Quilt design software company has deep ties to BGSU
Alumni and interns add value, expertise and energy to Electric Quilt Co.
By Julie Carle
Tucked away in a small office complex just two blocks from Bowling Green State University is the headquarters for the world’s leading quilt design software company. The Electric Quilt Co. not only sits close to campus, but it also has deep ties to the University.
The company was founded by Dr. Dean Neumann, a retired mathematics professor, and his partner in life and business, Penny McMorris, who holds a master’s degree in art history from BGSU. He is the brainchild of the software. She is the art aficionado, whose fascination with the beauty and art of quilts, led to several PBS quilt shows and the reason that her husband decided to develop a software program to design quilts.
According to Ann Rutter, treasurer at Electric Quilt and a BGSU alumna, the background to the company’s start begins with Neumann and McMorris. Quilts and quilting were part of McMorris’s fabric, even before she earned an M.A. in art history. The education, however, further piqued her interest in quilt history and she convinced WBGU-TV to produce the show Great American Quilt, with her as host.
At about the same time, Neumann retired from BGSU and was gifted a hand-me-down computer from his son. Ever-the-learner, Neumann dove deep into computer learning, taught himself how to program the computer for fun, then created a tutorial for C++ software, which he shared with others.
With that project behind him, he needed something else to occupy his time and mind. In a deliberate effort to find something they could do together, Neumann landed on the idea of developing software for quilts.
“Because quilts are so geometric, which fits perfectly with Dean and his math background, he started to work on developing software to help with quilt design,” Rutter said.
The software was introduced during a 1991 episode of Great American Quilt on WBGU-TV. Ironically, McMorris didn’t know how to make the software work at the time, so during the taping, Neumann was crouched under the table making it all happen on the screen, Rutter said.
“It was kind of amazing all the things you could do with the software at that time. Everything was a DOS (Disk Operating System) application back then. Computers were black screen, so to see colors on the screen was so exciting for people,” Rutter said.
The couple came up with the name while driving around and throwing out ideas. The Electric Quilt name and logo were born from the concept that the product required a computer and the computer had to be plugged in to use.
As home computer use skyrocketed in the early 2000s, “the company was going gangbusters,” Rutter said. “People wanted to get home from work and do fun stuff on their computers, so the market was prime for growth.”
Over the years, Neumann developed new versions of the software, from EQ2 in 1994 to the most current version EQ8, which was introduced in 2017. The company started in their home and moved to office space near campus in 1997, shortly after they launched their first website.
Ties that bind
The close proximity to campus made it easy to hire student interns, Rutter said. The company, with its deep roots at BGSU, reached out in an effort to utilize the technology and design skills of young, talented students and in turn, provided learning and real-world experiences for the students.
In the process, Rutter said they also have hired some great employees.
Jenny (Burch) Novinsky ’03, Sara (Layne) Seuberling ’04 and Christine Kohler ’13 each completed Visual Communication Technology co-ops in the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering before joining the company full time. Jacob Fox ’16 and Courtney Philips ’20 joined the company after completing computer science internships in the College of Arts and Sciences.
From the beginning, Neumann, McMorris and Rutter have worked to create a family-like working environment.
“I’ve been through a lot of phases of life at EQ – from student, to newly married, to working parent,” said Novinsky, promotions and content creator. “I appreciate the flexibility of this job, especially with the challenges of this past year.
Seuberling, EQ’s project manager who has been with the company for 17 years, found her niche during her required third co-op at the Electric Quilt. “They treated us like family then, and today, with Dean and Penny not around as often, we’re still a great little family.”
Phillips, the newest employee hired post-internship, is a software developer for EQ.
The computer science graduate said, “It has been amazing working for EQ. Everyone here is very sweet and welcoming. I love what I am doing and seeing the software we are working on grow and develop has been so exciting!”
“We're a small group, in a small town, but our products and services are beloved by thousands of quilters worldwide,” said Kohler, promotions director. “Every employee plays an integral part in the company's success. I love being able to use my degree and skills every day, while being part of a reputable company that I respect.”
The value of co-ops and internships
“BGSU’s co-op and internship program is great for the students and for us,” Rutter said. “It works well both ways.”
“I was the first in my family to go to a four-year university, so I was very lucky to find the VCT program and very much appreciated the three-co-op requirement,” Seuberling said. “The hands-on, real-life experiences are so valuable.”
She feels so strongly about the importance of the real-world experiences that she “will make sure my kids have multiple internships in their college careers, regardless if their major requires it.”
Kohler said the co-ops provided invaluable workplace experience in preparation for a career. She also credited her VCT faculty and classes for helping to prepare her for the co-ops.
Fox, lead software developer who started as an intern at EQ, agreed that many of his classes at BGSU have proved invaluable in his work. A software development project course taught by Dr. Rob Green, was “especially helpful” in preparing Fox for the job.
“In the course, we had to work with people and technologies we were unfamiliar with to complete a project for an actual client. The communication, technical and time management skills gained from that course were probably the most helpful,” he said.
Fox is in charge of hiring the interns for the development team. He has been pleased with the quality of students who have worked at the company and looks forward to seeing many more BGSU students working for the Electric Quilt Co. in the future.
Ian Ressa, a mathematics and computer science intern during the fall 2020 semester, had a good experience as a member of the software development team.
“I think it’s really great to be contributing to something that so many people use. My favorite part about creating software is knowing someone, somewhere is running your code on their machine. Even from the perspective of my part-time work, I’ve seen messages from customers telling us they can’t wait for the new software to be released, and that’s what motivates me.”
Olivia Sevits, a fourth-year VCT student, started her co-op in June 2020. She helped with the company’s social media, sale emails and scans for fabric for one of the company’s products.
“The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is how to manage time and balance multiple projects at once,” she said. “There are a lot of deadlines that need to be met and new projects come up often. It’s very important to be able to prioritize tasks and ensure the work is high quality and completed on time.”
Quality is a top priority
The lessons modeled by the employees and carried over to the interns are an important part of the company dynamics. Quality is at the core of EQ’s work, products and especially customer service.
“We are immensely proud of the people behind our company: how hard they work, how smart they are, how eagerly they tackle new assignments, and as importantly, how kind they are to users who contact us for help,” Neumann and McMorris are quoted on the EQ website.
The industry continues to change its technology and processes, Rutter said, and EQ is dedicated to staying current and relevant. The employees and interns are key to that continued success.
In addition to producing many software editions, updates and a line of downloadable block patterns, the company helps customers enhance their quilting skills and expertise at EQ Academy in the BGSU at Levis Commons facility in Perrysburg.
One of EQ’s latest undertakings was updating quilt historian Barbara Brackman’s “The Encyclopedia of Piece Quilt Patterns (1979).” The book, which has been out of print and difficult to find, is considered a quilter’s bible — a must-have resource with more than 4,000 pieced quilt blocks. This third edition of Brackman’s Encyclopedia adds over 160 new blocks and is presented in full color for the first time. It was a huge undertaking, and required everyone’s involvement from design through distribution.
“We're a small staff but we can accomplish so much,” Seuberling said. “Our customer service is top notch, our products are loved by thousands across the world and the work environment and flexibility of the company is extraordinary.”