In the beginning, quilts were a necessity; they kept us warm. Now they fulfill another necessity for many quilters; they provide an outlet for creativity.


For Quilt Asylum owner Karen Riley, quilts meet that need.


“We don’t need to make quilts any more; we want to make quilts,” Riley said.


She said the name of her business in Van Alstyne signifies how quilters get wrapped up in the new fabrics, the new techniques, and the new things and the creative process becomes a safe place.


“My husband says it’s not a hobby; it’s a habit,” Riley said. “It’s a different world. People like you when they come in and they still like you when they leave. It’s like a family.”


Before she got into the quilt business, Riley ran Sweetie Pie’s Bakery, and before that, she was a McKinney Police officer for 17 years. Now, she is in a business all about fabrics, as bolt after bolt of brightly colored and patterned cloth that line the walls of her store attests.


“New fabrics are released four times a year, and they are always evolving, always changing,” Riley said.


The techniques are changing as well.


“Hand quilting is starting to make a comeback,” Riley said. “And the art of quilting is making a comeback too.”


By that, she refers to the process of creating the designs from separate pieces of cloth that make up the whole. This can be done by hand but is often accomplished on a sophisticated, computer-enhanced sewing machine, several of which are humming away at Riley’s shop as quilters work on individual projects.


In some ways, like the Jacquard loom, the 1804 invention that enabled power looms to replicate complex woven patterns though a series of connected punch cards, the modern sewing machine can create the stitching design used to create segments of a quilt over and over with perfection.


Once the top piece is complete, it is usually sent to a third party for finishing, where an even more sophisticate long-arm sewing machine combines the top, the filling or batting, and the bottom of the quilt and stitches the three pieces together. This was once a time consuming process and used to be done by hand working on large wooden frames. Now, this is accomplished in much less time and with even more accuracy with the big sewing machines that move over the fabric with robotic precision.


All of this essentially means the modern quilter can devote more time to the creation of the often intricate designs that turn what used to be simple needle work into a fabric mosaic of high art.


“There are a lot of people who still make basic quilts, but trend is toward the more complex designs,” Riley said.


The Quilt Asylum is well placed to take advantage of the rising interest in quilting. Dallas is a center for fabric design and manufacturing and the International Quilt Show is held annually in Houston. Riley said Van Alstyne’s easy access to DFW Airport allows her to bring some of the world’s top designers to visit her store.


“I’ve got a good friend from Australia who designs quilts with patterns reminiscent of the 1800s, and she designs fabric with the more muted colors to go with them,” Riley said.


Riley’s favorite quilt is not in the store. When her husband retired from the McKinney Police Department, she made a quilt celebrating his years of service.


“I took his badge and had it blown up and built that badge out of fabric,” she said. “If I had known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have jumped off into it. The badge sits to the left, and on one side of it I appliqued an eagle and put it in a frame, and then below that, I embroidered, by hand, the oath that he took when he joined the force and then McKinney’s mission statement.”