WV Quilt and friends make a material difference in protective mask supply
Michelle Hill learned how to quilt from her Grandmother Hill. She picked up her sense of colors and humor from her mother Gloria Tibbenham Hill. She absorbed the philosophy of honest dealing and caring service from the example set by her father, a former chemical engineer who turned his lifelong passion for collecting into the highly regarded David Hill Ltd. coin and stamp shop.
Hill opened her quilt shop, WV Quilt, online in 1999.
“I just had to open a quilt business,” she said. “I loved it!”
When Hill invented the Chenille Sew Easy template for quilters, her parents became her business partners as well.
“Both my parents were brilliant; super great parents and business partners,” Hill said.
The WV Quilt evolved into an 8,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar shop. It stood a few doors down from her parents’ store in Barboursville, West Virginia. After her mother died in 2005 and her father in 2018, she became the sole owner of three family businesses: the quilt shop, the coin and stamp shop and Tibbenham Chocolates of WV, best known by its web address ChocolateCoveredCherries.com.
WV Quit owner Michelle Hill
Answering the call for help
The COVID-19 pandemic mandated the temporary closure of Hill’s businesses, as it did for restaurants, schools and other institutions across the country. WV Quilt shop closed its doors to onsite customers March 20.
The pervasive and contagious novel coronavirus soon led to shortages of personal protective gear such as masks. Medical workers on the front lines to treat and contain the pandemic were unable to get enough face masks. Hospitals, civic institutions and others called on anyone with sewing skill to help make more.
“I’m a member of the Lesage Lions Club, out of work and with 8,000 square feet of fabric I’m not able to sell,” Hill said. “I said ‘this is a fabulous project to serve.’”
She called her sister Gloria Connick and asked whether she could help. She also invited Tammy Farrington, a friend from Cayman Islands stranded in WV by the outbreak.
“The three of us worked like an assembly line,” Hill said. “I sew, Tammy turns and irons and Gloria finishes. We all wear masks and work 6 feet apart.”
Gloria Connick, Michelle Hill’s sister
Short supply, high demand
As word of their efforts got out, requests for masks flooded in.
“The phone calls were nonstop,” Hill said. “Medical people, schools, churches, and every type of business all needed masks.”
Hill organized no-contact material pickups for volunteer sewers and no-contact drop-offs for completed masks.
The mask makers started running out of elastic. Friends and volunteers joining the effort proposed creative solutions, including cotton ponytail holders or strands plucked from the insides of bungee cords.
Area civic groups and businesses began contributing to the cause. United Way of River Cities gave a grant to the Lesage Lions Club to make masks.
“How many masks have we made so far? I lost count at 5,000,” Hill said.
A grateful but uncertain future
“I now look at customers and other business owners differently,” she said. “We have strong family, friends and neighbors.”
Even so, the pandemic will take a toll.
“We have all been through a virus war together,” Hill said. “Some will survive. Some will not.”
She is not yet certain whether WV Quilt will be among the survivors.
“I’m on the fence whether to keep going or to bail,” she said. “Yes, bills are late. Yes, employee hours have been cut. But as long as God tells me to stay, I’m staying!”
The federal financial loans will help sustain the business. Hill called on Amber Wilson, her long-time business coach with the WV Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC) for help navigating the application process.
“Applying for the loans was a bit confusing,” said Hill. “Amber was always there for me. She tirelessly sent me links, provided information and called me. She never let me down.”
Hill recently received word that her application for the Paycheck Protection Program loan was approved.
“Going forward will be different, but not impossible,” she said. “I’m hopeful for all of us.”