January 9, 1997 in Washington Voices

Cozy Business It Might Sound Like A Quaint Little Hobby, But Debbie Mumm Is Going International With Her Quilting Skills

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Ten years ago, Debbie Mumm created a cozy home business, designing quilt patterns in her Corbin Park dining room.

Her goal was modest - she hoped to make $500 a month to contribute to the family budget.

“I wanted to justify staying home and doing what I was doing,” she says.

Today she’s building a $1 million office-art studio in north Spokane for her international business: Mumm’s the Word.

She has 16 employees and her distinctive patterns and designs fill a dozen quilt books, scores of kits, and are printed on bolts of fabric, kitchen towels, potholders, dishes and notecards.

“She has a special gift for touching women’s hearts,” says Jackie Wolff, owner of Quilting Bee, a quilt shop in in the Valley.

Everyday comforts find a home in Mumm’s designs: butterflies, flowerpots, smiling snowmen, cats and sailboats.

“They are a combination of who I am, and what I like,” Mumm says.

Ensconced in the richly decorated art studio of her new Five Mile Prairie home, Mumm is as warm and welcoming as her quilts. She chats comfortably about growing a business, good luck, good timing, and supportive friends and family.

She credits her husband, Steve Mumm, former TV weatherman. In the early days he wielded a a glue stick to paste photos of quilts onto homemade pattern packets.

In March 1995, he left his television job to lead the licensing department of Mumm’s the Word.

“She’s incredibly in tune to trends, both gifts and home interiors,” Steve Mumm says of his wife.

Millions of yards of fabric printed with her designs have been sold. One of her most popular quilt patterns, “Gathering of Angels,” sold 75,000 copies. Her quilt patterns are available around the world.

Her enthusiasm is as fresh and contagious as the day she pieced her first quilt.

“It’s fun and exciting. I never feel like I’m doing the same thing.”

Mumm seriously launched her business in 1986 when she decided to take a pile of quilt patterns to the International Quilt Market, a trade show in Houston, Texas.

The investment and the risk seemed huge. The booth, the airplane ticket, the hotel. She charged it to her credit card.

The gamble paid off. At the show she was taking orders as fast as she could write.

Back home, she eventually hired a small staff to help her stuff pattern packets and manage the office so she could concentrate on designs.

One of those first hires was office manager Kathy Grabowski.

She started working in Mumm’s basement studio, taking care of odds and ends. Now Grabowski oversees daily operations at the Nevada Street headquarters, arriving at 7 a.m. most mornings to take calls from the East Coast.

“I thought Debbie was a very talented designer, and I liked what she designed, but I never thought this business would quite grow the way it has,” she says.

Grabowski will run the main office when the company moves to its new building on Westview Court, behind NorthPointe Plaza in late spring.

The 10,000-square foot building will include an expanded art department and studio, sewing room, desktop publishing, offices and a warehouse, sales and shipping area.

Quilts and patterns aren’t for sale at the office. In Spokane, Quilting Bee and Pacific Crescent Quilting carry Mumm’s the Word patterns.

“The patterns are hands-on, easy to do and easy to get done,” said Jackie Wolff of the Quilting Bee, the first business to stock Mumm’s the Word patterns. “Her designs are so touchable, things we use in our everyday life.”

“Country cute” is the way Larry McCauley at Pacific Crescent Quilting describes the designs. “She has come up with some wonderful ideas,” he says.

Mumm’s homespun designs inspire beginning quilters, the simple patterns and instructions keep them coming back for more.

“People have a good experience with it,” says Mumm. “I try to create appealing, fun projects. I want someone to easily accomplish a project.”

“The nesting and cocooning trend keeps quilts going strong,” says Mumm. “It’s something rewarding, that people can make with their hands.

The next break came in 1991 when Rodale Press asked Mumm to produce a hardback book.

“Rodale did a lot of promotions, here and internationally,” said Steve Mumm.

More books followed in 1994 and 1995. A fourth book, focusing on decorating with quilts, will be out this year.

Walking into their home is like stepping into one of her lavishly illustrated catalogs. The same comforting shades that color her designs, warm her rooms.

Steve Mumm is a Spokane native. Debbie Mumm was born and raised in Seattle. Both are 40, and they have a 7-year-old son.

Debbie Mumm took art classes while growing up and graduated with an associate degree in visual communications technology from Shoreline Community College.

They married in 1977 and moved to Yakima. She found a job in a fabric and gift shop, setting up displays and store signs. She also took her first quilting class and designed her first quilt. She still remembers the pattern: “Heart’s Content.”

“She had a natural affinity from day one,” said Steve Mumm.

Now Mumm’s the Word has added a new branch: licensing designs to companies to use on their products. Her homey interpretations appear on kitchen rugs, ceramic dinnerware, kitchen clocks, stencils, rubber stamps and greeting cards.

Zak Designs, based in Spokane, uses Mumm’s “seed packet” and other gardening themes on their dinnerware, acrylic mugs and tumblers.

“She has a sort of folk-art style, that type of Americana look that is so popular now,” says Regina Thomas, vice president of marketing for Zak.

Will Debbie Mumm ever run out of ideas?

She finds designs in everyday life: a shelf of clocks, a pool of fish, a basket of strawberries.

“I always have ideas whirling around, everything you see or do becomes an inspiration.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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