Fiber Artist Opens Shop, Shares Zeal For The Craft

Lara Madison had never visited the state before moving to Northwest Nebraska at her husband’s urging when he retired.

With a doctorate in microbiology and a career in biotech, Madison spent her days commuting to Boston for her job, but her husband, Mark Werner, “spun a tail of life on the land back in his native Nebraska,” she writes on her website. With a daughter in tow and another on the way, they settled in Chadron, and before long Madison had a growing repertoire of hobbies that have since evolved to join the landscape of the city’s downtown business district.

Madison Quilting and Yarns, located on Second Street, offers longarm quilting, homespun yarn, custom knitting and t-shirt quilts, and classes in knitting, spinning, quilting and needle felting. Madison has cross-stitched since she was a young child, often working on projects during that commute by train on the East Coast.

“Quilting and fiber arts are incredibly relaxing,” she said. “I’d end up at home happy. It’s Zen-like.”

She learned to quilt in graduate school, taking a class with her mom after her grandmother passed away.

“My grandmother was a prolific quilter. I was always inspired by it but we didn’t live near her.”

After the relocation to Chadron, where she spent some time teaching at Chadron State College, she taught herself knitting.

“There were many projects that hit the wall,” she said. But once she had it mastered, it led to spinning, which led to weaving. Eventually, she purchased a longarm quilting machine. In addition to her projects, she took in quilting projects for others, starting her fledgling business in the basement of their home in 2015. The location was less than ideal for her customers, who mostly lived in Chadron and Hay Springs, so they began searching for a building to purchase.
Last year, despite the pandemic, Madison launched her shop in what had been a vacant storefront on Second Street.

“My business increased 10-fold,” she said. With two dozen quilts awaiting longarm work, Madison is also hosting Sew Days each Tuesday, Sit and Knits the first Saturday of every month and classes in a variety of fiber arts. The Pine Ridge Quilt Guild is also hosting its monthly sew day at the shop, too, and anyone is welcome to join even if they aren’t part of the guild. Madison Quilting and Yarns is turning in to the quilting makerspace she envisioned, she said, where people can work in her space and use her tools.

“I want people to make stuff,” she said. “It’s really incredible – the fiber arts – community here.”

The interaction with other fiber artists in the community is one of Madison’s favorite aspects of the shop, and for those who visit as well.

Stephanie Cogdill started attending the weekly Sew Day this summer and enjoys the camaraderie she finds with others regulars.

“I used to be desperate to find ways to interact,” Madison said. “It’s really fun to have them in the shop.”

The group exchanges ideas and learns new techniques from each other – Cogdill even taught a class for Madison. Beyond the interaction, it’s a guaranteed time to dedicate to her craft.

“Sometimes life gets in the way,” Cogdill said.

Having that “makerspace” feel also keeps Madison challenged. They force her to keep growing as they seek her help or request certain classes, she said. From one-block wonder quilts to convergence quilts, along with the freehand work on the longarm, she never lacks a challenge when it comes to quilting. In other areas of fiber arts, she tries to find one challenge a year to complete. She recently completed a “Shave ‘em and Save ‘em” challenge that connected fiber artists with shepherds who raise rare breeds of sheep and now carries 12 yarns she spun from that project.

Madison Quilting and Yarns also offers supplies for quilters, sewers, spinners and felters. Featured yarns include cashmere, wool and alpaca.

“The shop is going to change with time. I want the customers to tell me what they want me to carry,” Madison said. In the meantime, she can order specific items based upon customer request.

“I want to be the shop you go to so you don’t have to drive 100 miles.”

As she continues to add to the shop, in terms of supplies, workspaces and classes, one area she wants to expand is offerings for kids. She offered a painting with wool class during Fur Trade Days, and older kids can enjoy sculpting with wool, in which they create 3D animals. Her triangle looms are also fun and simple for kids to learn weaving, and she’s on the lookout for additional used sewing machines with speed control to be able to teach quilting to the younger kids.

Classes in general are important to Madison, as she learned to work with 3D art, double knitting and triangle looms in classes during fiber fairs.

“There’s something about that personal interaction,” Madison said when it comes to learning these techniques. She tries to keep her classes affordable and on the intimate side, even offering to work with a couple of people at a time on a new craft or in an area in which they are struggling. Someday she’d love to see the creation of a fiber guild and may even a fiber arts fair.

“We have so many hidden talents in Northwest Nebraska and we need to give them a venue to shine.”

Madison Quilting and Yarns is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., but Madison said she is often there outside of those hours and if the sign says ‘open’ to come on in. You can also visit her website at https://madisonquiltingandyarns.com/.

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