“My hands have always provided for me,” says Denise Taylor, owner of Mes Amis Quilt Shop.
When Taylor was a young girl, her grandmother made her stay inside during the heat of the day and taught her how to sew. Taylor sewed her first dress at age 10 and proudly wore it to the Metairie Country Club. She sewed her first quilt when she was in high school. For years, she made a living doing marine upholstery and even helped restore a vintage Cadillac.
In April 2010, with no retail experience, Taylor followed her passion and opened a 1,500-square-foot quilt store nestled in the Spanish Fort alcove north of City Park near the lakefront.
“There was a need for it,” she says.” After Katrina, you had to drive across the lake to get quality quilting material. There were just no quilt stores in the city.”
The store is an indoor rainbow filled with more than 3,000 bolts of fabric organized by color. Almost all the fabric is made with 100 percent cotton. Taylor procures her merchandise from international locales, including France, Indonesia and Bali.
Mes Amis carries fabrics from a wide variety of designers and companies such as Michael Miller, Robert Kaufman, Art Gallery, Amy Butler, Kaffe Fassett, Dan Bennett, Quilting Treasures, Benartex and Wilmington. Taylor also offers other quilting accoutrements, including gadgets, books and patterns.
Many locals come to the shop to choose from Taylor’s well-curated shelves, but surprisingly most of her clientele are visitors to New Orleans.
“The shop is a destination,” she says. “Quilters see us on Facebook or Google our website and make our shop a part of their New Orleans experience. Just the other day we had people come from Denmark and London to visit.”
Tourists Jennifer Hubbard and her husband designed their current road trip around the quilt shops she wanted to visit.
“I recently started quilting and I love it,” she says with several colorful fabric swatches in hand. “We are going to go to San Antonio and Memphis. When we get home, I’ll make a quilt with all my fabric to commemorate our trip.”
The Hubbards are far from unusual, in fact, since 2011 thousands of quilters from all over the world have been collecting free row patterns while visiting local quilt shops. They then create themed quilt projects using the rows they collected. It’s called the Row by Row Experience.
“On the business side, this gives quilt shop owners a needed boost in our foot traffic during the slow months of summer,” says Taylor. “Each shop creates a unique pattern, then gives the pattern away so customers can sew one row in a row quilt.”
Her pattern, “Sno Wizzard,” was designed to honor George J Ortolano, the New Orleans native who invented the SnoWizzard Snowball Machine.
“If you’re the first person to bring a finished quilt using at least eight different rows from eight different participating stores into a participating quilt shop you receive a bundle of 25 fat quarters,” Taylor says. A fat quarter bundle is a curated stack of measured 18-inch by 21-inch rectangles used to make quilting quick and easy.
The material Taylor sells is not only used for quilts, however. Many Mes Amis customers purchase fabric to make handbags, pillows or even outfits for dogs.
“I carry a lot of New Orleans- and Mardi Gras-themed material,” she says, adding, “I do sell a great deal of black and gold.”
Taylor also teaches classes and works one-on-one with people showing them how to stitch together their heirloom quilts.
“I try to impress on them the importance of sewing it right the first time,” she says.
This past Saturday morning, the shop was full. Some were tourists, some were getting a little help and others just gathered to share what they had created so far. It’s certainly a joyous place to be even if you can’t sew a stitch.
“We’re pretty laid back here,” says Taylor. “I still don’t take a paycheck because I put all the profit back into the store. I just love what I do.”
Mes Amis Quilt Shop
6505 Spanish Fort Blvd.