Doing What She Loves

Meg Lilja was convinced to break her rule of not allowing food in her workroom where she makes beautiful soft treatments for her clients homes. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

When Meg Lilja’s youngest child went to school in 2005, she began a business using her passion for sewing.

“It just kind of took off,” she says. “It’s been a nice business. My favorite thing about it is, it’s so flexible. I can set my own hours.”

She makes all things soft for the home, but does not do upholstering. She has many fabric sample books from which to choose when making bedding, pillows, Roman shades, draperies and valances.

“Swags are coming back, believe it or not,” she exclaims.

She sells all hard treatments, including blinds, shutters and cellular shades.

Meg Lilja prepared recipes given to her by friends and family. Clockwise beginning at top Cucumber Mold, Pea Salad and Moistest Rum Cake.

“Those are easier and harder. When you order them, they’re done, but there’s no fudge room. Where as with fabric there’s more grace. Most things are fixable. Nobody is going to die.”

She admits custom pieces may involve a long wait.

“Some of the fabrics haven’t even been made.”

Her workweeks are often 60 hours long.

“It slows down over the holidays,” she says. “When we were in Cleveland the holidays were crazy. I even installed curtains on Christmas Eve.”

Drawers from vintage treadle sewing machines are an appropriate collection for a seamstress to store her tools. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

She sells much of her work to Chautauqua Institution homeowners, mostly through a designer, but does do some retail sales, too. Her work was in Shaquille O’Neil’s London, Ontario and British Columbia homes when he played for the Cavaliers. She confesses to allowing her children to write notes on the weights she sewed into the hem of the draperies.

Houzz Best of Service Awards have been given to her in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. She came in second place in Window Fashion Vision Magazine’s Bedding and Pillows Division with a project her client, interior designer Sarah Edwards, commissioned her to do.

“The designer’s customer, Monte Thompson, wanted her to update his century-old home in Mayville. Sarah told me to add drama and height, but the wall behind the headboard was less than five feet high.”

She created a high focal point by draping the sloped ceiling with a canopy, using fabrics that coordinated with the rooms wallpaper. The project sounds simple but determining and then creating the best “swoop” for the canopy was a challenge. Many allowances had to be made for the hardware and slope of the ceiling. She used over 100 feet of banding and 18 mitered corners in the custom work. She had to keep the banding uniform, because the striped fabric would accentuate any wavering.

“The most important tool in my toolbox is my gridded worktable,” she says referring to the very large table that is divided into one-inch squares to make measuring fabric easier.

Her second most important tool is her special Dofix steam iron. Most of the equipment found in her large, basement workroom is not meant for casual sewers. Among them is an industrial serger, a blind hemmer, a straight stitch and a walking foot, which she uses when making cushions.

She also has a pleater, a Viking Home machine used for more delicate work, such as applying trim, and a very old tacker.

She has always sewn, which was useful due to her tall stature, making it difficult to find clothing that fit well. She attended classes at a Singer Sewing Center for three summers, which enabled her to refine her skills. She loves “the tactile feeling of fabric.”

The talented seamstress is married to George Lilja who is Director of Marketing and Development at Warren General Hospital and former NFL player with Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys.

“We’ve lived in 24 places and I’ve sewn all of the window treatments,” she says while smiling. “It was a lot of fun and we met some awesome people.”

They now live on the Allegany River on a quiet street in Warren, Pennsylvania. She is from Clearwater, Florida and her husband is from Chicago. All seven of his siblings still reside in the Windy City.

When she finds some spare time, she takes part in a Christian yoga group at Grace United Methodist Church.

“I love it. I’m so disappointed when I can’t go.”

The couple likes to go to fall football games and always tries to attend a University of Michigan game, where they met, as well as a Cleveland Browns game.

She collects and puts to use drawers from antique treadle sewing machine cabinets. In the past, she took part in a play group and book club. She is a member of Window Coverings Association of America.

“Their main quote is ‘you’re never in business alone.’ It is the most supportive business association I’ve seen.”

They attend First United Methodist Church. Mr. Lilja and Marcus Briggs conduct two Bible studies every Sunday afternoon at the local jail.

“He leads by example. He’s a gentle giant,” she says referring to her husband.

They have four children who reside all over the United States. Danielle lives in Rochester, New York, David in Charleston, South Carolina, Bethany in Orlando, Florida and Duke attends Penn State College at the main campus in State College, Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Lilja contributes recipes she has acquired through various sources and those that have been enjoyed by her family over the years.

“A restaurant in Ohio used to serve a little dollop of this great Pea Salad.”

Moistest Rum Cake was a recipe she was given from a neighbor while living in Florida. She recommends cutting the drizzle part of the recipe in half. The Cucumber Salad recipe was her Aunt Ruth’s, who lived in Minneapolis. A great-great-aunt in Upper Peninsula Michigan handed down the Ham Sauce recipe.

“The Cranberry Exchange may be used as a salad or dessert.”

Meg Lilja can be contacted at www.meglilja.com, meglilja.houzz.com or by calling her workroom phone at 814 406-4226. Interior designer Sarah Edwards can be reached at renovationinteriors@gmail.com.

Pea Salad

2-16 oz pkgs frozen peas (leave frozen)

1 lb bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

1/2 c celery, chopped

1/2 c green onion, chopped

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 c mayo

8 oz cashews, chopped

1/2 c cheddar cheese, shredded

On the day before serving, combine all ingredients. Scoop onto lettuce leaf.

Moistest Rum Cake

1 c black walnuts

1 yellow cake mix

1 large instant vanilla pudding

1/2 c oil

1/2 c rum

4 eggs

Grease and flour Bundt pan and line with nuts. Mix cake and pudding mixes. Add oil, rum and eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60-minutes.

Drizzle for Moistest Rum Cake

1/2 c butter

1 c sugar

1/4 c water

1/4 c rum

Bring butter, sugar and water to a boil. Cool. Add rum. Poke holes in top of cake and drizzle over.

Mustard Sauce for Ham

1/2 c yellow mustard

1/2 c condensed tomato soup

3/4 c sugar

1/2 c vinegar

1/4 c butter

1 egg beaten

Combine ingredients. Cook in double boiler, stirring often until sauce thickens.

Cucumber Mold

1 can crushed pineapple

1 box lime-flavored gelatin mix

1 1/2 c boiling water

pinch of salt

1 c shredded cucumber

shredded onion (this is key to the recipe)

1/2 c mayo

Drain pineapple, reserving juice. Mix gelatin mix with boiling water. Stir in 1/2 cup reserved pineapple juice and salt. Pour into loaf pan and refrigerate until slightly thickened. In the meantime, shred cucumber with peel and drain juices. Shred onion. Add cucumber, onion, pineapple and mayonnaise and combine. Refrigerate until firm. Slice before serving.

Frozen Daiquiris

Make a few days before serving.

1 can limeade, thawed

1 can water

1 1/4 cans 7-up

1 3/4 cans light rum

Combine all ingredients using limeade can to measure them. Pour into wide mouth plastic container. Cover and freeze. Spoon into your favorite glass. Will keep in freezer for several weeks.

Cranberry Exchange

2-3 oz. pkgs cream cheese, softened

2 T sugar

2 T salad dressing, not mayonnaise

1 c heavy cream

1 can whole berry cranberry sauce

1/2 c pecans, chopped

Combine cream cheese, sugar and salad dressing. Whip cream. Add cranberry sauce, pecans and whipped cream to cream cheese mixture. Put in loaf pan. Cover and freeze. If serving as a salad: slice and place on lettuce leaf a short while before serving, add a dollop of salad dressing to top. If serving as a dessert: Let thaw in refrigerator and spoon into sherbet glasses to serve.

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