Shawnee & Lenexa

What to do with mom’s 15,000 yards of fabric? Open a store, of course

When Barbara Schubert Bartlett of Prairie Village lost her battle with colon cancer on March 16 at the age of 77, she left behind four children, five grandchildren, one great-grandson — and a storage unit bursting with craft supplies.

Daughter Barbara Gray thought she’d sell everything in a garage sale at her Overland Park home.

Until she realized the extent of her mother’s stockpile.

“Omie” — her grandkids’ nickname for the German immigrant — had amassed more than 15,000 yards of fabric over the last 30 years of her life.

Consider that a regular bolt of quilting fabric holds eight yards: Omie had roughly 1,875 bolts, more than the entire back wall at Jo-Ann Fabric. And then there were the things Omie collected. Since she had four children, Omie also had four nativity scenes.

In fact, she had at least four of almost everything. And one daughter-in-law loved cats, so she collected all things feline for her. A grandson was into soccer, so …

To handle it all, her children rented a storefront at 12616 W. 62nd Terrace in Shawnee and started selling fabric. When the fabric no longer takes up the entire store, they’ll move in other items and the store will become a cross between a craft sale and an estate sale.

“I can’t imagine how she collected it all under our noses and we didn’t realize it,” son Mark Bartlett said. “She didn’t just buy one — she bought 12 of everything,” he said, sorting through a basketful of sparkly ornamental grapes.

By the end of April, Gray’s daughter Olivia Swalley, 22, estimated that they’d sold about 7,000 yards of fabric — and they hadn’t begun to sell the non-fabric items.

“I know that when we started the stacks of fabric were two deep, now they’re only one deep,” Swalley said. The family is selling the fabric at $2/yard.

Gray and sister Linda Giacalone of Shawnee are in awe of how their mother just keeps giving.

“A lot of people have said that there’ll be a lot of people blessed by us selling the fabric at this price,” Giacalone said.

Gray jumped in, “People are coming in and doing charity quilts, (valor) quilts, blankets for Children’s Mercy, and the Linus Project,” a nationwide organization that provides blankets to critically ill children for comfort.

Omie created many quilts and many tiny afghans, some of which are now for sale.

“We’ll probably donate these afghans to Children’s Mercy for new babies. And those little pillows she made, I think we’re going to give to breast cancer if nobody wants them because we’ve had ladies say you can put them under your arms,” Giacalone said.

Swalley added, “One lady came in and she was going to make little beanies to go under men’s construction hats, which was interesting.”

“For guys at KCP&L,” Gray clarified. “The hard hats hurt their heads so they were sewing beanies to go underneath. So they were looking for man fabric.”

Not only does Omie keep giving, but her family wants to keep giving to her also. Their mother wanted her ashes scattered in the Atlantic so she’d be between Germany and the United States. The family plans on using some of the money they’ve made for a trip to a North Carolina beach.

But the idea that the family wouldn’t have a grave to visit bothered Omie.

All the children grew up going to Prairie Elementary in Prairie Village, and for more than 20 years Giacalone taught there. She and her mom made scarves for Giacalone’s entire class every year, so the tie to the school was strong — it would make a great place for a memorial.

Giacalone and her class planted a tree at the end of April and the sixth-graders plan to gift the school a bench this month.

When she went to buy the tree, she had a particular purple flowering one in mind. But before she could find what she was looking for an employee pulled her aside and was insistent that she see another kind of tree.

Giacalone recounted the odd interaction, “She goes, ‘I want to put your name on this tree right here.’ I said, ‘How come?’ She goes, ‘Just look how tall and straight it is and it has a really sturdy root.’ 

The tree was a Schubert Chokeberry.

Schubert: Omie’s maiden name.

Anne Kniggendorf: or @annekniggendorf.

The family will keep the store open through the end of May from 5-8 on weeknights, 9-5 Saturdays, and 10-5 Sundays.