International Quilt Market/Kansas City
Classes and events begin May 15
Kansas City Convention Center
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
International Quilt Market/Houston
Events begin October 24
George R. Brown Convention Center
Houston, Texas, USA
International Quilt Market/Pittsburgh
Events begin May 13
Classes begin May 14
David L. Lawrence Convention center
International Quilt Market/Houston
Events begin Oct. 23
Classes begin Oct. 24
George R. Brown Convention Center
NOTE: Quilt Market is a credentialed
trade show only, and not open to
For information on these or any other Quilts, Inc. shows, visit Quilts.com.
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by Lexie Teel
Since Christa Watson was a child, she was certain about two things: she wanted to own her own business, and she wanted to be an artist or performer. Throughout her childhood, she dabbled in virtually every type of creative craft, from pottery to crochet, and even candy making. She loved them all, but there were none at which she felt particularly exceptional.
“I quickly gave up the artist dream because I couldn’t draw,” she recalls. “I couldn’t sing or dance, so I quickly gave up on that dream, too.”
She wound up pursuing a degree in business, aiming for a more “practical career” as an accountant, until one day when she discovered quilting—completely by accident. As a young college student, some of her friends from church were making simple charity quilts (tied together with yarn!) and invited her to participate. In her 21 years, she had never really known anything about quilting, but that quickly changed. “It was love at first stitch!” she fondly remembers.
The woman in charge of the charity quilt project noticed Christa’s avid interest, and subsequently invited her over to teach her how to create a quilted pillow.
“I was a little hesitant, because although I knew what a sewing machine was, I had never heard of the brand she was using.” Christa recalls the brand name: BERNINA. “Little did I know then, that 20+ years later, I’d become an ambassador for the company!”
Christa fell in love with the craft and continued quilting as a hobby through her college years. Following her college graduation, she began her career at an accounting firm, but quickly realized it just wasn’t for her. “I had the sinking feeling that accounting was not my passion.”
She found herself daydreaming about quilting at her nine-to-five job, and would regularly visit chat rooms about quilting during her lunch break. “Once I fell in love with quilting, I decided that anyone who’d listen to me needed to fall in love with it as much as I did,” she laughs.
Her first student—or as she calls her, her “guinea pig”—was her mother, who was a lifelong sewist, but had never before made a quilt.
“Soon after I taught my mom how to quilt, she was visiting a newly opened quilt shop. The owner asked her if she knew of any quilt instructors,” Christa recalls. “Being the proud mom she is, she replied, ‘Yes, my daughter is an excellent quilt teacher!’”
Christa was invited by the shop owner to teach a beginner’s quilting class…and the rest is history.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Christa has an impressive resumé as a published author, a pattern and fabric designer, a domestic and international quilt teacher, and an ambassador for BERNINA, Aurifil, Electric Quilt Company, and Hobbs Batting. Though some people view her as an “overnight sensation,” her list of accomplishments is all due to 20 years of consistent hard work and dedication.
At one point, a student of hers suggested she sell her leftover fabric online. Christa recalls thinking, “That’s crazy! Who would ever buy fabric online—you can’t feel it!” But she gave it a try anyway, and started up her own eBay store in 2003. Despite her initial hesitation, it ended up being hugely successful.
In 2006, Christa and her husband decided to make her quilting hobby a full-time adventure. He quit his job as a CPA, and they started with a small, full-service online quilt shop. That next year, she and her husband attended Quilt Market for the first time.
“It was such an eye-opening experience,” Christa recalls. “I didn’t realize it at the time, that the ‘who’s who’ in the industry all gathered at Quilt Market, so that planted a seed that I wanted to return there myself as a designer someday.”
Although Christa had been creating and designing traditional quilts for decades, she never felt she had a distinct style. “I made traditional quilts for 20 years from my favorite geometric shapes,” she says. I loved the process of quilting and my students enjoyed making my traditional designs, but I felt like something was missing.”
This all changed when she attended her first QuiltCon in 2013. Her introduction to Modern quilting was a defining moment. “At my first QuiltCon, I realized Modern was the style I had been yearning for, but didn’t know it. Since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to learn more about what makes an effective Modern quilt.”
It was also at QuiltCon that she met Mary Fons—who was editor of Quilty magazine at the time—and expressed her interest in trying to get some of her work published. Mary encouraged her to submit some of her ideas. She sent along some of her digital designs, but also included her Charming Chevrons quilt to demonstrate her workmanship. To her surprise, Mary replied that she wasn’t interested in her digital designs, but in her Charming Chevrons quilt, and asked her to make it in a different colorway and a larger size.
Right: Charming Chevrons quilt
“My design landed on the cover of the magazine in November of 2013, which ended up launching my pattern career! In fact, that original pattern is still my number one best seller!”
In 2015, her book, Machine Quilting with Style, was released and was so successful that it led to a second and third. Her books caught the attention of educational website Craftsy, and she was asked to film three different online workshops with them. BERNINA also took notice, and invited Christa to become a brand ambassador. This also led to her work as a fabric designer for Benartex.
Over the next few years, Christa got the opportunity to pair up with other industry brands: she has three thread collections with Aurifil, is sponsored by Hobbs Batting for all of her quilts, and is featured in Electric Quilt Software magazine for her digital designs.
“All of these relationships complement each other,” she says. “One thing I’ve learned in the industry is that if you create good work and meet your deadlines, you’ll earn a reputation as a reliable resource that can be called on time and time again.”
But how does she manage it all? She says her key to balancing it all is getting a lot of sleep, staying organized, being careful about taking on too much, and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Right: Starstruck quilt made using her Modern Marks fabrics
“I decided pretty early on that I wanted quilting to be my full-time career, and quickly realized that no one becomes an overnight success. It requires patience, dedication, and most of all, passion and a belief that your ideas are good, even if it takes a while for others to find them. In the fall of 2017, I released my first line with Benartex. The industry and my own quilting career have come a long way since 2007!”
"My favorite aspect of Quilt Market, hands down, is the face to face connections that I get to make with quilt shop owners, industry companies, and other designers,” she says. “Although I do a lot of social media and online correspondence, there’s just nothing like face to face with an actual person who is interested in the same things you are.”
Christa is presenting Take & Teach classes at the upcoming Quilt Market in Kansas City, and will also be one of the speakers at the inaugural Threads of Success conference in Houston this fall. “I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” she says. “I love that Quilt Market has evolved into one of the most important networking events in the industry. I think that Quilts, Inc. is so smart to recognize that Quilt Market has grown to be much more than simply just a wholesale trade show; it is a brilliant idea to concurrently run Threads of Success with Market.”
She is most looking forward to sharing her personal experience and knowledge with others who are just breaking into the industry. The greatest lesson she can share is to never give up…even if you fail a million times.
“Most of my successes first started out as failures,” she says. “It took me a while to realize that the only one standing in the way of my success was me, so once I got out of my own way, I was able to work on and achieve my goals. You can always re-tweak an idea if at first it doesn’t work.”
She also finds inspiration in the successes of others in the industry. “Rather than falling into the comparison trap, I look at someone whom I admire who is having great success and I remind myself that if they can make a go of it, there’s no reason I can’t!”
For more information, visit ChristaQuilts.com