By Cathy Dixon
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis
My love affair with fabric began in my grandmother’s “dry goods” store in Pass Christian. Five years old, sitting behind the counter, I watched with fascination as the ladies shopped for their fabrics, thread, and notions. And I listened as they talked among themselves about their creations. A dress for someone’s graduation, a new skirt for church, or a flannel nightgown, all were exciting to imagine. But the best part was when the fabric bolts came off the shelf. They were rolled onto the counter, “thump thump, thump thump.” The fabric was cut with a big pair of scissors, then folded carefully and placed in a brown paper bag.
As a young widow my grandmother had supported her only child, my father, through the Great Depression, running her own country store in rural Harrison County. It was a typical country store where you bought gasoline for your Model T, hardware, clothing, and groceries, all in one place. But by the time I came along she had moved her store into town, on 2nd Street in Pass Christian. The groceries and gas pumps were gone, but the “dry goods” filled the shelves, and to a little girl, the fabric shelves seemed as high as the ceiling.
My grandmother died when I was young, and it was a terrible loss. I was her only grandchild then and our love for each other was fierce. She was a strong and remarkable woman of faith. I still marvel at all she accomplished and the odds she overcame. She was a young woman in a time when women were not welcome in the workplace. She was a widow with a young child, and an entrepreneur in the hardest of economic times.
But on top of the legacy of strength and love she left to us all, she left behind her old Singer treadle sewing machine. No electricity needed, just a foot treadle, pumped back and forth to run the machine. Her dry goods store remained too, with my great aunts and great uncle taking over the operation. With an endless supply of free fabric, I learned to sew on that treadle machine and in the hot summer months on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in the days before air conditioning, I spent many an afternoon sewing to my heart’s content. I was hooked.
Sewing remained one of my favorite pastimes through high school and into my years as a young mother. By then I had my own shiny new sewing machine, run by electricity of course. However, as happens in life, motherhood, graduate school, and a busy career practicing psychology left no time for hobbies, so the sewing machine went to live in the attic.
Fast forward to 25 years later—I became a grandmother! The sewing machine was coming down from the attic. It was time for burp cloths, baby clothes, and a quilt. Before I knew it I was hooked again. But fabric buying was different now. Most of the familiar fabric stores were gone. Not to be outdone, I turned to my new favorite shopping source—the Internet. The selection was endless, shipping was cheap, and I loved all the packages of pretty fabric arriving at my door.
And then, one day a light bulb came on in my head. It would be fun to SELL fabric! Really, it doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out where that idea came from. Recently widowed, and still grieving the loss of my beloved husband, I just didn’t want to venture out alone, so I posed the idea to my daughter, Robin, and her husband, Heath. Robin, a nurse practitioner, and Heath, a nurse anesthetist, were busy with a toddler and their own careers. But Heath, always my partner in crime, was enthusiastic about the idea. Robin, however, was not so sure. “I will admit I was very skeptical. We all had busy careers and we knew NOTHING about running a business, let alone a fabric business.” In the end, she got outvoted and the crazy idea began to take on a life of its own.
We bought a few bolts of fabric, stored them in the upstairs bedroom of my house on our family farm, Cotton Blossom Farm, in Madison County. We created a little store on etsy.com—a website like eBay, but for crafty people. Within a few weeks the fabric began to sell…and sell…and we bought more…and sold more. Pretty soon the bolts of fabric spilled down the stairs and began to fill my entire house. Then we built a studio/warehouse on the farm and filled it with fabric. We were shipping hundreds of yards of fabric every month – all over the world!
Enter my son, Evan. A Millsaps, trained computer scientist and professional web developer, he offered to build us our very own e-commerce web site. And he did. Now we were selling from Etsy and www.cottonblossomfarm. And the orders were pouring in. We hired an employee and then another, just to keep up with the demand. By now, Robin was “all in” and becoming a marketing-savvy businesswoman, with another baby on the way and continuing her work as a nurse practitioner. Heath, still a full time CRNA, was our financial manager, and all of us were going to International Market to pick out the newest fabric collections. We were all enjoying our little foray into the world of entrepreneurship.
Pretty soon, word began to spread around the local community, “There is a warehouse full of beautiful fabric on that farm in Madison County” We got regular requests to shop at our warehouse, but we were not set up to be a walk-in retail business. That is when we realized that this could be a “brick and mortar” store, as well as an e-commerce business. It was a gigantic leap of faith for us to take that step. We knew we wanted to locate in Madison, but we had no idea how a small fabric store would be received there, or even where we should put the shop. Then, one day, Heath and I were driving down Main Street and I looked up to see a two-story building with wooden porches and a quaint iron fence around the little front yard. It was for lease. I literally grabbed Heath’s arm and said, “Stop! There it is!” And it was. Three months later we were a shop on Main Street. All of the bolts of fabric moved from the farm into town.
From the beginning, our mission for the shop on Main Street was to be more than just a store selling fabric. We wanted to build a community of passionate sewing enthusiasts, who could find a place in our shop to share their enthusiasm and meet others with the same passion for sewing. And it has happened. Every day we meet wonderful new customers and everyday someone comes in to show us their latest beautiful quilt, or adorable dress they have made for a grandchild. Our classes offer instructions quilting, crafting and garment sewing and customers enjoy the camaraderie of meeting others who love to sew.
And of course, we brought in more staff to help run the shop. What a blessing that has been! We have a staff of ladies who not only excel in their chosen niche of sewing, but who share their love and enthusiasm about fabric with the customers. And with the addition of our new Baby Lock line of sewing machines we are all “over the moon” excited about the creative possibilities.
When customers come in, and see the candy-store-looking array of colorful fabrics, they sometimes ask us, “Was this just a dream come true for all of you?” And we smile and say, “Not really. It was more like ‘Who would have dreamed this?’”
Cathy Dixon is a retired psychologist. Robin and Heath Thomas are advanced practice nurses. Together they are partners in the Cotton Blossom Fabric Shoppe on historic Main Street in Madison, Mississippi.