As a working mother, Stephanie Soebbing is expert at multi-tasking and time management.

The 35-year-old former native of suburban Chicago is especially busy during the coronavirus crisis, as she’s homeschooling her soon-to-be six-year-old daughter, caring for her three-month-old daughter, and with her husband Adam, running their business – which has a key role in making masks used around the nation.

Soebbing is founder and owner of Quilt Addicts Anonymous (QAA), a quilt shop specializing in modern and contemporary fabrics, with a currently closed store at 3416 46th Ave., Suite 103, Rock Island. Typically though, 90 percent of their business is online at shop.quiltaddictsanonymous.com.

Stephanie Soebbing hard at work at her sewing machine.

“One of my favorite parts is doing new designs, to let the creativity out,” she said recently of her long-held quilting obsession, a full-time job now for five years. “I’ll make it, write out the instructions, and other people will go for it as well. And that’s exciting – to see that other people are into what you’re doing.

“But honestly, the most fulfilling is being able to fully provide for my family and also the families of our workers,” Soebbing said. “Especially at this time, to be able to have everybody getting paid at their normal hours, and having to add staff to fulfill the needs of people who are trying to buy fabric. I’m very proud of what we’re doing together as a team, and that we’re able to keep everything in the midst of all this.”

QAA has been supplying fabric for thousands of people making masks, across the country. It’s giving away twist ties that are used in the nose bridge of the mask, that make it fit better. Soebbing put out a video asking if people needed them, and so far she’s donated 400,000 of them (only charging for shipping and postage).

“We’re not making any money on it,” she said. “We feel it’s important to help support a community and help slow the spread of the virus. We’re supporting them that way, and they in turn are supporting us by ordering other things.”

QAA also has sold hundreds of mask kits for people to make masks. Soebbing said quilting fabric blocks out up to 78 percent of all airborne particles. “That is the preferred fabric everybody is getting to make these,” she said.

Locally, QAA has given away more than 700 yards of fabric to help with mask-making efforts in the Q-C. Soebbing put together a 42-minute video (https://www.quiltaddictsanonymous.com/2020/04/how-to-start-a-mask-making-group-in-your-community/) late last month on how to start mask making in your community, interviewing two mask makers and distributors in the area – Shelli Eng and her daughter Erica, and Stacie Kintigh.

The Engs will continue until mid-May, for hospitals and caregivers, Soebbing said. They are fashion designers, and their work was on hold because of everything going on. “They thought this is something we can do while we wait,” she said.

In late April, QAA donated 660 yards of fabric so volunteers in the community could have make 4,000 masks for doctors, nurses and staff at UnityPoint Health – Quad Cities Muscatine. “We couldn’t be more proud of the volunteers who made 4,000 masks in just over a week. We are honored to be a part of this effort,” Soebbing posted on Facebook.

Stephanie Soebbing

“We’re selling a lot of fabric at this point, because everybody’s buying it to make masks,” she said, adding they donate what they can’t sell. “When you get to a certain point on it, when you have a half yard or less, it’s not really sell-able in an online format. We can’t have people in the store now, so we’re just donating it for people who could use it.”

They’ve donated for people making masks for first responders, and gave another woman fabric to make masks for the local Latino community, since Covid is really impacting that population at a higher rate, she said.

“We’ve got it; it’s just sitting there, so we should put it to good use, so it’s doing good in the world,” Soebbing said.

Inspired to quilt after college

Soebbing was an English major (with a speech/communications minor) at Augustana College, Rock Island, and particularly driven to fill her work calendar. She graduated in 2007; her first job was writing for the Quad-City Times, where she met her husband.

“I have always been a person who doesn’t sit still well,” she said. “I get it from my father. He doesn’t sit still well either. He always needs a project.” He’s a retired electrician.

“I started quilting after college because I was bored,” Soebbing wrote for her website, quiltaddictsanonymous.com. “I was used to working 30 hours a week at the student newspaper, interning at the local paper, TV or radio station, maintaining a full class load and a full social calendar. Just having to work 40 hours a week wasn’t enough.”

“All that training became very helpful now, in how we reach our customers, because a majority of our customers are online,” she said.

In the days before YouTube, Soebbing learned to quilt mainly from books and classes. “Quilting is basically a giant mathematical puzzle. Everything has to be cut a certain size and sewed at a certain level so it all fits together in the end,” she said.

“I used to joke that I was an English major for a reason,” she said. “I never thought I’d be doing math, constantly, as part of my day job…I never thought in a million years that would be something I’d be doing.”

After taking her first quilting class, Soebbing was addicted.

“I took one of two classes a month, trying out every technique I could until I got to the point where I was good enough to start teaching my own classes,” she wrote. “But I wanted to share my knowledge with the rest of the beginners on the Internet struggling to improve their quilting skills.

“First came a 10-part T-shirt quilting tutorial that raked in a quarter-million views and counting. Then in 2014 I designed a Block of the Month quilt to teach at my local quilt shop. By the end of the year, nearly 12,000 people had downloaded patterns. When I launched the 2015 BOM pattern the blog grew from a nice side gig, to a successful website that could potentially enable me to quit my day job.”

Soebbing worked various PR and marketing jobs, and in March 2015, she was unexpectedly laid off, and decided – with Adam’s full support — to pursue running Quilt Addicts Anonymous (which she had started as a hobby) full-time, “growing my little quilting blog into a resource for quilters of all skill levels, providing articles featuring tutorials, original patterns and quilting news,” she wrote.

Married since 2009, Soebbing’s husband was sports editor for the Times before joining her business full-time after she launched. Since he had worked a lot of nights and weekends, she had a lot of time alone to do what she wanted. “I just sewed a ridiculous amount and I had a blog to just talk about it, and I was designing my own patterns,” she said of life before going full-time.

She and Adam have a three-month-old daughter, Lily, and older daughter Angela, who turns six on May 8.

“None of this would have happened if he didn’t say, go for it. It hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows,” Soebbing said, noting she has part-time employees working in their living rooms all over the Quad-Cities.

There are multiple employees, but one goes into the store at a time to work, for safety reasons. Under normal circumstances, everyone would work together at the store. Soebbing closed the store in early March, moved her work to her home a week later, with all local orders over $25 for free shipping.

“What we needed was a place to hold inventory and to assemble and pack orders,” she said, noting the majority of the store space is a back room that customers never see.

Changes due to Covid

While primarily an e-commerce store with online educational components, the business has changed dramatically due to Covid. “We have had to overcome a lot of logistical issues, because we can’t have everybody come in and work,” Soebbing said.

“We have one person who has all the material for packing the twist ties. We pick it up in a tub from her back porch when she’s ready,” she said.

One employee is married to a firefighter/EMT, who does a lot of computer work at home, since she’s at higher risk of coming in contact with the virus.

“It’s pretty crazy to manage, but it’s working now,” Soebbing said. “We’re responsible for everybody’s health and safety, so we have to think very carefully about that,” she said. She’s doing more cutting and packing orders, and not as much computer (like she normally would). “My living room is a disaster, but we’re making it work,” she said.

Her older daughter has taken ballet for two years and QAA is donating all the proceeds of an “En Pointe” pattern (through May 15) to Ballet Quad Cities.

“She loves it,” Soebbing said of her 5-year-old. “This is the only normal thing that she gets now, which is her weekly Zoom ballet class. And as a business owner, I understand how important cash flow is. When you don’t have it, that’s the fastest way to have your business go under. I just feel if you are fortunate enough during this time to not have to worry where your mortgage payment’s gonna come from, or how you’re gonna get food, you need to put good out into the community.

“We were worried like everybody else, when this happened, and what it would mean for our business. It turned out our product is one of the best ones you could use for homemade masks,” she said. “So we’ve been very fortunate to have sales that are strong enough to keep all our employees working; to add employees; to be able to make these donations.

Because we were blessed in that way, I feel it’s important to make sure we’re putting good out into the world.”

You can get the ballet pattern here.

Soebbing wrote: “The ballet company in my town is part of the fabric of our region. They have had to cancel the remainder of their season due to COVID-19. In addition to ballet performances and the school of dance, which our 5-year old daughter attends, they also participate in community outreach for bullying prevention, raising awareness for the 2020 census and much more.”

Soebbing is impressed with the Q-C response to the crisis, in its outpouring of altruism, volunteerism and financial generosity.

“I think it’s fabulous, everybody stepping up the way they are,” she said. “Not just here, but we’ve seen notes from across the country. People making masks for their local hospitals. In some cases, we’ve had people who are the doctors in the ER making this, so they can have adequate PPE. It’s sad that we don’t have the supply chain necessary to provide the actual equipment to the people who need it.

“But I’m glad we have this can-do spirit to make it happen,” she said.

Soebbing will have her second “how-to” quilting book published this fall; she just finished it, including the 10 most popular patterns from her subscription club, plus two new ones developed exclusively for the book.

Her first book was released in February 2019 by Landauer Publishing:

It shows easy-to-learn techniques you need to make 12 contemporary quilts. “With an emphasis on exciting colors, high contrast, and expansive use of negative space, Simple Quilts for the Modern Home is sure to delight beginning sewers and every quilter who loves modern style,” according to the book summary.

QAA has 285 subscribers in North America, where for a fee, people can get a three yards of fabric sent monthly, and Soebbing designs a pattern based on the fabric that people can use if they want.

She also usually releases one video tutorial (always free) a week. “It’s fun. We enjoy being able to write our own story right now, and not have to depend on an employer to decide our fate for us.”

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.