When Cindy Cloward worked as a flight nurse, she would always have something to sew on the way to pick up a patient. Throughout her busy life, she has looked for ways to be creative in her tiny pockets of time as a mother of four, nurse and daughter-in-law of a fabric store owner at the University Mall. When her father-in-law passed away, the Clowards moved back to Utah from New York City. For the next few years Cindy and her husband, Bret, tweaked the business model and explored the fabric industry. In 2009, they created Riley Blake, which is now one of the world’s leading quilt fabric manufacturers. The Alpine company is named for Cindy’s daughter Riley and her late father-in-law, Blake. And now the colorful company is inviting the world to its 10th birthday party this September at the Garden of Quilts at Thanksgiving Point.
Step One: Start a business
Family Fabrics in Orem lived up to its name. Bret Cloward grew up working in the store for his father — but swore he’d never stay in the industry. When Bret graduated in business, he took his young family across the country to work in telecom. But his life’s pattern took a turn for the unexpected when his entrepreneurial father was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away three years later.
The family business had expanded by purchasing Christensen Wholesale, and Bret and Cindy could see there were possibilities for future growth if they made their own fabrics. The family started Alpine Fabrics in 2003, with mostly flannel offerings. Later they expanded into quilting cottons. And in 2009, their worldwide vision launched with the creation of Riley Blake.
“We had great success instantly because we appeal to both the grandmas and the younger generation,” Cindy says. “We are savvy with technology and social media, and we share fun ideas of what to do with our creative fabrics.”
Many of Riley Blake’s fabric designs are inspired by other forms of art such as scrapbooking and paper art.
Step Two: See the benefits of quilting
Based in Alpine, Riley Blake has fabric designers all over the world plus 60 employees who stitch together the day-to-day operations of one of the world’s leading quilting fabric manufacturers.
Riley Blake’s fabric is produced in Korea, where they specialize in high-end quality fabric.
“Their factories are spotless clean and they take great pride in what they do,” Cindy says.
In addition to fabric, the company also creates notions and other items.
“As our industry is aging, we are connecting with the younger generation by inspiring them via our YouTube channel and other social media outlets,” Cindy says. “We see growth in our industry as women start their own Etsy shops and other e-commerce businesses selling handmade goods.”
Within the lightning fast world of Ubers and apps, there’s also a desire to slow down and create.
“There is great satisfaction in making things for yourself and others,” Cindy says. “When you sew for someone, you are showing love. It’s also a way to express creativity. And unlike other forms of art, a quilt passes the test of time. A quilt will last for generations and likely be handed down as one of the family treasures.”
Step Three: Plan to showcase quilts in a garden
As Riley Blake was approaching its 10th anniversary, Cindy knew she wanted to celebrate in a big way. She started envisioning a quilt show in Utah near the company headquarters. Then when she met Karen Ashton of Thanksgiving Point, the two began collaborating, mapping out quilting “eye candy,” and dreaming big.
“This outdoor quilt show will be unlike any other experience,” Cindy says. “We will have more than 1,000 quilts, ranging from legacy quilts to more simple designs.”
Quilting celebrities (yes, there is such a thing) are flying in from around the world to teach classes and give presentations. (Read more about quilting phenom Amy Smart on page 98). Some sessions are already sold out. The event is on the heels of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, so the tents will already be up in the Ashton Gardens, ready for displays, gatherings, classes and memory-making.
To learn more or to submit a quilt for possible display, visit thanksgivingpoint.org.
Batches of patches
Thanksgiving Point founder Karen Ashton is passionate about storytelling, gardening and quilting. So when the founder of Alpine’s Riley Blake approached Karen about a quilt show in the Ashton Gardens, it was a match made in patch heaven.
“Thanksgiving Point is used to large-scale events, and we have the infrastructure, team and volunteer staff to pull it off,” says Austin Brown, event director of Thanksgiving Point.
Karen’s private collection of quilts will be displayed in the Secret Garden. More than 1,000 quilts will be displayed throughout the gardens in various ways and in themed “beats.” Cindy is thrilled that what started as a thread of an idea will come to fruition September 12-14.
“Women who quilt generally also love flowers and gardens,” Cindy says. “So to have a venue that has both will be remarkable.”
Originally published in the 2019 July/August issue of Utah Valley Magazine.