Thunder Bay

No quilt shop? No problem. In northwestern Ontario, this shop might come to you

A northwestern Ontario woman hopes her new business will make life a little easier for sewing enthusiasts in small northwestern Ontario communities.

Couple converted former Texas prison bus to carry quilting and sewing supplies to small communities

Donna Watson and her husband acquired the bus in March, and spent months converting it to serve as a mobile shop. (Donna Watson)

A northwestern Ontario woman and long-time quilter hopes her new business will make life a little easier for sewing enthusiasts in some small northwestern Ontario communities. 

This summer, Donna Watson, who lives in Pass Lake, just east of Thunder Bay, Ont. launched Fuelled By Fabric, a mobile quilting supply shop built into a bus that was once used for a very different purpose.

"Originally it's a retired Texas prison bus," said Watson, adding that her husband found the vehicle on the online classified site Kijiji. 

The bus was found in an online classified ad from Toronto, but its original purpose was to transport prisoners in Texas, said Donna Watson. (Donna Watson)

At first, the couple planned to convert the bus into a motor home, she said, then they came up with the idea for a business on wheels that might appeal to people in the region around Thunder Bay. 

"These small communities in the area that are within a couple hundred kilometres don't have access to a quilt shop," said Watson, "and when they come into Thunder Bay they have so much to do, you know they don't have time to go do the fun stuff like fabric shop, so I thought I would bring the quilt shop to them." 

The bus, which is stocked with items like fabric by the bolt, sewing machine maintenance supplies and gift items, now looks like "a little old-fashioned quilt shop," she said.

But it took quite a bit of work to convert the vehicle. 

Seats, metal cages and rubber flooring all had to be removed before the bus could serve its new purpose. (Donna Watson)

"It had to be gutted," she said. "It was all metal cages, seats, stainless steel bathrooms. Everything was welded in there. So all that had to come out."

The bus recently made a trip to the small town of Schreiber, Watson said, and she has some other trips in mind. When it's not on the road, the business will be stationed at her home in Pass Lake.

The plan is to make the most of the first summer season. Soon, Watson will return to her other on-the-road job, as a school bus driver, but she also hopes to run the quilt shop on evenings and weekends in the fall. 

Fuelled by Fabric owner Donna Watson said the former prison bus appealed to her because of its size, and because it looks distinct from other types of buses. (Donna Watson)

The first season will be all about trial and error, she said, and if all else fails, Watson said they always have the option of returning to their first plan for the unusual vehicle. 

"We figured if it doesn't work out, we can always convert it to a motor home."