There is no high romance behind the founding of Abby’s Reflection Apparel and Quiltworks in Sitka, no dramatic dreams of massive success in the quilting and apparel business.
"The business started in 1978 when I said to a friend of mine, ‘let’s sell some clothes,’ so we started a store,” said Jill Scheidt, store owner. "It’s as simple as that.”
The story does involve a long history of Scheidt’s sewing abilities, however. She started as a teenager when the only clothes you could buy in Sitka came from the Sears catalog. As a result, she said, everyone showed up for school wearing the same style of clothes.
"So we ordered fabric from Sears and made our own clothing, so we weren’t all wearing the same thing,” Scheidt said. "But it wasn’t in fashion to wear home-made clothes, so I went to the library and found a book on quilting. I looked at the pictures and said, ‘I can do that.’ So I took off and started quilting.”
Since then, sewing has become Scheidt’s passion.
She has a sewing room at home, and it is the place where she goes to relax. The room is packed with "40 years of sewing stuff.”
"I love to sew,” she said. "It’s very soothing to me. I go into my sewing room and I’m not going to wash clothes or dust the house. The dust and the wash will wait, but quilting will not. The quilt has to get done. It’s kind of goofy.
"I have three sewing machines. I’m surrounded by everything I love in there and the time flies away. It’s just one of those places where you enjoy spending your time. You can’t clean it. Cleaning takes up all of your time.”
She remembered growing up in Sitka when the relatively isolated population was about 3,000.
"My mother was pretty upset in those days,” she said. "There wasn’t a lot available, especially in the grocery store. We ate canned fruits and vegetables back then. That’s always been the challenge of living on an island.
"Back in the days when I was a teenager, they had just come out with convenience foods and people just flocked to them. But we always loved living here. We’ve been here so long we know it’s a great place to live. It’s expensive to live here, but it’s a great place to live.”
Quilting has been part of living in Sitka for as long as she can remember. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Scheidt has been residing in Sitka for most of her life.
As a result of Scheidt’s enthusiasm for quilting, her apparel store evolved into a quilting store when the cruise ships started to arrive in Sitka.
"I had been doing fashion apparel, but the quilting just took off because I realized how many quilters were on cruise ships,” she said.
Now Abby’s Reflection Apparel carries a wide variety of quilts with original designs specific to Alaska. She also sells quilting fabrics "for the locals,” but during the summer she carries a lot of quilts for sale to cruise ship passengers.
The store has an eclectic selection of quilts, and it also features Alaska-themed quilt kits, laser cut kits, artist fabric panels and patterns as well as beautiful "Row by Rows”, used by quilters to create bedspreads and other items.
Scheidt calls her shop "a fun place to spend the day,” adding that the staff is always cheerful.
"We try not to be cranky,” she said, laughing. "But our shop sparks creativity. We have a lot of quilts hanging, all Alaska-oriented. I get a lot of compliments from people who say, ‘I wish I could quilt.’
"But anybody can quilt.”
Visiting Abby’s is as much an experience as a shopping expedition. With her "never cranky” attitude and the dozens of quilts hanging, customers get a real feel for quilting, but also the charm of Scheidt and her staff.
"The shop is a place people enjoy,” she said. "My personality is going to come out in it. But you also have to know your area and how you relate so you have the fabric your clientele wants. You have to be a little bit in touch with who’s going to buy a 15-yard bolt. But 15 yards is a lot of fabric if no one likes it.
"We don’t have exotic tastes. It’s nothing unusual here. But people always come into the store and say, ‘I love that!’ I figure when that happens, you’re hitting a chord with somebody. I understand my clientele and travelers. They may be more adventurous in their tastes.”
Although she said most of her clientele is not famous, she once met the late former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn while he visited the store and purchased a few items.
"He was very talkative,” Scheidt said. "I wanted to talk about going to the moon and I didn’t know what to call him. He said, ‘Call me John,’ and I just smiled and kind of thought, ‘wow!’”
She added that the town is always filled with rumors of celebrity visits. There was one recently that Patrick Swayze was in town. Most of the tales, though, are just that.
"Most movie stars are pretty recognizable, though,” she said.
Meanwhile, whether there are celebrities in town or not, and when not quilting, Scheidt likes to spend time outdoors if the weather allows.
"Everything is outdoors here,” she explained. "You hope your day off is sunny. I can’t go to my sunroom when it’s sunny. I have to go out. It rains here a lot.”