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A Common Thread

Susie Fox serves her predecessor’s loyal clients while appealing to a growing generation of do-it-yourselfers.

Forget everything you think you know about sewing: that it’s beyond your skill level; that it’s for a different generation; or that it’s too expensive or time-consuming.

You needn’t even step foot into Material Girl in downtown Crystal Lake to see how these old perceptions have been turned on their heads.

The store windows showcase colorful, custom DIY projects that virtually anyone can execute – projects that they can create at a beginner’s class right there at the shop.

“Non-sewers and beginners are intrigued by our windows,” said owner Susie Fox. “They see a project in the window and say, ‘I can make this.’”

Fox and the Material Girl staff took much consideration into the layout and inventory of the shop, which opened last summer. Step inside to discover a clean, organized textile, trims and notions store arranged by function, then by color. Sports team patterns, the hottest design collections, unique fabrics and colors – plus inspirations for every project from a simple throw pillow to a complex multiblock quilt.

“The staff has all had those unfulfilling shopping experiences at the big box stores and we vow that our customer will never have that here,” Fox said. “We strive to make customers’ shopping experiences pleasant ones.”

Carrying Millie’s Torch

Experienced sewers are in for a real treat at Material Girl, particularly former patrons of Millie Gieseke’s The Fabric Shop, which for more than 50 years operated out of the space that is now Material Girl. At 92, Gieseke retired, opening up a terrific opportunity for Fox, a Crystal Lake interior designer with big dreams of operating her own fabric shop.

“My goal has been to keep Millie’s longtime customers happy while creating my own niche as far as fabric selection and image,” she said.

Material Girl has retained the majority of Gieseke’s staff and the “infamous basement” still brims with Gieseke’s vintage and hard-to-find fabrics.

Like Gieseke, lovingly dubbed “The Queen of Williams Street,” Fox, too, has a great passion for downtown Crystal Lake.

“I love the charm and character of downtown Crystal Lake,” said Fox, who’s been a resident for more than 20 years. “It exemplifies small business at its best. The group of retailers here are top-notch businesses operated by people who care deeply about the downtown as a whole and a successful economy for Crystal Lake.”

The city, she said, was helpful in aiding in the transition from The Fabric Shop to Material Girl in 2010. “They made it as seamless as possible,” she said.

A New Generation of Sewers

Canning, cooking, crafting, planting and sewing – the “homegrown and handmade” generation is booming and this young group of do-it-yourselfers is all about Material Girl.

“This generation loves putting their own spin on things,” Fox said. “They might buy basic children’s clothes and embellish them with a headband or pin. We aim to serve them well.”

Sewers come from all over the region to visit, including Chicago, which only has a few independent fabric stores.

The growing interest in all things DIY, particularly home improvement and crafting projects, has been driven by not only the popularity of TV shows like “Project Runway” and “Design Star,” and networks like HGTV, but the challenging economy, Fox said.

“More people are staying at home more often, spending less money and refocusing on their home life,” she explained.

Whether it’s expert sewers, hobbyists or members of the new DIY generation, Material Girl plans to always strive to meet their needs as a one-stop sewing shop and studio.

Trends Driving the Fabric Industry Today

Quilting – If the huge success of the first-ever Northern Illinois Quilt Fest that wrapped up in September is any indication, quilting has re-emerged in a big way. According to, the estimated value of the quilting industry stands at $3.3 billion. As part of the event, Material Girl took part in a quilt hop that drew people from near and far to shop and mingle with staff and fellow quilters.     

Gift-Making – Hand-making custom gifts for special occasions is hugely popular right now, such as scarves, wine bags, purses and more. Material Girl displays scores of simple, memorable gift ideas for everything from baby showers to the holidays.

Hot Fabric Collections – Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and Ty Pennington (of “Extreme Home Makeover”) are among some of the biggest names in fabric design today – and Material Girl happily carries these and many other popular designers. Bright, bold colors and patterns are the biggest fabric trends today.

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