How a Utah quilt shop is uniting hobbyists across the country

My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe, set to open its third Utah location, managed to “pivot” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Whitney Warner, store manager at My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe in Sandy, overlooks the fabric selections, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Kris Thurgood never expected to get into quilting.

“I always loved the chance to be creative in other ways, but it was never sewing,” Thurgood said, adding that she and her twin sister, Kim, have dabbled in other d.i.y. crafts.

Thurgood — CEO and “visionary” of the Utah-based My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe — said she had a “pretty terrible” sewing experience in junior high and high school, which made her think she’d never touch a sewing machine again.

Shortly after Thurgood got married, she said, she was re-introduced to sewing. She was visiting a neighbor, and saw a quilt on the wall. “It had snowmen all around it, I’ll never forget it,” she said.

Thurgood asked her friend where she bought the quilt and was surprised to learn that it was handmade. Her friend said Thurgood could make something like that, too. They soon started a small group of friends to get together every so often.

“I didn’t even own a sewing machine, they would just let me borrow theirs,” Thurgood said. “They invited me in their circle, we started sewing, and it just took off from there. I fell in love with it.”

That same sense of camaraderie would come in handy in 2011, she said, when Thurgood found an unoccupied retail space she liked in Logan, and thought someone needed to open a quilt shop there.

“I didn’t think it would be me,” she said, with a laugh. “I was trying to convince one of my friends to do it.”

The Logan space was 1,800 square feet, Thurgood recalled. “It was an absolute homegrown family business from the very start,” she said.

Thurgood emailed her husband, Mike, who then was an international sales director who traveled for work. Mike was in China when Kris asked him if he would ever consider opening a quilt shop together. Mike’s initial response, Kris said, was that they would talk when he got home.

Mike Thurgood ultimately quit his job to help Kris start her dream shop. (His job titles now are chief operating officer and head of finance.)

“We decided that we were going to jump in with both feet, there was no plan,” she said. “We would make it work, no matter what.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Quilting machine tech Wayne North at My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe in Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Six core values

Now, My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe has locations in Logan and Sandy, and a third in Orem scheduled to open in late October. The company has 78 employees across all three shops.

All of them, Kris Thurgood said, follow the six core values she picked up when she first got into quilting: Team player, solution-minded, adaptable, trustworthy, dependable and having a positive mindset. Together, they are known, internally, as “the Girlfriend Way.”

The shop’s purpose, cause and passion is “empowering one to impact many,” Thurgood said, adding that the company hires employees based on those tenets.

“It’s a very relationship-based business we’re in, if you choose it to be,” Thurgood said. “That’s what it was all about for me from day one. Opening up a store, it just had to be more than a place where you have fabric cuts. It would be a gathering place for women, especially, but men as well.”

It’s evident, from Thurgood’s interactions with her customers, that the stores are such a gathering place. She said they treat her like their best friend — writing emails about their lives, kids and grandkids, and even their health problems and struggles.

“When we help someone feel successful in what they’re doing, they feel empowered and then they’re a better wife, mother and grandmother, because they feel that they’ve accomplished something special,” she said.

These interactions, Thurgood said, reflect the core of quilting: The idea that it brings people together, even across generations.

Quilting, she said, is a way for people to express themselves emotionally. “Pain to joy, all of these emotions are [expressed] through quilting into something tangible with fabric, thread and sewing,” she said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cindy Butterfield, district store manager at My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe in Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, overlooks at Handi Quilter long arm Amara with Pro Stitcher.

Surviving the pandemic

That outpouring of emotions was particularly apparent, Thurgood said, during the COVID-19 pandemic — when, at the beginning, she thought the stores might close forever.

As the pandemic began, she said she recalled thinking, “I don’t know how we can keep the lights on. How do we keep employees employed if we don’t have people walking through our doors?”

She said, “it was a pivotal moment for me to say ‘We aren’t going down without a fight.’”

They moved their in-store classes online, to Zoom. They taught their main demographic — women, 50 and older — how to use the software. Classes that used to see a dozen students in the store were now drawing 300 people, most of them from outside Utah, she said.

Business grew exponentially, Thurgood said, as the pandemic left people stuck at home and looking for new hobbies. “The lesson learned with all of that is when these kinds of things happen with our economy and world, to stay vibrant as a business, we have to figure out a way to pivot,” she said.

A joyous part of that pivot is something called “Three Things at 3:00,” a talk-show segment posted on the store’s YouTube channel. “We needed to find a way to cheer people up because so many were distressed during this time,” Thurgood said.

The three things in every episode are: A smile (like a funny story or anecdote), a quilting tutorial, and a daily deal, usually a discount for something at the store.

When the shop was able to reopen, in May 2020, Thurgood announced the plan to stop the program. The response from her fans around the country, urging her to continue the show, was unbelievable, she said. The emails said, in summary, “You’re our only connection to the world,” Thurgood said. “You might be open in Utah, but I’m in Nebraska or Connecticut or Alabama — wherever.”

Nearly three years later, the shop still produces the show, and posts it every weekday.

“I keep thinking ‘When are people going to get tired of it?’” Thurgood said. “They just don’t. It’s been incredible.”

Thurgood said her ultimate hope is that people feel successful about themselves when they work with her shop, and that some of what she learned from her first sewing experience helps bolster the experience for her customers.

It’s less transactional and more relational, she said — because relationships are the absolute key to the success of her small business.

“In every location, we have couches and chairs. It’s a place for people to come. Sometimes at the end of a work day, they’ll just come and sit down,” Thurgood says. “They’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, Kris, I’m not buying anything today. I just need to sit and relax,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’”

Editor’s noteThis story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Quilting fabrics at My Girlfriend’s Quilt Shoppe in Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.