In a craft room in her Chanhassen home, Gudrun Erla can be found relaxing behind the meditating hum of a sewing machine. Many find sewing, crafting, or knitting a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of life. But for Erla, born and raised in Iceland, it’s a career. “I come from a creative family of painters, but I was interested in quilting,” says Erla, who started quilting when she was 23 years old. “I took some beginning quilting classes and I was hooked.”
Erla not only became passionate about making quilts, she used her entrepreneurial spirit and began creating her own patterns. “I found my creative outlet,” she says.
She loves everything quick and simple, so her quilts might look more complicated than they really are. Her “quilt as you go” patterns have been very popular, with easy-to-follow instructions and quick assembly and finishing. She has written 19 books, more than 200 individual patterns and designed 13 fabric collections. “Gudrun’s unique talent is that she designs projects that appeal to everyone,” says quilter Penny Vaughn Haren. “Mothers and grandmothers can now share their talents with a new generation of quilters.”
Erla designs her patterns with the idea of bridging generations in mind. “Being able to create something that becomes an heirloom in families means a lot to me,” Erla says.
Erla owned and ran quilt shops in Iceland while continuing to create and sell her signature patterns. The business grew, and she and her family moved to Minnesota in 2003. Since then she has been designing full time through her business, GE Designs, publishing patterns and books from her home office, and now travels internationally sharing her passion and teaching others.
With her focus pulled in many areas such as writing, speaking and teaching, Erla finds no challenge in staying fresh and creative, “I have endless conceptions of new things,” Erla says. “That is what keeps me interested and passionate. I am always coming up with new ideas.”
Erla’s products and creativity keep her business thriving, “but it is the quilting community that is so amazing. Quilting is its own tribe,” she says. “The people who I meet in my classes or at events are so wonderful. They are above all a very generous and kind community and many quilters make quilts for charity. Plus it is such a bonding experience creating together.”
Recently she held a mystery class at the Chaska Mill. “The group showed up with fabric and had no idea what the pattern would be. We spent the whole day piecing together the murder mystery (similar to a murder mystery dinner) by piecing together our quilts,” Erla says. “We had such a wonderful time solving the mystery while creating quilts. People are already excited for next year.”
She is also looking forward to teaching on a “quilt cruise” in the western Caribbean in April and escorting a group of quilters on a tour to Iceland in July.
“Gudrun’s designs and techniques are genius,” says Ann Reinelt, one of Erla’s students. “They are always fun to make.”
While quilting might seem like an enormous task, Erla has one mission in her patterns: “They look complicated, but they are quite simple,” she says. “That is what people seem to like about them. I love introducing quilting to new quilters. It is so fun watching people create something beautiful and to be a part of it.”