Natchez needleworker takes love of quilting, sewing, embroidering into shop

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; The warmth of her smile and coziness of the homey shop are part of the package a customer gets at Elizabeth Swalm’s Commerce Cotton Quilt Shop.

Greeting tourists with a big hello and offering help and advice are natural for her, Swalm said as she waved goodbye to one visitor and greeted two new ones in the shop at 107 N. Commerce, where she opened for business about one year ago.

Offering hand-made quilts for sale and classes in hand quilting, smocking, sewing and embroidery, she takes to the shop what she always has loved to do at home, Swalm said.

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&uot;I’ve always done handwork,&uot; she said. &uot;Effie Browning, my grandmother, inspired me to embroider. My mother sewed. She inspired me to sew. And Laura Parks inspired me to quilt.&uot;

Parks, who lived in Natchez during the years her husband, Lemuel Parks, was rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, was a master quilter whose work won national recognition and awards.

&uot;I had quilted with Laura. And when she left Natchez, she asked me to take over the first-grade quilting class she had started at Trinity School,&uot; Swalm said. &uot;That was an honor for me. I did it three or four years, until my mother passed away.&uot;

Swalm and her husband, John, have three grown daughters. When they were young, she began to create smocked outfits for them. &uot;Not only couldn’t I afford to buy the smocked dresses, but I couldn’t afford smocking classes. I taught myself to do it,&uot; she said.

She has sewn all of her life, including making costumes for Pilgrimage events. &uot;I made my first one for my daughter in 1984 when she was in the Little Maypole.&uot;

Her family convinced her in recent years that she should open a shop, Swalm said. She likes her location and thinks the size of the shop is perfect. However, she hopes to increase the inventory.

&uot;I’m finding out what people want. And I’m putting profits back into inventory,&uot; she said. She sells quilting fabrics, threads, laces and the kinds of things handwork enthusiasts would require.

Classes have been successful, Swalm said. Her goal in opening the business was to share what she knew how to do. &uot;I wanted to offer the gift that I’d been given, whether it be quilting, handwork, advice &045; I’m a pretty big giver. I like to share.&uot;

A surprise for her has been the tourist trade. &uot;About 75 percent of my trade is from tourists. They really want a quilt shop.&uot;

Before opening the shop, she never imagined herself quilting for anyone other than herself, Swalm said. &uot;But since then, I’ve done that, including hand quilting an 1800s design in period reproduction fabrics.&uot;

People naturally love quilts, she said. &uot;They are beautiful. They are comforting to the heart,&uot; she said, pulling out one of her favorites, a design of her own she calls &uot;Effie’s Flower Garden&uot; in memory of her grandmother.

&uot;I have 38 people so far who want the pattern for this quilt,&uot; she said. &uot;I have not made the kit yet, but I must do that.&uot;

Teaching young people to love handwork is important, Swalm said. She is thrilled when she demonstrates at Historic Jefferson College Pioneer Days. &uot;You can see the children’s eyes light up who have never seen any form of needlework before,&uot; she said.

On June 25, she will host an open house and a mini quilt show at the shop. She hopes Natchez-area people will come to see what she has in the shop. Meanwhile, the doors are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.