed up a bunch of mine."

Generally, it takes about six hours to quilt a queen-size quilt once it's on the longarm. Cost is 2.5 cents a square inch. Custom quilting is more expensive.

The pandemic shutdown did not negatively affect Purple Sand. In fact, business increased; people needed something to do so they pulled out their sewing machines.

"I would say my customer base between 2020 and 2022 doubled," Votava said. "The other thing is, people who had their longarms at home decided to get out of the business."

These days, Votava said the business is profitable, and she is considering hiring help. She has already purchased and is running a second longarm, no small accomplishment as Gammill longarm quilters start at $50,000. Because she is a two-person shop — her husband does the bookwork — Votava has not had time to market Purple Sand on social media, a full-time job in itself. Still, it hasn't affected business. Mostly it comes from word of mouth.

Quilting is not the only service offered at Purple Sand, although it's most of it.

"I would say 85% of the work I do here is longarm top quilting for other people," she said. "About 10% is custom work, custom work being somebody wants me to make them something and quilt it for them. Most of that is T-shirt quilts or memory quilts, (which are) quilts made out of clothing that a loved one once wore."

She does custom vintage work, "where someone stumbled across a quilt top that maybe mom made or grandma made and they don't know what to do with it, but they know they want to put it together and use it," Votava said.

She also embroiders on most types of cloth, including horse blankets, polo shirts and baby clothes.

"I’ve done everything from saddle pads to dolls," she said as she pulled out a stuffed doll with embroidered toes.

It all goes along with her business philosophy.

"I try to find a way to say, ‘Yes,’ whenever I can," Votava said.

Purple Sand LLC

2447 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson



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The making of a quilt Purple Sand LLC