One evening, Sue Shaeffer shared with her husband Don an ad for a longarm quilting machine she’d been drooling over. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought about getting one, but after two years of looking, it was time to get serious. Don sensed that and using Sue’s nickname—Ma—declared “Ma’s got a notion!” Little did he realize where that notion would take them, or that “notion” meant something entirely different to a quilter and he’d just provided a name for Sue’s shop.
Sue got that longarm, and started hiring herself out to folks who prefer to “quilt by check.” Her quilting studio quickly overflowed with backing fabrics, and so in 2003 she opened her Havana, Illinois shop. In just a few years, she outgrew that space and in 2009 she separated her quilting studio from the retail business, which she moved into the building that previously housed her hot tub and swimming pool business. In 2013, she and Don purchased and restored the adjacent building, creating a door between the two spaces and nearly doubling the retail space.
Built in 1890, the structures include original tin ceilings and hardwood floors, along with exposed brick walls, giving the shop the feel of an old time general store. But instead of feed and seed, Ma’s Got’a Notion is filled with (surprise!) notions, books, patterns, and 4,500 bolts of fabric, including more than 700 backing fabrics, between 106 and 118 inches wide. The shop’s motto is We Got Your Back!
While backing fabrics at Ma’s come in brights and batiks, the shop’s main focus is 1800s-era reproduction fabrics, with some 1920s and 30s fabrics thrown in for good measure. Flannels and homespuns, tone-on-tones and patriotic fabrics fill the shelves, along with an extensive selection of whites, off-whites, and Sue’s beloved shirtings. Moda favorites include fabrics by Primitive Gatherings, Barbara Brackman, and backing fabrics by Basic Grey. “And I’m just tickled that Jo Morton is with Moda, too” says Sue. She enjoys working with Brian Wheeler, her Moda rep. “We’ve got a good rapport with the folks at Moda. They’re always helpful and know their stuff.”
Sue is a big fan of samples, which line the walls of her shop. Kits are popular at Ma’s and samples help customers envision the finished projects. Sue can also assure customers that if there’s a sample on the wall, someone on her staff has tested the pattern. (While there are always new samples to see, Sue notes that some samples inspire customers for years. She recently took down a quilt stitched from a pattern she’s been selling steadily for 13 years, only because the pattern became unavailable.)
Handwork, including wool and embroidery is popular at Ma’s, and the shop typically offers two Block of the Month classes annually. Special events include an annual central Illinois shop hop (going on now! ) and a huge January 1 sale. At the end of October the shop will be celebrating its 13th birthday with 13 days in a row of “doing what teenagers do—some really radical things and strutting our stuff for the whole 13 days.”
In addition to classes held in the shop, Sue teaches longarm quilting at her studio. She’s grateful that her staff, or “shop angels” as she calls them, like piecing because she really loves to quilt. Ma’s Got’A Notion has given Sue the best of both worlds—an opportunity to work quietly and peacefully, quilting in her studio, and a chance to mingle with customers and staff in the shop. “I love, love, love being surrounded by beautiful fabric and fantastic, creative people,” says Sue. “It really doesn’t get better than that.”