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In September 2000, Brenda Heffernan of Ortonville began taking steps to fulfill a dream she'd kept on the back burner for a very long time -- one that her mother, Betty Owen of Ortonville, had always known about. 

After losing her husband, Larry, in April 2000, Heffernan recalled her mother saying -- "Brenda, you need to realize your dream!"

Heffernan, 68, who started sewing at age 9, became a quilting enthusiast shortly after graduation from college, where she studied home economics for a career in teaching.

"I started piecing, and I did take some quilting classes. It just interested me in my 20s, and I just enjoyed it."

She never gave up quilting, and later entertained the idea of someday owning a quilt shop -- something that finally came to fruition when her mom purchased an old post office.

"My mother owned a building in Ortonville that we thought we could use for the quilt shop, but the township turned us down," said Heffernan. The two later found the post office for sale. Her mother decided to sell the building she once owned with her late husband, and purchase the post office, built in 1962.

After six months of remodeling and decorating with the help of her mom and aunt, Heffernan would finally realize her dream.

"We removed the tile in the floor and had it carpeted," said Heffernan. "And, there had been flourescent fixtures that went the entire length of the building. My mom and aunt pushed me around on scaffolding, and we put in a drop ceiling. Then we had an electrician come in and do the lighting."

In September 2002, Heffernan opened Mabelena, a quilt shop at 470 Mill in Ortonville, named in memory of both her grandmothers, Mabel Pearce (maternal) and Lena Owen, who was born and raised in Ortonville.

 What's it like owning a quilt shop for the lifelong sewist? Heffernan said, "It's just a real treat to make so many new friends, and friendships that have continued over the years. I do consider most of my customers to be friends, and I have women who've worked for me the entire time." She currently has four women working for her, and there's usually one in the shop with her each day.

Not a lot of classes are offered at Mabelena, but occasionally, there's a free beginner class taught by Heffernan, who described herself as both a traditional and somewhat modern quilter. The class is usually four three-hour sessions, and is typically held on a Saturday.

Many customers frequent the shop to spend time together and work on current projects. "We have groups of women who come in and sew because they've developed friendships in the class," said Heffernan. "I have a group that comes in on Tuesday afternoons from a beginning class about six years ago. They keep coming because of the friendships they've developed with each other. It's not (because of) me!" Beginner classes for children, ages 8-12, are also offered now and then.

Most of Mabelena's customers are "older" women, although there are a few men and young quilters, as well. "It's always nice to see younger people. The thought in the quilting community is that younger people don't have the disposable income to quilt, but fortunately older women do," explained Heffernan. "(However), there's a downturn in quilting because older people have a huge stash (of fabric) at home, so they're not needing the fabric as much."

There are no long-arm quilting machines at Mabelena, but Heffernan said, "We have a man who comes into the shop on Fridays and picks up the quilt tops that customers have made, and he does the quilting at a fee per square-inch."

Located just "40 minutes north of Detroit," Mabelena is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. It's closed on Sunday.

Heffernan said, she'll "forever be thankful" to her 93-year-old mother for the business opportunity she gave her. She'll celebrate her mom this Mother's Day by hosting a brunch, along with her sister, who's in town from New York.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Mabelena (470 Mill, Ortonville) at (248) 627-9100. Email: mabelenas@aol.com. 

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