What started as a lark more than a decade ago has become serious business for one Orange County couple. Don and Donna Mongeon have made their hobby into a business and operate Blackberry Knoll from their Rhodesville home.

For the past 12 years, the couple has been a formidable presence in the Dolley Madison Quilters Guild. Two weekends ago, at the local non-profit’s biannual show, 72 of the more than 200 quilts exhibited were made by or finished by the Mongeons.

The couple began quilting in retirement. Donna had always been interested in the artistic process of quiltmaking and joined the quilters’ guild. Don decided to support the new hobby by purchasing a long-arm sewing machine. It turned out that Donna was much more interested in designing the quilts and sewing the tops than in using the long-arm machine. So, Don stepped in to finish the quilts. After some time, Don became so adept, other members of the guild asked for his help finishing quilts.

“I hadn’t intended to start quilting,” said Don. “We got the machine for Donna but she wasn’t really thrilled with it. I thought I’d give it a try and didn’t mind it at all.”

“We work as a team,” said Donna. “I was fascinated with quilting but discovered that I wasn’t all that comfortable with the machine. I would design and do the tops and Don would finish them. Before long, Don was finishing quilts for friends.”

Quilt design and assembly came naturally to the couple. Don previously worked as an engineer for Lockheed-Martin and Donna made a career in the construction business as a planner.

“Quilting was a good fit,” said Don. “It wasn’t long before I joined the guild too. At the time, a lot of my friends teased me.”

“Working in construction, planning and doing estimates really helped me have a vision for a quilt and a plan for the steps to achieve it,” Donna said in agreement. “Our professions really prepared us for this venture.”

It didn’t take long for the couple’s hobby to become a business. After a few years and multiple requests for Don and Donna’s expertise, the couple established their Blackberry Knoll quilting business where they manufacture and advise on quilting.

“We had been helping our friends for some time but it wasn’t until we were at a quilt shop in Fredericksburg before it became more than a passing thought,” said Donna. “The owner asked for our business card and we laughed and told him we’re not in business. The store owner told us that we’d be in business sooner rather than later.”

It was an accurate prediction. The Mongeons have been active members of the Dolley Madison Quilters Guild and today their Blackberry Knoll has progressed and manufactures more than 500 quilts each year. The couple has two computerized Gammill long-arm quilting machines and a steady stream of clients from throughout the region.

“Don and Donna have been very supportive of the guild,” said guild president Pat Koczur. “Don joining has paved the way for other men and now we have three in our group. The Mongeons always participate in our shows and support the other members.”

The Mongeons’ work was well-represented at the recent guild show at Prospect Heights Middle School on Sept. 21 and 22, and their log cabin mini-quilt was awarded third place in the “other quilted items” category.

The 45-member local group hosts a show every other year that gives members a chance to share their creations with the community. The guild was formed in 1989 to promote the art and design of area quilters and meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at Dogwood Village Senior Living in Orange.

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