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Las Cruces Bulletin
Las Cruces businesswomen Marsha Cowen has been sewing and making quilts since she was 5, and now has more than 50 years of experience.
Her passion turned from a hobby to her life’s work and a decade ago she opened the store Bernina Sewing and Design. And now, the rest of the nation will know about Cowen, her work and her store.
Bernina Sewing and Design has been honored along with 10 other shops nationwide this month, in the bi-yearly magazine “Quilt Sampler” as being one of the best shops in the country.
Cowen recalls applying to have her shop featured in the magazine, which allows for 3,000 applicants, more than a year ago. She also recalls the day she received a letter detailing the fact that her shop was not chosen to be featured in the upcoming issue of the magazine and was thanked for her interest. Several months later, Cowen received a call from a woman claiming to be with the magazine, stating that indeed her shop had actually been chosen to be featured.
“We hadn’t reapplied, so when I received that call, I thought it was someone playing a joke on us. It took a lot of convincing to make us believe it was the real deal,” she said.
Soon after, Cowen was sure she wasn’t the victim of a practical joke as the magazine sent out a photographer and writer to visit the store.
Marsha was also asked to create a quilt to be featured along with her shop in the magazine. The quilt she designed held a southwestern design, and was dubbed “Slices of Sun.”
She characterized being featured in the magazine as being in the “Super Bowl” for quilt shops.
An event celebrating the magazine’s release will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 12 at the shop at 1601 E. Lohman Ave.
A love for life
Cowen said she picked up the love for sewing at a young age.
“My grandmother was involved with handcrafts of all sorts, but I was especially drawn to the quilts she would make,” Marsha said, detailing the colors and patterns as being the characteristics of the quilts that drew her in and never let go.
Marsha and her husband, Jim “Izzy” Cowan, raised their two children in the small northern New Mexican town of Chama, where Jim owned and operated a construction company. There in Chama, Marsha met Lynn Graves, who owns Little Foot, a nationally recognized quilting store; Graves also owned a local bed and breakfast in Chama. Alongside Graves, Marsha travelled all over the country demonstrating Graves’ quilting products.
In 2004, Jim and Marsha moved to Las Cruces, where Jim began working at White Sands Missile Range, and Marsha began teaching her art to others in Albuquerque.
Though it is quite a drive back and forth to the Duke City, Cowen said she was happy. She was getting to teach her skill to others. She was teaching sewing and quilting classes at a location where Bernina, a manufacturer of sewing and quilting machines, had products being sold. After a while, Bernina’s district manager contacted Cowen, asking her if she would be willing to open up her own Bernina shop in Las Cruces.
In October, 2005, Marsha opened Bernina Sewing and Design.
Since then, Cowen said the store has experienced “steady growth”. Enough so that Jim Cowen decided to leave his job at the missile range to work alongside his wife, running the day-to-day operations at the shop. As the couple says, Marsha provides the creativity and Jim handles the business. Jim has also taken his history of mechanical work, and now applies it to fixing broken quilting machines.
But the Cowens say all of the shop’s success cannot be pinned on themselves.
“We have the best staff; they are fabulous employees,” Marsha Cowen said. “We have so much fun here.”
She also connected the shop’s success with its customers.
“They are all so creative and constantly bringing new ideas and pieces of work to the shop, it really keeps us evolving,” she said.
And though the Cowan’s shop does not sell individual quilts, the staff seems to give the customer much more; a hobby, and for many, a passion.
“Sewing machines are our business, and the fact is you can’t just buy one and understand where to go from there,” Cowen said. “When you buy from us, you get mastery classes from us. I don’t just want to sell a machine to someone and pat them on the head and tell them to run with it.”
The store is a one-stop shop when it comes to quilt making with products, training and guidance all offered.
“We have everything you need here,” Marsha said.
“Many people come into the store and are surprised with how much stuff we have here,” Jim Cowen said.
The Cowens described the hobby as completely passion driven.
“Just think of your passion,” Marsha said. “Wouldn’t you want to do it to the best of your ability, to continue to learn and grow, that’s really what makes it a passion.”
The fact her passion is now being recognized nationwide can make Cowen misty eyed.
“I never thought this would happen,” she said. “It wasn’t even in my head until the magazine was in my hand, and then all I wanted to do was jump around and scream for everyone to look and see.”