“Bright and beachy” is how Laura Flynn describes The Cotton Patch, the University Park, Florida, shop she co-owns with with husband Tim. And it’s true that the shop reflects its coastal location, enticing both locals and visitors to the area with a selection of colorful, cheerful fabrics. But that description omits another important “B” word: bassets. Sweet and sociable basset hounds Maggie, Lulu, and Freddie are the subject of Cotton Patch social media updates, and the object of customers’ affections. And just this week they were joined by a new shop dog: an eight-month-old rescue, who was named Stanley when adopted from his foster home—(when Laura and I talked she still hadn’t decided if the name would stick).
As enticing as it is to be greeted by a pack of pups is, the fabric selection and outstanding customer service bring quilters back to the Cotton Patch again and again, and the Cotton Patch was a Quilt Sampler Featured Shop in 2014. Its location in temperate Florida means that in addition to locals, lots of visitors stop by. That’s why it’s not surprising that while batiks and brights are popular, Laura has added a section of wool fabrics, too. “Many of our customers travel frequently and appreciate portable projects,” says Laura. “There’s a big interest in handwork like wool pincushions, embroidery, English paper piecing, and appliqué, too.”
Moda fabrics are popular in the shop, particularly bright lines like those by Me and My Sister and Zen Chic. Customers love Moda batiks and Grunges and Stacey Iest Hsu’s Coral Queen of the Sea was a special hit. Each Cotton Patch staff member got a panel of the doll ahead of time and made their own version, then customers could vote on their favorites. Events like this are examples of going the extra mile for customers, and making a visit to the Cotton Patch memorable. Laura and Tim left jobs in the hospitality industry to open the shop and recognize the importance of making quilters feel welcome. “We treat everyone as a guest,” says Laura. “We know they have choices and we want them to be glad they came and to return.” The shop was a Quilt Sampler Featured Shop in 2014.
The shop’s current location is its third since opening in 2003. The first shop was 1,000 square feet and only four students could fit into its classroom, so Laura dubbed herself “the ironing fairy,” doing pressing for students since there wasn’t much room for them to move about. The second shop was a little large for their needs, but their current location feels just right. “We’re in a beautiful building with windows on three sides,” says Laura. “This is it. We’re never moving again!” She notes that Amy Matheny, who with her husband Tom serves as the shop’s Moda rep, came in and helped paint when the shop moved. “They’re really super people, and whatever I need, if they can make it happen, they do,” says Laura.
With their background in hospitality, Laura and Tim are naturals at planning special events. Two favorites happen annually—Fat Quarter Frenzy on New Year’s Day and Stuff Your Sewing Basket, where Laura debuts new tools and notions daily and offers them to customers at discounted prices, and a perennial favorite is PMS (Pizza, Munchies, and Sewing). Customers gather to make pillowcases as part of American Patchwork and Quilting’s One Million Pillowcase Challenge,which they donate to Ryan’s Case for Smiles and recently made heart blocks for a quilt for Pulse.Laura is also very proud of having contributed a block to the Splendid Sampler.
Laura started thinking about opening a quilt shop not long after Sept. 11, 2001. Her mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around the same time and Laura, who, describes herself as “consumed” by quilting and fabric thought “Life isn’t forever.” She knew she had a head for business and wanted to teach and share her love of quilting. Spending every day with her dogs and Tim, surrounded by creative individuals, is everything she’d hoped for. “We have a great staff and great customers who come through the doors,” she says. “I love getting to see people create, especially when they go a little bit outside the box. If we play a part in that by giving them inspiration or skills, that’s a pretty good thing.”