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Online Venture Sews Seeds of Success for Dearborn’s Material Girls Fabric Store

An online venture that turned into a brick-and-mortar establishment, the Dearborn store carries specialty, hard-to-find fabrics and offers helpful classes.

For Dearborn entrepreneur Barb Fricano, an online venture in 2004 became a reality with .

Fricano, a former home economics and quilting teacher, quit her job to begin the business when she saw a need in the Dearborn area stemming from the closing of Hancock Fabrics and Jo-Ann Fabrics. After quickly establishing a loyal clientele online, she soon found that a growing demand would push her to open a brick-and-mortar location.

Today, the business is the corner store in a neighborhood strip mall on Grindley Park, just west of Outer drive. Fricano found that the neighbors were very welcoming when she opened in 2007 and have become some of her regular customers. Neatly stocked with countless bolts of fabric, Material Girls draws customers from across the metro Detroit community and many throughout Michigan.

"I thought the store had plenty of space when I first opened," Fricano said, "and now I'm cramped for room."

The online portion of the business continues to provide sales from across the country and abroad, but when it comes to those who seek hands-on shopping, the store is a welcoming place to inspire creative sewing imaginations.

Material Girls' specialty is providing harder-to-find fabrics–most notably African, Asian and Australian fabrics–something that few stores carry with any variety.

"These materials are sought after for their high quality and unusual designs," Fricano explained, "many using symbols to tell stories, something that is very appealing to customers."

Materials for shirt-making, purses, pillows, quilting and much more are readily available, along with patterns, classes and tools. 

"I believe that anyone can sew and we offer classes to help encourage them," Fricano said. "I like people to feel good about what they're doing, and I think finishing a project boosts their self-esteem."

Material Girls' loyal customers agree.

"Barb is encouraging," said Dearborn Heights resident and customer Barbara Cardinal. "I'm such a beginner and she helps me to continue with support and kindness. I've seen her with other customers as well and she encourages all of them."  

Cardinal recently took a basics sewing class where she completed a table runner, learned about cutting materials, blocking (a technique that helps quilts lay flat and hang straight), and how to begin quilting on her own.  She plans on taking the next class in a few weeks.

"It's like going into a candy store for me; it's a beautiful place," said Cardinal, chuckling about her newfound hobby. "Barb also helps me choose the right colors, threads and tips to complete my projects."

Material Girls' customer base continues to grow, especially as quilting is popular in the Midwest. Fricano also attributes the expansion to an aging population, as the primary customers are 50-plus years old–though quilters come in all ages. Though this is a craft typically thought of for women, men come to the table as well when it comes to sewing, with a few husband-and-wife teams among Fricano's customers.

"Usually they each have their own sewing machine while they work on projects together," Fricano said of the married duos. "A growing customer base includes young moms doing smaller projects–small quilts, pillows and things they can finish quickly."

Experienced quilters likely find this store easily, but it is those new to sewing that offer memorable stories of how they came upon it.

Cardinal said that she found Material Girls when she went to a local fabric store only to discover it had closed. She contacted her sister, an avid sewing fan who lives up north, and she located Material Girls online.

"She told me that there's a store right there, near my home, that offers many fabrics to choose from. So I went in and have been going ever since," Cardinal said. "When my sister comes to town, we always go to the store together."

You can find out more about Material Girl classes or the store's fabrics by going online to www.MaterialGirlQuilt.com, visiting the store at 1850 Grindley Park in Dearborn or by calling 313-561-1111.

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