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An Interview with Janet-Lee Santeusanio

Interviewing quilters is becoming a bit of a hobby for me.  I learn a little about them and their quilting process and get to share that with you.  This one falls under the category of “we just made it!” We just made it for a couple of reasons 1) Janet-Lee will be heading to RI very soon for the 10th Machine Quilters Expo at the RI Convention Center so she’s really busy right now.  I’m still in catch up mode and am getting ready to drive to RI on Tuesday and despite my enthusiasm weeks ago I’m not in crunch time making copies of a variety of things for my students.  Last April I met Janet-Lee at her home in NH when I dropped off “Twilight in the Bronx” on my way to ME to teach at Creative Sewing Center.  In the meantime I learned that she lives near the Lindt Chocolate Factory Outlet and she emphatically does NOT like coffee.

 Teri: how long have you been quilting

J-L: A dabble in 1982 and much later, in 1995, I was caught by the quilting bug.  I began machine quilting in 1999.

Teri: how did you get started

J-L: The first quilt I ever made was in 1982….. well I didn’t actually make it.  I’d hand embroidered some blocks with cat caricatures that came out of a women’s magazine that year. I was single and wanted to make them as a quilt for my bed. A friend of my mother’s was a quilter so I bought the fabric and she put it these cat blocks together.  In 1992 my mother-in-law made a quilt for my baby shower and it was beautiful. Although I’d sewn some clothing over the years, it never really caught my attention all that much. I was an older Mom having my children when I was 36 and 37 years old with a husband that traveled quite a lot. The quilting bug bit when my daughter was almost a year old (April of 1995) and I decided to take a piecing class. That day was a life-changer for certain.

How I got started quilting was back in the late 90’s when I tried taking a domestic sewing machine quilting class…… I took it FOUR times and realized that I didn’t have the dexterity needed to be successful.  In 1999 my house had recently been photographed for a magazine and when my quilting friends heard about it they wanted to come by for the 10 cent tour. I brought them down to the finished basement which was the children’s playroom.  As we were walking back upstairs, one of my friends said, “that playroom is way too big for those two little kids, you should get one of those big quilting machines and quilt all our quilts for us.” My husband, a long-time entrepreneur (he invented with the Pizza Hut ovens), told me that I’d put up with all his start-up company escapades so I should buy whatever machine I wanted.  I did and it was delivered in July 1999.

Teri: favorite quilt pattern & colors

J-L: My all-time favorite pattern is the Lone Star. I’ve only done one of them and it hangs in my office and is on my Facebook page. In general I love the classic, traditional patterns with my color preferences leaning to warm colors. I’m open to other color palettes but seem to gravitate back to rich fall colors. I also tend to like lots of small pieces paired up with large blank areas to bring in detailed machine quilting.

Teri favorite part of the quilting process:

J-L: Seeing the quilting make a somewhat plain quilt come to life is incredibly rewarding.

Teri: what do you quilt on? 

I own two Gammill longarm quilting machines, both with IntelliQuilter computerized quilting systems.  After quilting hand-guided for almost 8 years, I wanted to be more productive, especially when I can’t be right there at the machine.  As MQX started to grow, my quilting time became less and less so having a computerized system helped me to feel like my quilting machine investments were not wasted. I quilt every day and still free motion quilt a lot to give custom work a more personal touch.

Janet-Lee and Mary at the ice cream social

Teri: How did you & Mary come up with MQX? 

J-L: It started as a necessity. In mid-1999 there were a couple other local gals that bought a longarm quilting machine around the same time I did. Both wanted out of their high stress jobs and were looking forward to making their hobby a business. What they, and many others, didn’t realize is that working as a machine quilter in a home based business is very solitary.  One must enjoy being alone, be disciplined and know that it might be days on end that there’s no personal contact with anyone.  Both of the local gals got out of machine quilting…… one sold her machine within six months and the other kept hers to do her own quilts.  SO, the early New England “get together” was meant to get people together that shared the same machine quilting passion, to eat and have fun. That ways April 15, 2000 and 40 women showed up in my living room……. one of them was Mary Schilke.

From there it went onto an inn for a couple years and the group, now in excess of 150 people, wanted more classes and to show off their work. Mary knew that she didn’t want to put something like this together on her own and neither did I so we formed a business partnership and opened MQX in March of 2003 at a small exposition center in the lakes region of New Hampshire. We were quite taken aback when 1,000 people came to see the quilts and shop the vendors.  In 2005 we moved to a convention center in Manchester, New Hampshire and were there for five years. In 2010 we moved yet again to Providence, Rhode Island and it is here that we celebrate our 10th Anniversary in April.

Janet-Lee with Charlotte Angotti

Teri: What’s your favorite part of MQX?

J-L: It is, without a doubt, the relationships…… both professional and personal.  We have formed friendships with companies, teachers, sponsors, vendors and students which we cherish. The least favorite part of MQX (I know you didn’t ask that question) is having to watch everyone go home. We work on MQX virtually every day of our lives and the buildup is fun and exciting with the aftermath a bit of a letdown.

Teri: How do you see MQX growing over the next few years?  

J-L: My crystal ball is in the shop!  Truly though, we are very conservative and these shows are a LOT of work. Having added MQX West in 2011, we will make sure that show is moving along well before we give any further thought to expansion.  Although expansion is definitely on our radar screen, we have to see what the economy will do because we want to be successful.  Since shows are more and more regional in scope, should we expand again, the southeast and upper Midwest would be our next considerations.

Mary Schilke at the ice cream social

Teri: Do you teach?

 J-L: I know how to teach and I have done some teaching but these days my schedule is so busy that regularly scheduled teaching isn’t something I want to add.  There are teachers that we hire for MQX who do a much better job at it than I would.  I’m a computerized quilting system dealer/trainer, have had a machine quilting business for 13 years and very recently began designing quilting patterns; add that to two large quilting conventions and my plate is a bit full.

Thank you so much Janet-Lee!  I’m looking forward to teaching with MQX next week.


MQX Photos provided by Jeffrey Lomicka, used with permission

7 thoughts on “An Interview with Janet-Lee Santeusanio”

  1. Great interview, Teri. What JL didn’t share was that she has acted as mentor to many fledgling longarmers, one of whom was me! She opened her home and studio to strangers who thought they’d like to own longarm machines, and let us see, up close and personal, what that meant. I’ve known her for 12 years, and have cherished her as a friend and yes, as a mentor.

  2. Wonderful interview! I know J-L through the internet and have met and talked to her a few times. She’s funny, warm and someone that you would want as a friend.

  3. Janet-Lee and Mary gave me my first national teaching job. I am so grateful they took a risk on me all those years ago and can’t wait to see them next week!

  4. Janet-Lee and Mary gave me my first job as a national quilting teacher. I am so grateful they took a risk on me all of those years ago and can’t wait to see them next week!

  5. Excellent!! What a great way to get more info on JL -and the history behind MQX- out there for more people. Show starts soon! Yay!

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