Keep It Simple Quilting is the name of her business, and it suits Celia Benzel’s friendly, capable demeanor.
With a longarm quilting machine, Benzel creates custom quilts from beginning to end and finishes quilts for people who have begun a project. She also rescues old quilts.
Machine quilting is the final touch, Benzel said. It can bring a quilt to life. Her style is to enhance, not overwhelm, the quilt. Upon receiving a quilt, she lays it out and tries to come up with a design that not only will suit the piece, but will amplify its artistic elements.
“I’d love to write a book on all the stories behind the quilts,” Benzel said. “Some are just tearjerkers, like quilts people are doing for friends who are dying of cancer, or new babies, or a first grandchild. There are so many cool stories.”
Benzel began quilting in the 1970s, when the craft was not as popular. Growing up on a farm in Davenport, she learned sewing from her mother, and from her grandmother, quilting.
“I made my first quilt when I was 17,” Benzel said. “My grandmother changed her formal dining room into a quilt studio. You’d walk in, and there would be just piles of fabric. She had these big picture windows and the sewing machine set up right in front of a window.”
Quilts then were often made from recycled clothes and scraps of fabric. There wasn’t a vast choice of cotton fabrics, mainly just tiny calico prints. It was a time when a good pair of scissors was prized, and cardboard templates were used.
Benzel did not quilt steadily after her first venture. College, children, and career took up most of her time. With a master’s degree in psychology from Gonzaga University, she became a family counselor and worked with child sexual abuse victims for 10 years. That was when she really returned to quilting, to keep her grounded and sane.
“It’s a great outlet for stress,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic after a long, hard day. That’s why I got into it. After being in the counseling profession, it was a wonderful creative outlet.”
About 20 years ago, Benzel began teaching classes out of her home and selling at craft fairs, earning money to open a shop. In 1994, she opened a quilt store in Cheney and ran it until 2007. She now works in real estate and quilts out of her home. Her longarm quilting machine is in her living room, which her teenage daughters – also quilters – think is cool. She also has a studio in her garage.
“Anybody can quilt,” she said, and her classes speak to that belief, ranging from beginner to expert. “I’d love to open another quilt shop. I miss my quilting customers and clients terribly,” she said. “They are so loving and nice and wonderful. I miss sharing ideas, and getting excited about people’s projects, and having people walk into my door who have never tried quilting and end up buying a sewing machine. Having that connection with other wonderful, creative women: That’s the key.”