Today we’d like to introduce you to Katie Mortensen.
Hi Katie, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
It is crazy to look at where I am at today, I never would have thought I’d have a sewing workroom that specializes in high-end custom pillows, cushions, and slipcovers! Here is why it is soo funny. I did not grow up sewing. My sewing skills were that of the Home Eco. the class you are required to take in middle school. I remember when I was pregnant with my second child, I wanted to make her a few things, but I could not remember how to operate a sewing machine. I had to ask my husband how to thread the bobbin. It makes me laugh every time I tell that story because people just assume I’ve been sewing all my life.
When I was in high school (late ’90s) I worked for my mom who was the Retail Manager/Buyer for the Emporium at Thanksgiving Point. At that time, it was a high-end home furnishing store. I was surrounded by all things Interiors. I loved to tag along with her and her team to furniture markets and tradeshow as they searched for new products to buy for the store. It was so exciting to see what was trending for the upcoming seasons. It was so inspiring, the textiles, the furniture the lighting! It was fun to experience but I never realized the influence it would have on me later in my life.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I really found my love of textiles and fabrics. It was 2006, I was a new mom at the time. I remember discovering a show on HGTV called “Sarah’s House” during my son’s nap time. I was mesmerized! The concept of this show was Sarah Richardson, a Canadian designer, would find a home to renovate and take you thru the process. Each episode was focused on one room or part of the house. They would show you the design from start to finish. It was awesome. But what really caught my attention was that she would use textiles and fabrics as her jumping-off point for every design. She would design the ENTIRE project around the fabrics, and she was not afraid to be bold! I was hooked!
By the time my second baby was born in 2009 my mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I remember her telling me that she did not have time for this crap! She was a busy woman. She was still running the Emporium in-between cancer treatments. No joke. She is where I get my work ethic from. While she was going thru Chemo and Radiation, she would receive payments from the insurance company that carried cancer policy. She called them her “Pitty Checks” but… they ended up being a nice little nest egg for her to do whatever she wanted with. I guess there is one perk to having cancer. One of the purchases she made with her “Pitty Money” was having some of her furniture slipcovered. I remember coming to see her and being BLOWN AWAY by how her furniture transformed! You couldn’t tell that her furniture was slipcovered! It was custom-fitted, yet removable. I had to know more!
I was able to reach out to the lady that did the work because I really wanted to have her make a slipcover for me. It was a big RC Willey sectional.. you know the kind. Brown, hideous yet soooo comfy! I was ready for a change so I reached out to her but soon realized that I could not afford her services. But that was not going to stop me. At this point I knew how to sew a straight line; I could thread the bobbin (thanks to my husband) and could google anything online if I got stuck. So, I rolled up my sleeves, did a bunch of math to figure out how many yards of fabric I’d need, and went to work. I worked on this slipcover during my kid’s nap times. It was the only time I had uninterrupted. Six weeks later it was done! I loved it! I loved the whole process of making this slipcover, the problems solving, figuring out how to manipulate the fabric to lay just right, and the before and after once I was done.
This sparked something inside of me. I soon began searching KSL Classifieds for cheap ugly furniture that I could slipcover and sell. I remember buying my first wingback chair for $20, making a slipcover for it, and then selling it for $150! I could not believe it! I did this for about a year and then noticed that people who were looking at the furniture I was trying to sell would ask if I would slipcover their furniture.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that people really love this concept of a custom-fitted slipcover, so I ran with it. I stopped buying furniture to resell and started making slipcovers for clients instead. I did this for about 7 years, working with some really fun people and a few designers. After a while, I started to notice that my clients were asking if I would make pillows and bench cushions. Naturally, pillows and cushions go with slipcovers, but I never really explored it before. I was too busy with my slipcover workload that I could not imagine adding more services. But I soon realized there was a need for this. So, I ran with it.
When I started looking into pillows and cushions I notices that boutiques were a great way to reach new clients. I decided that I would apply to Swiss Days, one of the biggest vendor markets in the state. It is located in Midway every summer and draws a large amount of people from all over the state. I figured I could sell slipcovered furniture there; I mean why not? The first year was a bust. I had awesome furniture but found that people wanted things they could take with them right away, like pillows. The next year I made about 100 pillows and brought a few pieces of smaller furniture, like chairs to sell. I sold out of everything. That is when I knew I had found my niche!
Throughout the year I would still make slipcovers for my clients, but I’d spend the spring and summer searching and buying fabrics and making hundreds of pillows to sell at the next Swiss Days. I did this for 5 years and every year it got bigger and bigger and so did my following. People would call me the pillow girl. They’d tell me they only came to Swiss Days for me and my pillows. Designers would come to my booth and leave their cards. I was flattered. My little business began to shift from making slipcovers to making pillows and cushions. Swiss Days really opened a whole new world to me!
People were reaching out to me left and right wanting me to put pillow packages together for them. They trusted my eye and loved my taste. It wasn’t too long after that second year of Swiss Days I began to reach out to local designers to offer my sewing services to them. This opened a floodgate of work and I loved it! This put me on the map for these services and on the radar for designers.
One of the biggest perks of my job is getting to work with some of the BEST Interior Designers in the state! I love catering to my designers and their clients’ needs. My goal is to make their job easier, which in turn, makes their job easier, even if it’s just making pillows, cushions, and slipcovers.
I love how my business has grown over the years. I have taken it from a hobby to fill a creative outlet to a full-service sewing workroom. But this did not happen overnight. I had the support and constant mentoring from my amazing husband, family, and close friends There is no way I’d be where I am today without them!
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I think the biggest struggle along the way has been that I do everything myself. I never really needed the extra hands until a few years ago. I found myself getting busier and busier and realizing there was just not enough time in the day to do it all.
I really enjoy what I do but I had to come to the realization that it’s ok to hire help. I had to stop looking at it as a negative thing but something that will allow me to free up time doing the tasks that bog me down so I can keep growing my business.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
When I first started out, I was making slipcovers for furniture. Now I specialize in creating custom pillows, pillow packages, and cushions. I still make slipcovers but only a dozen or so a year. I have been told by many that I have a great eye for fabrics. I have spent the last few years curating a collection of fabrics that I love and that I feel my clients would love well.
My clients are amazed that I can have hundreds of fabric swatches laid out in front of me within 10 mins. I can pull a completed pillow collection together. This is where most people would be overwhelmed by the number of options and throw in the towel but for me, it is a fun game and I love a good challenge!
My goal has always been to make this process of having custom pillows, cushions, and slipcovers made as easy as possible! From selecting the perfect fabrics for each project to making sure their pillows and cushions are stuffed with the highest quality of pillow fills and foam that will LAST! In a sense, I’ve been able to create an amazing “one-stop-shop” experience for my clients. I love knowing my clients trust me to create something beautiful for their homes and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
One of the things I am proud of is running into past clients who have purchased pillows or cushions from me and they still love them years later! Quality is a BIG factor for me, referrals are EVERYTHING to my business. While my pillows, cushions, and slipcovers may not be the cheapest, they do last, and hearing that over and over again gives me the motivation to keep going.
Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I have made slipcovers for a really well-known celebrity!
Years ago I was commissioned to make a few slipcovers for some custom-built furniture that would be shipped out to LA. I mean these couches were huge! All I knew was this client had a boyfriend that was in the NBA and they could not find any furniture deep enough to accommodate his height.
It was a few years later that I found out who the furniture was for, due to confidentiality agreements. But I can say she has a handful of Grammys.
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