By Joe Stumpe
The Wichita Eagle.
There are two sides to the Becker sisters’ quilting business.
One is sewing quilts, often custom-ordered and very personal, Patricia Becker said.
The other is producing a gold-and-black hand puppet called “WeWu” that Wichita State University basketball fans brandish joyously at games.
“I’m still amazed, on the puppet side, how people respond,” said Becker, a co-owner of Seven and a Half Sisters Quilting and more. “It’s a very different business. The puppet side is very emotional.”
And profitable, she might add. On the day last March that an article about the puppets appeared in The Wichita Eagle, the business received about 700 orders for them.
“Honestly, it took about a year to get them done,” she said. “When they called us, we said we’re overwhelmed, we’ll get it. Everybody was fine with that.”
Despite the business’ name, there are actually only three sisters actively involved: Becker; Mary Brewster, who also lives in the Wichita area, and Kathy Cunning, who lives in Weatherford, Texas.
But Becker said the name is appropriate because her mother, Barbara, taught each of her seven daughters how to sew. And she made a quilting block for them embroidered with references to Seven Sisters of Pleiades star cluster. When some of them started to look for a name for their quilting business, they discovered “Seven Sisters” was taken and so decided to add their sister-in-law as a “Half.”
That was in 2005, and for years they did a good, low-key business creating quilts by commission and for sale at local craft fairs.
Becker said the inspiration for quilts can be anything from photographs that can be transferred to fabric to T-shirts that are incorporated into the pattern.
“The quilt side is very personal,” she said. “They’re trying to create a memory for their family. Your product is in their home, on display.”
The sisters also make table runners and clothes for 18-inch dolls.
In 2012, a customer asked for a hand puppet in the likeness of Wu Shock, the WSU mascot. As the team’s fortunes continued to rise, more people asked for the puppets, and somebody else suggested they get the puppet licensed through WSU.
University officials “were very supportive. They were just great about it.”
The Shockers’ recent success, a Final Four trip in 2013, a 35-0 start last year, another Missouri Valley Conference championship this year, has kept demand steady.
“It was something that became that ‘gotta have it’ thing,” Becker said.
Last month, Seven and a Half Sisters won national recognition and a $1,000 gift card from Score, an organization of retired executives who mentor small businesses. Becker said the sisters have received good advice from Score members.
The hand puppet business has been so successful that the sisters have versions in development for the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University.
“You’ve got to be really smart in targeting what universities you want to target,” Becker said.
Becker said her mother loves hearing about the business she laid the foundation for all those years ago. “We run everything through her. She’s kind of our last approval. I think she’s pretty proud of it. She’s real curious about everything we do.”
Becker, a self-described sports fan, gets a kick out of being pat of the action, even though she sometimes loses track of games looking for her creation in the crowd.
“I love it. I watch the game but I look in the background.”