A patchwork dream come true

Tama County Quilt Company opens in Chelsea

Chris Drummer of Chelsea recently joined multiple generations of her family to work in the sewing and fabric business. Her parents and grandmother all worked with fabrics in the Tama-Toledo area and Drummer looks to carry on that legacy with her business Tama County Quilt Company. Photo by Darvin Graham

The time has come to stop dreaming and start doing for one Chelsea woman.

In June, Chris Drummer launched a full-service quilting business out of her home in rural Chelsea called Tama County Quilt Company.

Drummer has long been a quilter by hobby, but as of this summer has made a dream of owning and operating her own business a reality.

Drummer’s move into the quilting business is as much of a family endeavor than anything. Her parents, the late Roderick and Coreen Hayward each worked with fabrics in their professions with her father operating Hayward Upholstery in Tama and Toledo for several years and her mother working as a tailor.

Drummer’s grandmother Hazel Walton also operated Hazel’s Fashion Fabrics in Tama in an earlier era.

A South Tama County-themed t-shirt quilt is loaded on the longarm machine at Tama County Quilt Company in Chelsea. Owner Chris Drummer said some of her favorite quilt commissions have been those where she gets to work with South Tama’s school colors, blue and black. -- Contributed photo

She recalls coming home from school and parking herself on the bed while her mom worked at the sewing machine a few feet away.

Drummer’s first sewing machine was her mother’s Viking that stitched thousands of garments over its lifetime.

Her own children now keep her company in the same way as they hang out in her shop in the house’s finished attic while she works at her machines.

She said although she grew up around sewing and fabric, her parents might not have believed her to be the one to carry on the family legacy.

Drummer remembers making her first quilt around 1993 when a colleague invited her to quilt with her over a weekend. The first piece was a rail fence pattern that she still has stored at home.

Chris Drummer works on a denim quilt at her home shop in rural Chelsea. In June Drummer launched Tama County Quilt Company as a full-time enterprise and is working to be a one-stop shop for quilters in the region. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

“It hooked me,” Drummer said. “I never understood all these years why my parents and my family had such a fascination and love for fabric and textiles. But then it just happened for me.”

She said the collage-making aspect of designing quilts has always been the most engaging and enjoyable part of the work. She has also found that the focus required to manipulate needle and thread makes for a calming activity on most days.

For many years Drummer worked with quilting as a hobby and a side business. She would travel to estate sales and purchase heirloom fabrics and craft those items into unique pillow covers, table cloths or curtains to sell on eBay.

As her children got older, Drummer gradually pulled back from selling her work online, but continued quilting for herself and her family.

In 2011 a friend asked her to make a quilt using a collection of t-shirts that held a special meaning. Drummer had never quilted with cut-up shirts before but she agreed to give it a try and what she stumbled upon was the doorway to her future business.

A recent t-shirt quilt done by Chris Drummer at Tama County Quilt Company went out to a customer who was a frequent participant in a bicycling fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. The red jerseys stitched into the quilt were worn by the customer over many years as a cyclist. -- Contributed photo

As word got out about Drummer’s custom quilt creations, requests from all over the area started to come in from folks wanting to have their own keepsake garments preserved and reused in a way that was both beautiful and practical.

“The one connection that everybody has is t-shirts,” Drummer said. “You wear who you are, right here on the front for everybody to see.”

Drummer’s t-shirt quilts take on whatever special theme or meaning her customers come to her with. From graduation gifts featuring youth sports jerseys to memorial quilts with a collection of shirts worn by a loved one that’s passed on.

One recent t-shirt quilt project that stuck out in Drummer’s mind was for a woman from Illinois that regularly rode in a bicycling fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. The woman had a large collection of old jerseys she rode in for the events each year that she commissioned Drummer to use for a quilt.

Once she saw the finished product, a patchwork display reflecting her entire ADA cycling career, she was overcome with emotion.

Chris Drummer, owner of Tama County Quilt Company, reaches out the mechanical arm on her longarm quilting machine to prepare for stitching on an upcoming holiday-themed quilt. Drummer added longarm services to her business recently in hopes of attracting a wider base of customers within the Iowa quilting community. -- Photo by Darvin Graham

In a Facebook post this summer the woman thanked Drummer for her efforts and creativity saying, “I am at a loss for words and cried on my drive home after seeing (the quilt). I was so overwhelmed with how amazing it turned out. A major part of my life is captured here. The support of the individuals I spent my time with from the ADA got me through some tough times.”

Over the past decade Drummer gradually built up a side business designing and selling t-shirt quilts. She worked full time at South Tama County Schools as an interpreter and also coached cheerleading in the fall and winter sports seasons.

In recent years she found her free time gradually diminishing between the demands of her job, coaching and quilting. Quilting customers increased year over year and when the pandemic hit in 2020, she was at a crossroads.

In December both she and her husband Rod decided together to make changes in their respective careers.

Rod retired from law enforcement after a 29-year career, most recently with the Tama County Sheriff’s Office, and Chris resigned her position at South Tama to take her quilting business full time.

Drummer and her family worked on a business plan throughout 2020 and, seeing a reported uptick in fabric sales during the pandemic, wagered it to be a good time to put her full energy toward her own business.

A key component to the future success of Tama County Quilt Company is the addition of longarm quilting services to the t-shirt quilt niche Drummer had developed over many years.

After investing and saving from her early t-shirt quilt commissions, Drummer upgraded to a Janone sewing machine in 2014 and a few years later purchased her first longarm quilter.

The longarm machines allow a quilter to load and stitch the full width of a bed quilt, drastically cutting the time it takes to finish the quilt.

Often quilters will design and sew their own quilt panels and outsource the finishing process to quilters like Drummer, rather than sitting with a cumbersome blanket on their lap or stitching everything together on the floor.

Part of Drummer’s investment in her Tama County Quilt Company is an upgrade to her longarm machine. She now uses an Innova Mach 3 that automatically stitches hundreds of patterns and designs through a digital interface.

She hopes to establish herself as a mainstay in the regional quilting landscape. Currently the wait time for longarm finishing services is within one week’s time. Drummer believes the speed and convenience of her service as well as the quality of her work will convince quilting customers to choose Tama County Quilt Company over online and out-of-state competitors.

She also hopes to engage within the Chelsea community in the future by organizing and offering t-shirt quilting workshops at the Chelsea Community Hall.

Although Drummer is working full time in her business, her in-home shop is open by appointment only. Tama County Quilt Company can be reached by email at tamacoquiltco@gmail.com, by phone at 641-485-7411. The business is also active on Facebook at Tama Quilt County Company and on Instagram at tamaquiltco.